When pain comes, our world can fall apart. This can also happen through sadness and depression or through the experience of brokenness. When pain comes sufferers have no idea where they can turn for relief. There are no quick fixes or suitable ‘one-liners’ to relieve the relentlessness of torment and affliction they face.

If a person’s life was written as a drama the resulting story of her brokenness would be an ironic tragedy. Recent research (Sarlow, 2017: 100-103) into irony theory reveals that when things break either paradoxical or reversal irony results when there had been an expectation that those things would last. The expectation is that things will not break, but they do. Further to this, unstable irony results when the reader experiences the breakage, or when the reader becomes the object of the brokenness (Sarlow, 2017: 73-78). Sometimes, broken lives are healed and the unstable irony resolves. When this happens, it is called ‘perplexing irony’ (Sarlow, 2017: 2). If there is the experience of loss or breakage, and there is an expectation that the problems are short-term, there can be hope that the future will be pain free (Sarlow, 2017: 281).

People expect that their things, their family members, and/or their relationships will last. But the human experience is that breakages are inevitable. Originally written by George Bernard Shaw, and echoed (out of context) by Malcolm Fraser (SBS, 2015), are the words: ‘Life wasn’t meant to be easy’. These words say it all. Whenever something that is precious, breaks, gets lost or dies, the inner self reminds the reader that she needs to grieve. The brevity of life and the loss of things that are cared about brings sadness. Unfortunately for those who suffer brokenness, there is no set formula to help in dealing with their dissonance, loss and death.

The people of Ancient Israel had a way of expressing and dealing with their brokenness and grief. They cried out to the divine being; they screamed at God when they were in pain. Their laments expressed their pain, their helplessness and their lack of understanding of their circumstances to God. The people of Ancient Israel believed, and people of faith today believe that God grieves when we are in pain. In our helplessness, the one thing we can do is cry out to God, or to sit with those who are in pain.

In ancient times, the complaints of God’s people were written down as laments. The Psalter (Book of Psalms in the Bible) contains 150 psalms, and almost one-third of them are laments. There were community and individual laments (Anderson & Bishop, 2000: 49-76). Current research suggests that a lament is often the lyrics of a song, expressing the pain, dissonance, loss and/or breakage of that which was precious (Sarlow, 2015). In modern times, a huge number of our top forty hit songs are laments inspired by human brokenness.

The six parts of the lament

There are six parts of a lament. Anderson and Bishop (2000: 49-76) identify that most of the laments in the Bible are in the first person and have an identifiable structure. The six parts of the laments are these:

the address, ‘O God! O Lord!’

the complaint, ‘How long?’ Or ‘Why did this or that happen?’

the confession of trust, ‘Whatever happens, I trust you’ (missing in many pop songs).

the petition, ‘Do not allow evil to prosper’; ‘my heart is broken’.

the assurance, ‘You have not forgotten me’.

and the vow of trust. ‘I will delight in your presence’ (relying on God in grief).

Rhyme is not a feature of Hebrew poetry, but rather it follows a metric pattern, often repetitious with parallel couplets. My lament follows the rhythm of 5-7-7-8-8-6-6-7-3. I adopt both features of structure and rhythm in my lament.

Furthermore, research in pastoral theology (Capps, 1981: 72-97) shows us that the grieving process is helped if the sufferer expresses her pain to the divine being. A more recent study (Wells, 2011) suggests that healing can result more completely when the deep pain of human brokenness is thoroughly expressed.

Concerning my own story, my father died in April 2016. He was two weeks short of turning ninety-two. Then my wife’s father died, and then my mother died. Their deaths were unrelated. All of this happened in twenty-one weeks. I am the only one left of my generation in our family (since my sister died four years ago) and my wife has no brothers or sisters.

I wrote this four-stanza lament just after my father passed away. It has helped me in the grieving process. My lament follows the pattern of the laments from Ancient Israel. Yet, added to this, I express unstable irony in my lament as I am sharing my own brokenness. However, at its end, there is hope of healing. The irony is only temporarily unstable as it turns into ‘perplexing irony’. My lament expresses my dissonance, my pain and sadness as I cry out to the Lord, grieving the loss of all my older family members.

The Lament

I am ageing, Lord.
Daily, my losses increase;
Yet, lives cut short, lose no more;
The irony: their world restored.
But mine is loss and brokenness;
More days, more breakages?
Ageing’s dilemma.
What to do my soul? Die young?
Much too late.

I am sad, O Lord;
The passing of my father.
He was quite old; ninety-one.
The irony: he’s with you now.
But me, I’m here with brokenness
Still grieving. Why so sad?
Ageing’s dilemma.
Shall I mourn a while for him?
My dear dad?

I am sad, O Lord,

Dementia torments mother.
She lies in bed, always sleeps.
The irony: I love her, but
I cannot bear to visit her;
I must. I am not known to her.
Ageing’s dilemma.
Shall I go and see her soon?
My dear mum?

Look within, my soul.
Lord, I turn my prayer to you.
I long to hear your answer.
The irony: my brokenness;
I leave my grief, my pain with you.
Will you touch my sadness?
Restore? Make me new?
Lord, with you I hope to age
A bit more.



Anderson, Bernhard W. & Steven Bishop (2000). Out of the depths: The Psalms speak for us today (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press)

Capps, Donald (1981). The Use of Psalms in Grief Counselling (Philadelphia: Westminster Press)

SBS (2015). ‘The Paradoxical Malcolm Fraser’, [weblog post] SBS News, 20 March http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2015/03/20/paradoxical-malcolm-fraser?cx_navSource=related-side-cx#cxrecs_s [accessed 29.01.2017]

Sarlow, Kevin W. (2015). Engage in the Psalms: Distance education curriculum, (Adelaide: Adelaide College of Divinity)

Sarlow, Kevin W. (2017). Ironic Authority: A rhetorical analysis of the stability of irony in the Fourth Gospel passion narrative. Ph.D., Flinders University

Wells, Jo Bailey (2011). ‘Jo Bailey Wells: On the Psalms of Lament and the Resources for Healing’, After the Yellow Ribbon, [Vlog post, 7th November] https://vimeo.com/31760232 [accessed 29.01.2017]