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How Prayers of Lament Help Our Broken, Bleeding World

I sat stunned, angry and brokenhearted after reading the horrific news: More than 300 people killed in a terrorist attack at a mosque in Egypt.

I began the day by meditating on Psalm 16:11. “In your presence is fullness of joy.” Next, I spent some time meditating on Romans 14:17 about the righteousness, peace and joy of the kingdom of God.

I long for the righteousness, peace and joy of the kingdom in my life and enjoy praising God for his blessings. But the news from Egypt rightly interrupted my praise. It reminded me that I live in a broken, bleeding world.

I was especially upset about this attack in Egypt because there have been so many massacres recently:

  • Fifty-nine people killed by gunfire at a country music festival in Las Vegas (Oct. 1, 2017)
  • Eight people killed in New York by a truck (Oct. 31, 2017)
  • Twenty-six people killed by gunfire at a Texas Baptist church (Nov. 5, 2017)
  • Fifty people killed in a suicide bomb blast in Nigeria (Nov. 21, 2017)
  • Three hundred people killed by bombs and gunfire at a mosque in Egypt (Nov. 24, 2017)

And there are, of course, other incidents from 2017 that could be cited.

I am much better at praise than I am at lament. Yet one third of the psalms are laments. Prayers of lament are an important part of my spiritual heritage as a follower of Jesus.

Yet I struggle with lament because I want to ignore and stay away from pain. I realize this is a natural tendency in all people. But peacemakers engage conflict. So, we need to learn how to enter into the suffering of the world.

We need to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). We need to bring our suffering or the suffering of others into God’s presence. And we do that through the prayer of lament.

A lament is a prayer of complaint found in more than 50 psalms (see Psalm 6 and Psalm 22 for examples).

But lament “is not whining,” Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice observe in their book, “Reconciling All Things.”

Rather, “it is not a cry into a void. Lament is a cry directed to God. It is the cry of those who see the truth of the world’s deep wounds and the cost of seeking peace.”

Earlier this year, I taught “Peacemaking in a Divided Society” at Bethlehem Bible College in Palestine.

On the last day of class, I taught on lament. I had every student write their own psalm of lament and asked those who could to pray it out.

After tearful prayers and silence, one of my students, Shukry, asked if he could sing a song. He and the Palestinian Christians broke out into a deeply moving song about peace. Lament led to praise.

In their pain, my students remembered that the wounds of the Prince of Peace will heal this wounded, weary world.

It is my prayer this Advent and Christmas season that God will help us learn to lament, bringing our pain and the pain of others into God presence.

After all, we have been promised, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

Rick Love serves as president of Peace Catalyst International. He has lectured or consulted in more than 40 countries in the last 35 years and has published five books, including “Peace Catalysts: Resolving Conflict in Our Families, Organizations and Communities.” A version of this article first appeared on the Peace Catalyst blog and is used with permission. His writings can also be found on his website, and you can follow him on Twitter @drricklove.