The following is a summary I wrote for my Technical Writing course. So, definitely more academic than anything else I’ve posted on here, but I thought the article was really interesting, and to spare you the 20+ pages of research, here’s a nice condensed version for you.
In his article “The Role of Biblical Lament in Adolescent Ministry,” Bob Yoder explores the purpose of Scriptural lament and the importance of teaching youth in the church an appropriate way to express their grief through lament, an element that is sadly lacking in most churches and youth groups today.
Yoder begins by helping readers to understand the nature of biblical lament, which is defined as “expressions of complaint, anger, grief, despair, and protest to God.” Laments are cries to God against injustice and pleas that he right the wrong which the writer is experiencing. The two main examples of lament in the Bible are the books of Psalms and Lamentations. While Psalms encompasses several different kinds of prayers, the majority of these are laments, showing the importance of expressing grief to God. Lamentations is a raw, honest look at crisis, showing us how those who experienced it processed their emotions, and even how the objective writer himself became immersed in their lament.
Yoder brings youth ministry into the equation by discussing the lifestyles and struggles of today’s adolescents: due to our ever-changing, fast-paced society where children have to deal with parental divorce and peer pressure, they are forced to grow up sooner than children of previous generations. These rapid changes do not allow them time to slow down and process their feelings. In addition, the adults who should be helping to shape them spiritually have backed out of responsibility, leaving today’s teenagers to manage on their own the troubles they experience and the pain they feel.
Lament, he explains, gives adolescents a chance to articulate the feelings they aren’t quite sure how to place and helps them connect even the difficult parts of their lives with God’s overarching plan, helping them understand that God really is involved in the midst of their pain. It also provides an opportunity to slow down and practice introspection in the midst of a busy world.
There are two basic kinds of crises that adolescents experience: 1) major crises, such as divorce, violence, alcoholism, et cetera, and 2) developmental crises, which are those parts of the maturation process that can cause confusion, like dating relationships and struggling to find a sense of self. While major crises are more of an unexpected blow, developmental crises should be attended to as well, as ignoring them leads to a later buildup of confusion and grief. Lament is a way to help adolescents deal with these crises in constructive, rather than destructive, ways.
Yoder then discusses the effectiveness of lament at each stage of adolescence, as proven by research. Early adolescents, he explains, may have difficulty with the concept of being angry at God and may need adult guidance to keep the structure of lament age-appropriate. Middle adolescents, while still struggling with that theological tension, are more comfortable expressing themselves as they are learning independence. Late adolescents deal with more abstract crises such as life goals and worldview.
The research consisted of pastoral leaders experimenting with having the youth in their churches write their own laments consisting of three parts: 1) venting their anger and frustration, 2) recalling a time in their lives when they felt God was there for them, and 3) a transition into thanksgiving and praise to God. After this exercise, they had the students fill out questionnaires, from which Yoder found his results.
There are a few other factors to be considered, such as the fact that some people need more time to deal with each step adequately before they can move on to thanksgiving. Also, although writing the laments seemed effective for the most part, some students did not enjoy writing. Yoder suggests that these adolescents use their own developed skills in the practice of lament through music or art or other such means.
Overall, Yoder concludes, practicing Biblical lament seems to be a healthy way for adolescents to express their emotions and may keep them from unhealthy alternatives like violence, drug abuse, or self-destructive behaviors.