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.

Are We Complaining Too Much?


Authenticity. It’s a big buzzword today, popular among millennials, pastors to millennials, mom bloggers, and . . . missionaries. Sharing shortcomings and struggles has many benefits, not the least of which is showing other imperfect people that they’re not alone.

But where that sharing grows and grows, there is bound to be pushback. One person’s honesty is another person’s whining. One person’s transparency is another’s self-centeredness. One person’s telling it like it is is another’s pity party. One person’s authenticity is another’s complaining.

So, are we complaining too much?

I think about that quite a bit. I believe it’s important to share openly and honestly, but when I get ready to do just that, Philippians 2:14 often comes to mind. Actually, it’s not the verse itself but the children’s song based on it: “Do everything without complaining / Do everything without arguing / So that you may become blameless and pure children of God.”

Maybe it’s not enough to ask, Are we complaining too much? Can we, in fact, complain at all?

According to many Bible translators, when Paul tells us not to “complain,” he’s actually warning against grumbling, murmuring, bickering (The Message), and—my favorite—kvetching (The Complete Jewish Bible). To me, those carry a decidedly more negative connotation, and it’s this kind of ill-tempered muttering that I see angering God in the Bible.

Our word complain, though, isn’t always bad. Rather, it depends on how and why we voice our concerns. Yes, no one wants to be labeled a complainer, and a popular eulogy is “Through it all, she never once complained.” But when a patient complains of chest pain, doctors consider that a good and necessary thing. How else can they give the hurting the treatment they need?

In fact, I’d like to redeem the meaning of complain somewhat. Coming from an Old French word meaning “lament,” its Latin root, plangere, means literally “to beat one’s breast.” Lamenting. Beating one’s breast. Don’t we see that in the Bible—lamenting for self and community? Don’t people lament in the Old Testament? Don’t we have a book titled Lamentations? Don’t we hear lamenting in the Psalms? Didn’t Paul, didn’t Jesus, lament?

Are we complaining too much? No, I think not, at least not yet. And here’s why I think we have a ways to go before we get there.

For too long, the church has put missionaries on precariously high pedestals, and because of the continued pressures to raise funds and promote ministries, missionaries can find themselves taking part in the pedestal building, as well. It will take a while for us, with repeated reminders, to dismantle the platforms.

Living overseas can be very difficult, and we need more, not less, authenticity so that others who are struggling won’t have to say, “I must be the only one.” Transparent sharing also helps future missionaries have realistic expectations so that they can better prepare for future challenges and fend off disappointment.

The transitions of cross-cultural life involve loss, which leads to sorrow. This sorrow is real, but how many times have I heard someone preface their expressions of grief with “I know I shouldn’t feel this way, but. . .”? Missionaries tend to be a conscientious lot, and they’re well-versed in verses stressing self-denial. Thus they are prone to guilt when speaking of their problems: “Others have it so much worse than I do.” But when sorrow remains hidden, when it is disenfranchised because of those around us or because of our own shame, it can morph deep inside us into depression or rise to the surface as anger. Simply not voicing it doesn’t make it go away.

And while our honest lamenting does not tell the entire story, it is part of that story. Some day when the definitive book on missionary life is written, the whole volume won’t be titled It’s Tough, but at least one very important chapter will be. This is actually where I think a big problem comes in. We too often want every part of the story to represent the whole story, with a beginning and an end, with a problem and a resolution. But with such requirements, we silence those who need to speak while their stories are unfolding.

I think of Psalm 88, a psalm of lament that reveals no happy ending. Rather, its final words are “You have taken from me friend and neighbor—darkness is my closest friend” (NIV). I am comforted to know that this psalm is part of scripture. Psalm 13, on the other hand, begins with “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?” but then ends with “I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me” (NIV). But I have to wonder about the blank space, the empty line, between verse four and verse five, where the change occurs. Many are living in that space right now, and I can hear them saying, “Yea, though I walk through the valley between verses.” How long did it take David to come to the place where he could voice those hopeful words, and finish writing the psalm? Or if he could say them even in his despair, how long did it take for him to truly feel them in his heart? Can we share our stories before we get to the other side?

Having said all that, I do understand that we need to be careful in our authenticity.

In today’s world, we have the ability to share in real time, through blogs and any number of instant-messaging platforms. This is a double-edged sword, and there’s certainly room for a healthy hesitancy. Not every frustration needs to be expressed publicly and immediately. Not every complaint needs to be posted or published. Not every lament needs to be spoken from a pulpit (though some very much do).

Sometimes it’s best for us to confide in a safe person, face to face. Sometimes, we need to share in a small group or closed forum, where outsiders will not overhear and misinterpret our most raw feelings, but where insiders will understand.

And, yes, we do need to watch our attitudes. Job complained, but he didn’t curse God. In our anger and sorrow, we should not sin. And as Paul writes, we shouldn’t gripe or grumble or bicker or kvetch.

Also, while there are many commonalities among members of the mission community, my experiences will not always match yours. Therefore, I should avoid claiming to represent everyone else. Likewise, I shouldn’t be so convinced of my own perspective that I discount others who have a rosier view than me. Just because others tell happy stories doesn’t mean that they’re hiding something.

No matter the cautions, though, honest lamenting is messy. It is and always will be. Thank you, Lord, for your patience. Missionaries are people, too, and amongst the authenticity, there will be some negativity, whining, self-centeredness, and a pity party or two. When that happens, let’s be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to leave angry comments. Let’s listen with grace.

In the not-so-distant future, we may look back on this time and say (with our hands forming air quotes), “Remember when it was all about ‘being authentic and vulnerable,’ ‘sharing your story,’ and ‘being real’?” Maybe by then we’ll have new buzzwords for the same things. But my hope is that, instead, we’ll simply talk about—and practice—honesty and empathy and sincerity. I’m pretty sure those never go out of style.

[photo: “Frustration,” by Jason Bolonski, used under a Creative Commons license]