Archive for June 23rd, 2007

One of the biggest differences I think between lamenting and complaining is that:

Lament implies an invitation to connect


Complaint builds a wall

That may be overly simplistic, so let me try to flesh it out a bit more. If I have had a rough day, and I am sharing all the details with you, I could have two reasons for doing so (there might be more, but these are the two I thought of right now):

(1) I want you to know how miserable I am. I want you to be mad with me at the people who have made me miserable. I want you to step in and fix some of the problems that are making me miserable. My complaint implies demands. Demands to join with me in railing at injustice. Demands to do something to make it better.

(2) I am hurting and I want you to understand and to share in my suffering. In some ways this looks like the same thing as “I want you to know how miserable I am.” But from experience, I know how those two messages can come from very different places inside of me.

In the one instance I want you to suffer because I’m suffering. In the other, I am seeing my own neediness, sorrow, loss or pain and inviting you to be there with me in that place.

With complaint, there is a problem. And it needs to be fixed (or if it can’t be fixed, I need to at least build my case and convince you to join me against the person or situation that is a problem. If you can’t fix it–and I certainly expect you to try, if I’m complaining to you about it–then at least be angry with me about it.)

With lament, there is a problem. And I’m not demanding it be fixed. But I’m also not minimizing how serious the problem is or what the painful effects are on me. I’m grieving the problem and feeling the pain that comes with it. And I’m asking you to sit with me in that place, to grieve with me, to not leave me alone, to be WITH me as I grieve. I’m not demanding that you join me in what I’m feeling, but I am inviting you to do so. To understand my pain and share it with me.

What do you think? Do you think lamenting would change how we deal with the big “griefs”? How about all the little things each day that “just aren’t right”? Can we lament those? Or is a litany of the day-to-day lesser struggles just an excuse to wallow in “how bad we have it”?

How would it change your response to someone’s complaints if she were “moaning” about her day, but the words were an expression of lament and not just complaining? Would you be able to tell the difference? Could you respond to one who really was complaining without giving in to her demands (for you to join her in her anger or fix the problem), but rather offering out the gift of joint lament in response to her woes?

As always, for all my strong opinions on a given topic, I have more questions than I do answers. I’d love to hear your thoughts and interactions on this topic.


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Recently a friend told me that he had read somewhere that what husbands hear as complaining from their wives is often actually lamenting.

That immediately resonated with me as being quite true. As I thought more about what lamenting is, the purposes and value of lamenting and what makes it different from complaining,  I remembered an article I had read some time ago. When I went back to it, I discovered that all the thoughts I was thinking on lamenting were not my own original thoughts. They had obviously come from that article and had simmered around inside my mind and heart until they made so much sense I thought they were my own.

The article was written by Chuck DeGroat. I would recommend reading the whole article, but here is the paragraph that expresses the heart of what I’ve been discovering as I ponder the gift of lamenting: 

Lament is ultimately hopeful. Seems paradoxical, doesn’t it? The person sitting before you is weeping and wailing about his pain, and it is supposed to produce hope? There, of course, is a fine line between complaining and lamenting, but too often we dismiss the baby with the bath water. Dan Allender says that one who laments often looks like a grumbler or complainer, but that biblical lament is nothing of the sort. Instead, lament contains in itself the possibility of extraordinary hope, restored desire, a changed heart. Lament is, at its core, a search for God. It is not a search for answers. It is not an invitation to fix an ailment. Rather, lament enters the agony with the recognition that it might not go away for days, months, even years. And yet, the lament carries with it the hope that God will eventually show. Dan Allender puts it this way: “Lament is a search – a declaration of desire that will neither rest with a pious refusal to ache, nor an arrogant self-reliance that is a hardened refusal to search.”

In future posts, I want to explore further the topic of lamenting. Some questions I am asking myself are:

What IS lamenting? Here I am, with all these opinions on the topic, and I don’t even have a “real” definition of it. Is it an emotion, something we feel? Or an action, something we do?

How does lamenting change the way we grieve?

Can lament happen in isolation, or is being heard and lamented with an essential part of the definition?

How does lamenting affect forgiveness?

How does lament fit with joy, hope and peace, when lamenting seems anything but joyful, hopeful and peaceful?

I’m also wondering what cultural factors play into lamenting–what are the values that make lamenting acceptable or something we run from as fast as we can?  

I am also mentally compiling a list of people who have demonstrated lamenting in a way that makes me want to (1) receive the gift of lamenting for myself more often and (2) allow other people to lament, even when it makes me feel uncomfortable. I have found examples in Scripture, in the lives of people I know and in stories. One of the best modern day examples is a blogger whose writing I enjoy reading. Thinking about lament has helped me understand why some of his posts have really touched me so deeply.

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