A lament is a structured poetic expression of deep personal or communal grief, such as an elegy or funeral oration. By writing a lament, the poet intends, according to the Literary Study Bible, "to give full expression to the suffering of his people and the sorrows of his own soul." The lament shares memories of past glories and speaks of future hope. A lament recognizes sin, grieves over its consequences, and still praises the Lord.
In Lamentations, a book filled with lament, the author mourned the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 586 b.c. Because Judah did not treasure what the Lord had given them, God allowed their defeat and plunder of their treasures.
In this poem, Jerusalem is personified as a woman. She used to be a great queen, but now she's a deserted widow (v. 1). Her people have gone into exile and she feels lonely and betrayed (vv. 2-3). No one comes to worship because the temple is destroyed (v. 4). She is naked and ashamed (v. 8). "All the splendor has departed" (v. 6).
Why did this happen? "Because of her many sins" (vv. 5, 8). As a result, the "treasures that were hers in days of old" (v. 7)-symbolizing the covenant relationship with God-have been taken away (v. 10). Enemies were allowed to triumph over her. In anguish, the poet wondered, Have we lost God's favor? Is the covenant relationship finished? But the prayers in verses 9 and 11 show that he still hoped in God and had not lost faith: "Look, Lord, on my affliction . . . Look, Lord, and consider." The invitation in verse 12 for others to take heed of God's justice and wrath is sorrowful but hopeful in that it demonstrates an unswerving trust in His character.
We know how to give thanks and make requests. But lament may not be a part of our prayer life. We know how to praise God, but confessing our sins often makes us uncomfortable. We often prefer not to grieve over sin. The book of Lamentations, as well as many psalms, teach us how to spend time in confessional prayer.