The Spiritual Practice of Lament


Beth A. Richardson


How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
—Psalm 13:1


The spiritual practice of lament is central to a people walking in the wilderness. The people of Israel cried out to God during times of exile. They did not hold back on their critique of God’s action or inaction. They expressed to God their thoughts and emotions, knowing that God would hear their cries.

Lament is a prayer for help that comes from a place of pain or distress. Lament gives voice to our intimate feelings, our deepest longings. Through expressing our laments, we give voice to the exiled parts of our deepest self. Lament can be part of the process of healing. We offer our concerns and our wounds to God. And, if our wounds are not healed, they are acknowledged and offered in prayer to the One who walks with us in our wilderness.

One third of the psalms are classified as psalms of lament. The psalms of lament include individual and community laments expressing both personal and communal grief and pain.


Read a Psalm of Lament

Choose a psalm of lament (see list below) and read it aloud. How does it feel to pray these words aloud to God?

Individual psalms of lament: 6, 10, 13, 22, 25, 31, 38, 44, 55, 71, 86

Corporate psalms of lament: 44, 60, 74, 79, 80, 85, 90


Write Your Own Lament

Psalms of lament follow a structure that includes at least the following elements:


Address—Your cry to God

“My God, my God” (Ps. 22:1).


Complaint—Description of the problem

“Why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my
groaning?” (Ps. 22:1-2).


Petition—A request for help

“Rise up, O Lord, in your anger;
lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies;
awake, O my God; you have appointed a judgment” (Ps. 7:6).


Affirmation—A statement of trust

“But I call upon God,
and the Lord will save me.
Evening and morning and at noon
I utter my complaint and moan,
and he will hear my voice” (Ps. 55:16-17).


Resolution—A vow of praise to God

“O my strength, I will sing praises to you,
for you, O God, are my fortress,
the God who shows me steadfast love” (Ps. 59:17).


Write your own psalm of lament following the pattern above. Or pick a psalm of lament and adapt it to your situation. After you have written your psalm of lament, share it with a trusted friend or covenant group. Read it aloud to the Holy One who hears your deepest cries.

From Walking in the Wilderness: Seeking God During Lent by Beth A. Richardson. Copyright © 2020 by the author. Used with permission of Upper Room Books.

Photograph by Neely Wang