“Jesus cried out to God, expressing his emotions upward, instead of outward.”
Terry Wardle, Outrageous Love, Transforming Power; page 98

Lament and grief are very different. Grief can be like a tsunami, unpredictable and uncontrollable. Sometimes people even face “complicated grief” because of tragedy, regret, or unhealthy relationships. They can become stuck.

In contrast, the spiritual formation practice of lament is not an expression of unresolved grief. It is distinct from cynicism, depression, complaining, or blaming God. I say this even though I have personally spent time doing or being all those things.

However I have also experienced genuine lament.

I knew a school in an African village where the teachers regularly hit the students. The principal even had a paddle (with a Bible verse inscribed on it!!) that he used to beat children. There seemed to be no way to change it. The families accepted it. In fact, one mother wonderingly asked, “But if the teachers don’t beat the children, how will they become smart?”

If parents (or a naïve missionary) complained, the principal would refuse to sign the document necessary to advance the child a grade or even transfer to another school. I remember flopping on my bed one afternoon and crying out to God about the injustice of it all . . . and God comforted my heart with a Scripture verse.

That is the key difference with lament – it eventually comes to some kind of resolution or comfort. The intention is to come to God and to pray through the issue to the other side. Yes, emotion is honestly expressed. Yes, the external situation may not change. But lament is a journey toward hearing, seeing, or understanding something from God that restores our soul. Discouragement is replaced by new vision, or a new promise, or renewed courage. Confusion eventually turns into an invitation to the next step. In God’s immense grace, even grief can be healed by comfort from God and become a well of comfort for others. Comfort flows out of the compassionate, father-heart of God. It is his nature. Lament can be a means of grace to connect us with him.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3,4 (NIV)