Help Your Teenager Lament

Like many teens, my own adolescence was filled with intense emotions. Not only did I have the usual challenges of navigating hormonal changes, desiring increasing independence from my family, and finding my place among my peers, but I also encountered grief over loss, uncertainty over my family’s financial struggles, and fears about the future. I experienced rejection from peers for my faith and the resulting pang of loneliness. I worried about how we’d pay for food and necessities of life. I wondered who I was and what my purpose in life might be.

I guess you say I felt all the feels. 

I remember well not knowing what to do with those emotions. I often felt as though I was drowning as wave upon wave of despair would crash over me. I wondered how long I would feel that way and if anyone would rescue me. 

During those trying years, I found hope in the Psalms. So much so, I wrote many of them down and pasted them to my walls, right alongside posters of my favorite big hair bands and Brat Pack actors. Those verses anchored me in turbulent waters, mostly because I didn’t feel so alone. The Psalms showed me that others felt the same intense feelings I felt. They reminded me that God was my deliverer. He saw me and he would rescue me. 

Later, as an adult, I found myself in another season of emotional turmoil and I turned again to the Psalms. This time, I was armed with additional resources like commentaries and study guides. I learned more about the Psalms, specifically how they teach us the way of lament. I learned the pattern and structure of those poems I clung to in adolescence and how to follow that pattern in my own prayers to the Lord. In doing so, I engaged with God in my sorrows and fears. He met me there with his glory. As Augustine once wrote, “In my deepest wound I saw your glory and it astounded me.”

As parents, we watch our teens struggle to navigate their emotions. They feel lonely and rejected by their peer group. They feel sorrow and grief over losses. They feel fear and worry about the future. Indeed, they feel all the feels. We want to come alongside them and disciple them through it, and the Psalms of Lament are a guide in helping us do so.

The Pattern of the Laments

The book of Psalms was the songbook for God’s people. They sang its prose in worship just as we sing our praise songs each Lord’s Day. They sang these songs depending on their circumstances. If they wanted to praise God for who he is, they sang a psalm of praise. If they wanted to remember something God had done for them, they sang a song of remembrance. If they wanted to thank God for rescuing them, they sang a song of thanksgiving. And when they needed to cry out to God in lament, they sang a song of lament.  When it comes to the book of Psalms, whatever emotion one is feeling, you could say “there’s a psalm for that.”

The laments are the darkest of all the psalms. If we were to classify them for a Spotify station, they’d be like a sad country song or the blues. While they were written by different people facing different life circumstances, they have a common pattern and structure, including the following:

Cry out to God in Honesty

The psalmist cries out to God, voicing his emotions in descriptive and vivid ways. He tells the Lord exactly how he feels. He doesn’t pretend that things are better than they are; he engages with God in raw honesty. “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping” (Ps. 6:6). “Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me” (Ps. 55:5). 

Ask for God’s Help and Deliverance

The psalmist tells the Lord his trouble and asks for his help and rescue. He looks to the Lord alone for deliverance. “Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck” (Ps. 69:1). “But you, O LORD, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid!” (Ps. 22:19). 

Focus on the Character and Ways of God

As the psalmist looks to the Lord for help, he reminds himself of who God is and what he has done. He sings about God’s goodness, steadfast love, and faithfulness. He describes God as his refuge, fortress, rock, and stronghold. He reflects on ways God has met him in the past and delivered him. “Answer me, O LORD, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me” (Ps. 69:16). “I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds” (Ps. 77:11-12).

Respond in Trust and Worship

After the psalmist cries out the God in lament, voicing the depths of his painful emotions; after he asks the Lord to rescue him from trouble; and after he focuses his heart on who God is and what he has done, he then responds in trust and worship. The process of lamenting brings him to a place of confidence and hope. The journey of lament reshapes his emotions. While this journey seems to take place in a few verses for us as readers, it truly was a journey, one which the psalmist likely traversed multiple times. He didn’t always receive an answer to his lament by the end of the psalm; instead, the exercise of faith helped him to turn his heart in worship, expectant that God would respond. He trusted in the character and ways of God. “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me” (Ps. 13:5-6).

Walk Your Teen Through the Psalms of Lament

When our teens feel all the feels, we can come alongside them by reading the Psalms of lament with them. We can show them this pattern in the laments and help them identify the structure in specific psalms. We can encourage them to follow the pattern in their own prayers. 

When your teen feels fear: Read Psalm 27 or 57.

When your teen feels sorrow or grief: Psalm 13 or 31.

When your teen feels rejected: Psalm 55.

When your teen feels lonely: Psalm 25 or 42. 

When your teen is waiting on the Lord: Psalm 6 and 13

When your teen feels guilt over sin: Psalm 38 and 54

Painful emotions are common to all who live in a fallen world and the Psalms reflect that. God invites us to engage with him in our emotions, to bring all our feels to him in lament. When our teens feel the weight of their emotions, we can show them the God who cares about all their tears by teaching them the way of lament. 

Christina Fox is a counselor, retreat speaker, and author of multiple books including Like Our Father: How God Parents Us and Why that Matters for Our Parenting. You can find her at .

More From This Author