by Dr. Andrew Zirschky
Lament is a powerful form of prayer that allows us to express our deepest sorrows and doubts to God. It is a way of acknowledging the suffering we experience in life and bringing it before God in a way that is honest and authentic. For adolescents, who are often dealing with a range of challenges and stresses, lament can be a powerful tool for processing their emotions and finding healing and hope. Nevertheless, it is a practice that is often overlooked in the culture of many churches, which means that adolescents are denied the opportunity to express their sorrow and suffering in healthy ways. In this article, we will theologically explore the importance of lament for adolescents and how it can help them navigate the challenges of life.
As you’re likely aware, the Bible is full of prayers of lament, and as much as one-third of the Psalms can be categorized as songs of lament. At one level, lament is a form of doubt acknowledging that life is messy and complicated and that things do not always go as we expect; lament leads us into wondering why God allows us to experience such difficulty. But at the same time, lament is rooted in a deep sense of trust in God. We lament not because we disbelieve God’s goodness and care, but precisely because we believe in them. Lament is both a pleading to understand what we can never understand (“Why, Oh Lord?”), and an expression of our deep desire to feel a sense of God’s action (“How Long, Oh Lord?”). It is often the feeling of separation from God that pushes us into lament, yet rather than increasing that distance by walking away from God — or drowning our sorrows with distractions — when we lament we find our whole and true selves connected with God amid our pain.
Lament functions as a form of prophetic witness or resistance against the dominant culture of positivity and happiness that pervades our churches (and much of society). It challenges the dominant cultural narratives that tell us to hide our pain and pretend that everything is okay, at the same time that it refuses to jettison belief in God. It is a way of saying that our pain and suffering matter, and that they deserve to be acknowledged and validated — not just by human companions, but also by God. By engaging in lament, we resist the pressure to pretend that everything is okay and instead acknowledge the reality that, quite often things are not okay. At the same time, instead of drowning our sorrows in video games or pints of ice cream, lament declares the full reality of our pain and suffering, while also holding to the belief that God’s love, goodness, hope, and justice can — and will — roll down in response to the suffering we experience. And lament can do this even when we don’t fully understand and even when everything around us seems to be falling apart.
As such, lament is a vital practice for adolescents who are navigating the complexities of faith and identity in a rapidly changing world. For teenagers, lament is a sacred invitation to embrace life’s messiness, wrestle with the complexities of faith and identity, and find meaning and purpose amidst difficult circumstances. By creating space for lament, we permit adolescents to express their pain and suffering in a way that is authentic and non-judgmental, helping them to feel seen and heard in their struggles in a safe and supportive environment. Corporate practices of lament can also help adolescents develop a deeper sense of empathy and compassion for others who are suffering. By acknowledging their own pain and suffering, they are better able to understand and empathize with the pain of those who are hurting. Consequently, lament is not simply a way of expressing our doubts and fears, but also a way for teenagers to engage with God and others in the midst of them.