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.