I love to organize stuff. I regularly take time to go through closets, bookshelves, drawers, and any other nook where stuff collects just to make sure everything is usable and accessible. I know it seems crazy to enjoy organization, but having kids has multiplied the amount of stuff we have, but not our space. It’s a necessity. What I’ve noticed in purging unused stuff is that organizing always starts out as a bigger mess than you had before. You have to pull out all the toys from the toy box or books from the shelf or junk from the drawer in order to sort them. Before you can be organized, everything gets messy.
If you’ve ever read through the Psalms, you’ve no doubt noticed how many of them seem to be a litany of complaints and worries. These songs are called laments. When I was in seminary studying the Psalms, my professor gave us an assignment to write our own lament following its general pattern. That exercise turned out to be especially meaningful. So, I’ve used that idea in training up leaders since then.
When I planned the Flourishing Friday study for MOPS, I didn’t initially include this section. However, as we discussed and studied, I realized that this exercise was important to really flourish. Too many of us have miscellaneous emotional, relational, and/or spiritual junk that we hold on to for way too long. In order to move forward, we have to let go. This exercise doesn’t take the place of a good counselor or other more in-depth help we might need for bigger stuff; I highly recommend processing with someone professionally trained for that when you’re struggling with deeper issues. This is more for starting or continuing a dialogue with God about tender areas in your life.
Even if you don’t fancy yourself a poet, laments follow a regular pattern and they don’t rhyme, so anyone can write one. Using Psalm 142 as a model, here are the steps to writing your own lament:
First, choose what to write about. What is troubling you most right now? What do you tend to worry about? Where do you feel like your prayers are unheard and unanswered? I get that you might think, “Yeah, but I’m not actually like David. People aren’t trying to kill me. This isn’t really life and death.” Nevertheless, your troubles are your troubles. Jesus wants to hear about them. The point isn’t to only pray when it is life and death, but to seek God in big and little things. Take a few minutes to think about the answers to the above questions before you start.
A well-written song by David, when he was in the cave; a prayer.
1 To the Lord I cry out;
to the Lord I plead for mercy.
2 I pour out my lament before him;
I tell him about my troubles.
A Cry for Help: Laments start with a cry for help. No flowery language necessary, just something to the effect of “God, I need help! I can’t handle this!” We start our lament by writing out a couple lines about how you need God’s help.
3 Even when my strength leaves me,
you watch my footsteps.
In the path where I walk
they have hidden a trap for me.
4 Look to the right and see!
No one cares about me.
I have nowhere to run;
no one is concerned about my life.
A Description of the Crisis: Laments go on to describe more in-depth the challenge or pain. As David describes in this lament, people are out to get him and he feels like no one cares. After you write out a general cry for help, now you get more specific. Write a few lines that describe the situation you were/are facing. Use vivid images that take others into your troubles (e.g. bulls surrounding you, being in a miry pit). What does it feel like to be in this situation? Again, if poetry isn’t your thing, you can be more concrete, but try and paint as clear a picture as you can about your troubles. This is the messy part of writing a lament.
5 I cry out to you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my shelter,
my security in the land of the living.”
An Affirmation of Trust: Now that we’ve started looking at the mess, we’re going to work on cleaning things up. Laments take a turn and begin to be more constructive here. In spite of the troubles you listed above, what do you know about God? Who is he? What have you seen him do in other situations? Write 1-2 lines that affirm who God is in the midst of this crisis.
6 Listen to my cry for help,
for I am in serious trouble!
Rescue me from those who chase me,
for they are stronger than I am.
Petitions for Rescue: After affirming who God is, laments ask for help in light of those qualities. Sometimes, we feel selfish asking for help. It feels wrong, but the Bible is full of examples of people asking for God’s intervention on their own behalf. God cares for you. Write a few lines asking God to intervene in the situation whether for help or healing or something else you need to flourish in this season.
7 Free me from prison,
that I may give thanks to your name.
Because of me the godly will assemble,
for you will vindicate me.
A Vow of Praise: The last part of a lament is focused on the future. It says, “Look, I know that you’re going to work in this area and when you do, I’m going to have yet another story to tell of your goodness.” Lastly, write the testimony you will have because of God’s intervention. What is the comfort you will bring to others because of God? You don’t necessarily know the specifics (unless this is a past event), but even focusing on the fact that you’ll have a story to praise God for is part of a vow of praise. If you are reflecting on a past event, think through what you’ve learned through it about God. Write those lessons out here.
An Introduction: You probably skipped over the first line of the Psalm, since it’s not even a verse in English translations, but it totally was in the Hebrew bible! The introduction tells you about the circumstances surrounding the song and can be enlightening. The last step of this lament is to write 1-2 lines describing what this psalm is about. It makes it easier to find it later, when you may be looking to share or remember what you’ve seen the Lord do (you do end with a vow of praise, after all).
May you find that the Lord is bigger than your troubles and stronger than your fears as you pour out your heart to him in lament.