Complaining or Lamenting

I struggle with the ‘in all things give thanks’ piece of scripture. I know. I know. Many of us have read with poetic passion Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts and no doubt most of us think it is an amazing book. We marvel at how we feel as we begin to keep that journal and give thanks. Initially words fly onto the pages, our pens barely keeping up with the flowing ink.

And then life happens with all its fights, disease, chaos, uncertainty, and discord. And suddenly the pen feels heavy on our paper, the passion is gone. We shout “Where is Ann Voskamp when I need her?” (and Ann undoubtedly shouts back “You’re supposed to say “Where is God, NOT Where is Ann!”)

I think what I haven’t always understood is that lamenting, and by that I mean true grief over a broken world, a broken relationship, a death, is not complaining. Lamenting is aching for a world that is not as it should be. Lamenting is crying out to a God who cares that it’s not as it should be. Lamenting is giving appropriate voice to those things that disappoint, those things that grieve.

If God had wanted our constant happiness he would have created wind-up robots – instead he asks for our deepest trust, faith, and yes – a lamenting now and then. We have evidence of this through the book of Lamentations where the prophet Jeremiah laments for the fall of Jerusalem. He’s in solitude in a fixed posture of grief. He cries out to God with his whole being – from his toes to his nose. And through his cries we are given a portrait of one in anguish.

“He has filled me with bitter herbs and sated me with gall. He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust.I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So I say, ‘My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the LORD.’ I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.”*

Laments can heal the soul because they take us back to God as God. While complaints lead us into an abyss of discontent and wondering why the manna went bad, laments get at the core of the human heart, the dilemma of living out truth in a broken world.

At the end of complaining is greater discontent; at the end of lamenting is the whisper of hope, for at the end of the bitterness and gall is this: “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.”*

*Lamentations 3: 15-20 *Lamentations 3:21,22

Blogger’s note – and today I am lamenting for Israel and Gaza as rockets fly and civilians are killed. My heart goes out to those who have already died with prayers for what seems an impossible peace.

12 thoughts on “Complaining or Lamenting

  1. I found this today as I read your posts about gratitude. Thank you for this post…lamenting rather than complaining. And realizing that grieving is ok…grieving because God’s heart is broken with ours. God uses your words in my life to see Him more clearly. I thank you for sharing.


    1. Just this weekend I had some hard moments of thinking “Am I supposed to have this blog?” And then at the end of the weekend comes this lovely comment on a post from November – I am so grateful that you found it and cared enough to comment. It’s a gift.


      1. Marilyn,
        I found your blog through a friend (also a blogger) who, over 24 years ago served 2 years as a journeyman in Turkmenistan (or was it Tajikistan?…I can never remember). She has great discernment and has your blog listed on her blogroll…Anyway, I have become a regular reader however, I believe that because your posts are for Him, they are able to direct me to a closer walk with Him. I appreciate your opening of your personal walk with Christ; it gives me new perspective on my walk. Have a blessed day!


  2. My daily prayer, also used in my courses when I teach, is based on Lamentations 3:23:

    new every morning is Love
    and all day long it works for good in the world
    it stirs up in us a desire to serve
    and to live peaceably
    and to devote our days to walking in ways which are life-giving


  3. I love your sentence:

    We shout “Where is Ann Voskamp when I need her?” (and Ann undoubtedly shouts back “You’re supposed to say “Where is God, NOT Where is Ann!”)

    ! How we love to cling on to those who seem to have it all sorted when in reality they most likely don’t either! i love the verse you finished on too… so often, whether it’s lamenting or complaining, we can allow ourselves to be consumed by it and it leads to depression. The final word (as you said) however is that despite all hardship, Jesus is still King, still on his throne and he can turn any situation around, no matter how appalling. His compassions never fail us.


    1. I love your second sentence on wanting to cling to those who we think have it all sorted out. So.True. So easy to make people our idols. Thanks Sophie. I have to say that it had been awhile since I had remembered that verse – yet it’s one to remember daily.


  4. I am not tempted to complain about the state of the world as much as I am tempted to despair, and this is also sin. There is no despair in lament because we are agreeing with God about what also grieves His heart and acknowleging that He is the only one who can fix this mess.


  5. Oh Marilyn…. discerning the difference between complaint and lament is a powerful exercise. Learning to identify our longings and pray them back to God as lament would be a great place to start. But instead it’s too easy to complain, to become bitter, to bitch….
    Jesus, in your mercy, hear our prayer!


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