Learning to Listen, Look, and Lament


My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.
Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the one Israel praises.
Psalm 22:2-3

The psalms of lament start with the dark, hard truth that evil flourishes and the righteous are mocked and under siege. As the psalmist cries out, there is a turning, a looking upward toward God. There is a recognition that lament is an important step in our experience of God’s sovereign intimacy.

Walter Brueggemann, an Old Testament scholar and theologian, in his reflection on Psalms, captures this wonderfully. He writes:

“The use of these ‘psalms of darkness’ may be judged by the world to be acts of unbelief and failure, but for the trusting community, their use is an act of bold faith, albeit a transformed faith. It is an act of bold faith on the one hand because it insists that the world must be experienced as it really is and not in some pretended way. On the other hand, it is bold because it insists that all such experiences of disorder are a proper subject for discourse with God. There is nothing out of bounds, nothing precluded or inappropriate. Everything properly belongs in this conversation of the heart. To withhold parts of life from that conversation is, in fact, to withhold part of life from the sovereignty of God. Thus these psalms make the important connection: everything must be brought to speech, and everything brought to speech must be addressed to God, who is the final reference for all of life.”

In contrast, when we notice injustice, we are quick to vilify, to point out wrongs, and to make accusations. We are not quick to pause, reflect, and lament the truth that we live in a world where injustices are prevalent. We are quick to look for solutions or remedies to the problem, to attempt preventive measures. But we are not often quick to lament.

Our failure to lament is a failure to pause and allow our hearts to ache as we pray to truly see those who are hurting, to feel their pain and enter into their world for a moment. It is a failure to listen to and look upon those who suffer injustice the way that God does.

Throughout the gospels, Christ is constantly being interrupted by those who are seeking healing. His response to these seekers is to stop. He hears them, and He sees them. He is full of compassion for them—and in that, He moves toward them.

That is what lament does. It is an entering in as we see and hear and move toward someone who is hurting. The practice of lament is not simply a theological issue, but is an issue of love. We don’t lament because we don’t love. However, God laments because He loves and sees us in the midst of the injustice, oppression, and evil we commit against one another.

He loved so deeply that He entered into our suffering with us. In Christ, He suffered not only death, but a humiliating death on a cross. Christ on the cross cried out a lament from Psalm 22—but a lament (”Father, Father, Why have you forsaken me”) that was grounded in a declaration: “You have kept me safe from my mother’s womb....you have been my God.”

In light of this, let us enter into a time of...

Confession: Take a moment to confess the ways you have not entered into the pain of others and lacked the compassion to look and listen to those who are crying out to be seen and heard.

Lamentation: Enter into a time of acknowledging the hurt that people are experiencing. The purpose here is not to place blame, but to think of those in our communities, cities, and countries who are deeply hurting. Take a moment of silence as you ask God to bring someone specific to mind. Ask God to help you truly look, listen, and see that person as you enter into a time of lament.

Assurance: This is a moment to acknowledge that no matter where we are in our walk with lament, God is inviting us to a renewed assurance of His pardon and a reminder that He is faithful when we confess. It is this pardon that invites us to turn from a sense of guilt toward a sense of conviction—and ultimately a renewing of our heart and mind.

Repentance: Repentance is not just turning away from what is unholy, but involves a turning to God. Whenever God is calling us to repentance, He is calling us to Himself and into a deeper intimacy with Him. Take a moment to repent and ask for His character and heart toward us and the brokenhearted to be renewed.