Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

Songs of Lament May 25, 2012

Filed under: Psalms — Stephanie Rische @ 8:15 am
Tags: , ,

As I’m reading the Psalms, one of my favorite things is how emotionally honest they are. David and the other psalm writers don’t whitewash their feelings—they put them out there, raw and “unspiritual” though they may be. Some psalms soar in choruses of joy; others pound out refrains of anger. And then there are the ones that are pretty much sobs put to paper.


At least 50 of the Psalms fall into that last category. These songs of anguish are frequently referred to as laments—cries of grief intended to go straight to the Lord’s ears. I recently heard this definition of a lament from Gregg DeMey, a pastor in Chicago: “To lament is to tell the difficult truth to someone who loves you in the hope that it will make a difference.”

Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am in distress.
Tears blur my eyes.
My body and soul are withering away.
I am dying from grief;
my years are shortened by sadness.
—Psalm 31:9-10


How often do I get at least one of the pieces of that definition wrong? Sometimes I’m not transparent with God, and my prayer never gets past the surface to how I’m really feeling. Or maybe at times I tell him the difficult truth, but I don’t really think he cares. Or maybe, if I’m honest, I’m not convinced he can do anything about it.


One of the most fascinating aspects of these laments is the way they tend to make an emotional pivot before the psalm wraps up. Despair turns to hope. Fear turns to faith. Doubt turns to praise.

But I am trusting you, O Lord,
saying, “You are my God!”
My future is in your hands.
—Psalm 31:14-15


So how do we get to that crucial but? How can we turn the corner from lament to trust? I’m noticing a surprising trend in these laments: while they begin with I, they tend to land closer to we. When I’m hurting, my default is to shrink inward, turtle-like. But if these psalms are any indication, we need community to process pain.

Love the Lord, all you godly ones!…
Be strong and courageous,
all you who put your hope in the Lord!
—Psalm 31:23-24


Here’s a challenge for all of us in the week ahead: Let’s tell God the difficult truth. Knowing that he loves us. In the hope that it will make a difference. And let’s not do it alone.



Question: Which part of lament do you find the trickiest?


7 Responses to “Songs of Lament”

  1. maggierowe Says:

    Another though-provoking post, Stephanie. The part of lamenting I find trickiest is to not come across – even to myself – as “complaining.” I love the pastor’s definition that you quoted: “To lament is to tell the difficult truth to someone who loves you in the hope that it will make a difference.” One of my keepsake books is called Psalms of Lament and was written by poet Ann Weems after the death of her only son just before his 21st birthday. LIke scripture, it is honest but not bitter. Saving your post for when I teach the Psalms!

  2. Stephanie,
    Thanks for the post! I think a part of lament that I find the trickiest/hardest is that it opens onesself up to hurting. Thinking about that though, being honest about the things that hurt is probab ly a big part of how to help that hurt heal.
    Thanks! Keep ’em comming!

  3. Nancy Rische Says:

    I know others are there with me on the ability to always truly believe that God loves me. I then have to go back to the question of why else would Jesus have suffered on the cross if he didn’t love me. Thank you God for your mercy, grace and love.

  4. alice Teisan Says:

    Lamenting with grace and having it to extend to others when I may share my lament with them and there answer is less than graceful or grace filled!

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