We're in a series of posts during Lent on the topic of lamentation in worship.
2) Lamentation is the prayer language of suffering.
Scripture recognizes seasons of human experience: "For everything there is a season; a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance..." (Ecc 3:1-4, ESV). When we read the Psalms, we gain the sense that they provide prayers for these various "times." They offer a complete array of emotional prayer languages.
How does one pray joy? Through praise. (Psalm 100)
How does one pray prosperity? Through thanksgiving. (Psalm 30)
How does one pray personal need? Through supplication. (Psalm 86)
How does one pray for the needs of others? Through intercession. (Psalm 5:11-12)
How does one pray their guilt? Through confession. (Psalm 51)
Praise, thanksgiving, supplication, intercession, confession—these are all languages of prayer for various circumstances. They are the various pigments of prayer to be painted on the wildly colorful canvas of life.
So how does the Christian pray her suffering? She prays it through lamentation. Lamentation is how suffering expresses itself Christianly. To be sure, there are other ways that suffering could be prayed to God. One could accuse God. The Bible has something to say about that, though (James 1:13). One could aim despair "at" God. The Bible also seems to address that (Rom 9:10-11). One could hurl up curses to the heavens. Though this very suggestion by Job's wife didn't appear to get much approval (Job 2:9). We might consider these types of prayers "non-native" prayer languages for the Christian, bastardized dialects borne in the areas outside the borders of Zion, in the compromised regions where other tongues have commingled with the original language.
So it appears that though there are many ways to return our suffering to our sovereign God in prayer, the Christian way is through lament. It is the purer language of suffering, whose wording, grammar, and syntax best fit creature crying to Creator. Interestingly, just because we differentiate this language from that of accusation, despair, and curse, it doesn't seem to diminish the mother tongue's colorful nature. There's plenty of shouting. Every time we read "Arise, O God!" in the Psalms, we should hear it as a scream (e.g. Psalm 3, Psalm 10). Much to the chagrin of therapists that discourage hyperbolic language in relational conflict, exaggeration seems to be allowed: "Why do you cast us off forever?" (Psalm 74:1). There's even a bit of provocative taunting thrown in there: "Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself!" (Psalm 44:23). And there's certainly a lot of moaning and groaning (e.g. Psalm 31:10).
Lamentation as a language, therefore, doesn't sound proper or refined. It's probably less like smooth French; more like gritty Arabic—lots of gutterals, lots of spit. It is clear, true, raw, and beautiful in its own messy kind of way.
Like any language, unless you grow up with it from birth, it takes practice and study. And it just might be, too, that lamentation requires a "cultural immersion"—moving into territories where that language is the dominant language.
Lent just might be that annual opportunity for such an immersion.