A Guide to Lamenting

by Mandi Hart

Until recently, I never truly understood lamenting. This invitation to honesty is, in fact, God’s gift to us, and it reminds us that we are human. It is a beautiful way to express our suffering, cry for help or at injustice and lean into trusting God. Most often, as humans, we try to run away from our pain. “It’s much better to avoid my pain, that’s my natural tendency,” remarked a friend the other day.

We know that there is a book in the Bible called Lamentations, and over a third of the Psalms are laments. Consider that lamenting is a verbal expression of our regret, disappointment, sadness or grief. It’s a way of mourning and expressing sorrow. But, more than that, lamenting gives us the language for living between the poles of hard life or suffering and trusting in God.

Lamenting is us coming to a place of brutal honesty. We don’t pray what we think we should say, but at that moment, we remove the outer layers and speak what we honestly feel. For some, that isn’t easy. But try it out. It might set you on a journey of freedom and healing.

We need the courage to lament. Why do I say that? Well, many of us don’t like being honest about our pain or express the injustices we see in our lives or that of our community. We cover it up because we have the fear of being exposed or making a mistake. We remain hidden and don’t express what we truly feel or want to say.

Lamenting is like a tightrope, but it can also be a lifeline. For too often, we deny our pain or worse, get stuck in that place of sorrow.

I once heard a story of a woman who, on her wedding day, found out that her husband died on his way to the church. Overcome with grief; this woman remained in her wedding dress in her house, decorated for the festive day. She never, ever really lived. Now, I can’t verify this story, but it illustrates how unresolved grief can lock us in. If we never lament or grieve well, we cannot mend well.

In the words of Richard Rohr, “If you do not transform your pain, you will transmit it.” When we lament, we can transform our pain and heal. Lamenting has the potential to carry us through this time of global suffering and uncertainty.


The outline of a Lament

Generally, a lament takes a form. This is helpful to shape our prayers when we cry out to God is this way. I’m not at an expert in this and am learning along with you, but I have found the following guide helpful:

1. Turn to God. Here, you turn to God. You can remember His faithfulness in the past.

2. Bring your protest. At this point, you bring your groaning or complaint to God. Pain is pain, and it is here that you express it, without pretense. You are raw and honest. You tell God what you are angry about – for yourself, your family, community or globally. Don’t hold back.

3. Ask boldly for help. After you’ve shared the deep groaning of your heart, you begin to petition. You ask God for help. Hebrews 4:16 urges us to do so with words: “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.”

4. Choose to trust. After you’ve asked God for help, you return to praise and that place of trusting Him to act, comfort, restore or bring peace.

Just this morning, I led a prayer meeting via Zoom (as we do these days) and spent 30 minutes lamenting as a group. It was one of the most intense prayer times I’ve had recently. One man remarked that he is learning that prayer doesn’t have to be boring. It was a fresh experience and so transparently real.

Other ways to express what’s going on deep inside

Firstly, spend time reading the Psalms. Examples of laments are in Psalm 10, 13, 22, 25, 60,73, 77, 79, 80 and 90. There are many more, but this is a start. Familiarize yourself with the Psalmist’s honest expressions and ways of lamenting. Start speaking out your own laments.

Secondly, you can lament through journaling. Try writing out your cries to God.

Thirdly, lament through tears and groans. Another way of saying it could be: feel your feelings and turn them to prayer.

Fourth, create a song around lamenting. Sing your prayers or give expression through your music.

Fifth, creativity is there for you to embrace. Consider doing a piece of artwork to express your lament or if you’re wired like me, go for a run and pray on the move.

We do not find growth in comfort. It comes when we feel pain, hardship, endure to the end, push and heal. Growth comes in the least likely of places. My prayer for you today is this:

May you find the courage to lament.

May you find healing in expressing your deepest sorrows.

And may you know the grace of the invitation to honesty today and always. 


Mandi Hart is the author of Parenting with Courage, along with her latest release, Courage in the Fire: Overcoming a fear-driven life. Mandi and her husband led All Nations Cape Town (a missions and church planting organisation) for several years. She is a certified counsellor and coach who speaks weekly on the radio on courageous living and fearless parenting. She carries the nations in her heart and is involved in the 24/7 prayer movement. She currently lives in Stellenbosch, South Africa, where she is involved in outreach and the mentoring and raising of leaders. Mandi loves running the trails amongst the vineyards and enjoys a good cup of coffee with her Scottish Terriers nearby. You can find her online at mandihart.net.

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A Life Overseas is a collective blog centered around the realities, ethics, spiritual struggles, and strategies of living overseas. Elizabeth Trotter is the editor-in-chief.

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