Writing A Psalm of Lament

Feelings of Loss

As life has been turned upside-down over the last two weeks while schools and businesses close and governments declare stay-at-home orders, I’ve found myself unexpectedly crying at random moments throughout the week. Surely some of this is due to exhaustion, uncertainty, and stress. But sometimes it’s been in recognition of the losses I am personally or we as a society are experiencing. My mom’s canceled visit, my son’s lack of play time with his friends at daycare, a local business possibly closing its doors forever, a friend unable to visit her sick grandmother, the shortage of supplies in medical facilities…the list goes on. I’ve been comforted reflecting on the fact that Jesus didn’t ignore or suppress his emotions. He wept at the death of his friend (John 11:35). He reacted with anger in the temple (Matthew 23:33). He agonized over his pending death (Luke 22:42).

A Time to Lament

The Psalms are full of examples of poems/songs that teach us how we can express our heart to God in a worshipful way. The Psalms of Lament are especially pertinent as we walk through the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, which falls (likely not by happenstance) during the season of Lent in the church calendar. Lent is a time when we can confront the brokenness we’re experiencing and be honest about what we recognize is not the way it’s supposed to be.

Writing A Psalm of Lament

Today, consider trying this exercise of writing your own Psalm of Lament as a way of processing your thoughts and emotions and turning them into a prayer. Here are a few steps to guide you.

  1. Psalms of Lament take a basic shape, with lots of variation. They include:
    A complaint, directed to God. Psalms of Lament invite us to share our experiences of grief, suffering, loss, loneliness, doubt, tragedy, death, and so on.
    A petition, asking for God’s help. This could include a request for healing, deliverance, provision and protection, or forgiveness.
    A resolution. This may involve: a confession of trust, a resolve to praise or a promise to obey, or an affirmation of God’s own faithfulness, even if there is no empirical data to prove it.
  2. Choose whether you wish to write an individual lament which may focus on your personal experience alone or a communal lament. A communal lament may focus on issues of injustice or suffering at the community level.
  3. Consider the following tips around style:
    It typically works well to keep your phrases/lines succinct rather than wordy.
    Be specific and concrete in your statements.
    Choose evocative imagery or metaphors that will help you see what you’re praying.

It may help to read some examples of Psalms of Lament: Psalms 3, 10, 13, 22, 42, 43, 77.

Sources: http://artspastor.blogspot.com/2018/03/writing-psalm-of-lament-exercise.html; https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/dare-to-hope-in-god

Reflection by Melissa Lowther, and Psalm writing by Sarah Bartley