Reviving the Act of Lamenting
Updated: Jun 26
Three reasons to lament and quit complaining
Listen to the Blog Post Lamenting Before God.
As the congregation sang the opening hymn for our Sabbath morning worship, "I must tell Jesus all of my trials; I cannot bear the burdens alone, in my distress He kindly will help me, He ever loves and cares for His own,"[i] the words affirmed to me that laments are alive and well—and healthful!
A simple understanding of the difference between lamenting and complaining will give us a better experience of talking to God as a friend and not an adversary who has no interest in our affairs. As we will later explore, such a negative view of God may adversely affect our health.
Looking at a few Psalms of lament may inspire you to write one of your own.
So, what's the difference between lamenting and complaining?
Let's start with complaining. The root of complaining lies in discontentment, grouses that we are mistreated. If our malcontent lies with God, it clearly shows a lack of trust in His dealing on our behalf. The dictionary defines a complaint as an "expression of grief, pain, or dissatisfaction; something that is the cause or subject of protest or outcry."[ii]
Do we really want to picket God with our complaints? What will that do for us and our relationship with Him?
The anatomy of a complaint is this, succinctly stated; "These are murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts; and their mouth speaketh great swelling words, having men's persons in admiration because of advantage" (Jude 16).
John Wesley's commentary on this scripture states that these are, "Literally, complainers of their fate, against God. Walking with regard to themselves after their own foolish and mischievous desires. Having men's persons in admiration for the sake of gain - Admiring and commending them only for what they can get."
But, what of our responses in a genuine crisis in our lives? An old adage suggests that "when in deep water, it's a good idea to keep your mouth shut."
To lament (there's even a book of the Bible by that name!). On the other hand, the dictionary defines lament as "to mourn aloud; to express sorrow, mourning, or often regret demonstratively; to regret strongly."[iii] Sounds familiar? Elijah, Moses, David, and Job did it. Later, we will look at the anatomy of a lament Psalm as you are encouraged to write your own.
How lament and complaint affect the body
Again, let's begin with the harmful effects of complaints on the body and why we should seek to avoid complaining. This negative attitude keeps us in a stressful situation which leads to inflammation which is harmful to the brain and our mental health. It is fodder for metabolic diseases.[iv]
According to Nicholas Hall and associates, Emotion-ridden diseases[v] can manifest in Tuberculosis, Common colds, AIDS, Melanoma (Cancer), Breast Cancer, Chronic fatigue syndrome, and Multiple sclerosis.
Let's liken a lament to a confession to God. After all, a lament, as we saw, is "regret strongly." God has always warned us to guard our minds (Romans 12: 1, 2) because it can affect our bodies and how we function. In modern medicine, a branch of psychology concerned with the physiological bases of psychological processes is called Psychophysiology.[vi]
In an article published in "The Psychophysiology of Confession,"[vii] the effect on the body is noted. Reactions of the skin, similar to that of a lie detector, were observed in the subjects. For instance, one group spoke into a tape recorder about traumatic events.
The findings suggested decreased behavioral inhibition. Behavioral inhibition is a personality type that tends to distress and nervousness in certain situations, as measured by lower skin conductance levels among high disclosers (people who tend to share a lot). Skin Conductance (SC) measures the skin's electrical conductivity. The researchers also found that talking about traumatic material was associated with increased cardiovascular activity.
In another group who spoke to a hidden person, a "silent confessor," their reaction was that of "lower skin conductance levels than did thinking or talking about plans for the day. The presence of a confessor inhibited subjects' talking." What I gathered from this is who you talk to and where matters. This is not to suggest that psychotherapy should not be sought when necessary. The reactions only were noted for this article.
Talking to God in our private chamber openly and honestly relieves us of stress. It then depends on how we view God. Is He a forgiving and guiding God? Then no worries! Tell Him all your heart. He's big enough to take it and wise enough to guide you.
The Anatomy of a Lament Psalm
Psalm 13 shows us the typical stages of a lament Psalm. David begins with protest, then passes on through prayer for his deliverance from his enemy, and ends in praise, giving voice to the faith that hope in God will bring.
David was in deep water, but he chose to talk to God about his troubles and composed such Psalms to teach us how to endure our trials. The Seventh-day Adventists Bible Commentary states that "It is probable that David composed this Psalm out of the constant trial that he suffered at the hands of Saul. The Psalm is an encouraging example that when good men feel forsaken by God, it is their privilege to cry to Him and realize the sweet assurance of His care."[viii]
When driven from Jerusalem and beyond Jordan by Absalom's rebellion, Psalm 42 of Book two of the Psalms opens with what is considered a 'pathetic' lament of David.'[ix] "David is exiled from the house of God where he had found joy in participating in the holy services."[x]
Here David is considered a "hunted fugitive, finding refuge in the rocks and caves of the wilderness."[xi]
He likens himself to a deer panting after (or longing for) God. He cries out in his intense need to be in the sanctuary, in the presence of God. In verse nine, the plaintive call to God, "I will tell unto God my rock, why hast you forgotten me? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?"
Now that we have looked at a few Psalms of Lament, here are three reasons we should consider lamenting to God rather than complaining.
Three reasons to lament before God
1. To be honest, before God.
God likened David to a man after His own heart. God already knows your weaknesses; why hide them? "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered" (Romans 8:26). It is to our detriment if we fake it to God. Have an open conversation with God, a stress-relieving session, if you will, and tell Him your cares. He is able to deliver to the uttermost (See Philippians 4:13).
2. To unmask yourself before you
Emotional self-neglect can lead to a disconnection from who you are. Many of us know what we like to eat and have favorite colors and flowers but know little about why we feel the way we do. A chapter entitled "Know thyself" in Daniel Goleman's book on Emotional Intelligence[xii] is noted here. Goleman refers to 'self-awareness' as paying attention to one's internal state. Perhaps it is good to check to see if your allegiance and trust still lie with God.
3. The Lament Psalms give way to Praise
Gratitude is one of the healing properties of God. To see beauty and hope amid trial is a gift from God and one to be cultivated. The positive effect of gratitude on the body is healing at no charge. The Huffington Post and Hallmark Greeting Cards published an infographic[xiii] that suggests that gratitude (Praise) calms you down; gives you a healthier heart; helps you breathe easier; slims you down; gives you a stronger immunity. Praise gives way to healing, "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones" (Proverbs 17:22).
Contentment and Praise are the remedies for complaining
"For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content" (1 Tim 6:7, 8). It is said that to swear is wicked because it is taking God's name in vain and to murmur is likewise wicked, for it takes God's promises in vain. Leave all in the capable hands of God (See Matthew 6:25).
"The soul may ascend nearer heaven on the wings of praise. God is worshiped with song and music in the courts above, and as we express our gratitude we are approximating to the worship of the heavenly hosts. "Whoso offereth praise glorifieth" God (Psalm 50:23). Let us with reverent joy come before our Creator, with "thanksgiving, and the voice of melody" (Isaiah 51:3.4)."[xiv]
[i] SDAH 485. I must tell Jesus. Elisha Albright Hoffman (1839-1929) [ii] “Complaint.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/complaint. Accessed 21 Mar. 2022. [iii] “Lament.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lament. Accessed 21 Mar. 2022. [iv] Liu, Yun-Zi et al. “Inflammation: The Common Pathway of Stress-Related Diseases.” Frontiers in human neuroscience vol. 11 316. 20 Jun. 2017, doi:10.3389/fnhum.2017.00316 [v] Hall, N.R.S., Altman, F. Blumental, S.J. “Mind-body interactions and disease and psychoneuroimmunological aspects of health and disease.” Proceedings of a conference on Stress, Immunity, and Health Sponsored by the National Institute on health. Orlando, Florida, USA, Health Dateline Press, 1996 [vi] Wikipedia contributors. "Psychophysiology." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 28 Mar. 2022. Web. 30 Apr. 2022. [vii] Pennebaker JW, Hughes CF, O'Heeron RC. The psychophysiology of confession: linking inhibitory and psychosomatic processes. J Pers Soc Psychol. 1987 Apr;52(4):781-93. doi: 10.1037//0022-3518.104.22.1681. PMID: 3572739. [viii] "Psalms 13." Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary. Vol. 3. DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1954. p. 660. [ix] "Psalms 42." Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary. Vol. 3. DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1954. p. 734. [x] "Psalms 42." Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary. Vol. 3. DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1954. p. 735. [xi] "Psalms 42." Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary. Vol. 3. DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1954. p. 735. [xii] Goleman, Daniel. “Emotional Intelligence.” New York: Bantam Books, October 1995 [xiii] https://www.huffpost.com/entry/gratitude-effect-body_n_6510352 [xiv] White, Elen G. “The Privilege of Prayer” Steps to Christ. USA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 191 p. 104.1