Bitter Complaints

Born to Trouble

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

“What shall we pray about today?” Perhaps your congregation is used to hearing such a phrase in worship on a regular basis. Many congregations have a regular time of sharing “joys and concerns” during worship. But for others, it seems like an intrusion on the order of worship; and should the attempt be made, there would be an uncomfortable silence. Yet scripturally, we know we are called to pray for one another. How can we do that without hearing what the needs might be, or where the hurts are?

Note to the Teacher

The scripture we read today is a about Job wanting to talk to God but not being able to find God. The opening activity is called “remember me.” It is a quick game where students are challenged to see who can remember the other person’s name the quickest. The discussion encourages students to ask the hard question, “What do we do when we feel that God isn’t listening to us?” The closing activity invites students to participate in the practice of lament. Times are based on a fifty-minute lesson period but may be adjusted.

1. Ice Breaker: “Remember Me” (10 minutes)

To start, every student must be wearing a name tag with their actual name on it. Invite students to spend a minute or two going around the room looking at one another’s names. Divide your group into two teams and have them sit on either side of the room with a divider (sheet/curtain/etc.) in between. If you have students joining online, invite them to participate as one person and put that individual on a team. Make sure that students have had time to look at who is on the digital call. Then both teams select a player silently for the round, and both players move and sit facing the bedsheet in the middle. (You can move the computer with the student/s on it as well.) When the leaders can see that both players are ready, they drop the sheet so they can see each other.

The first player to yell the other person's name wins a point for the team. Keep playing rounds until everyone has had at least one go or time has expired.

After the game, take a second to ask your group to write down any prayer requests they have on a 3x5 index card. Tell them to not write their names on these cards. Let them know that these are going to be read aloud at the end of today’s lesson. You may want to encourage students to leave out specific people’s names, or you may want to encourage names, depending on the group dynamic. Collect the cards once everyone has had time to write down a prayer request. You’ll return to these cards at the end of today’s lesson.

2. Read Scripture (5 minutes)

Our scripture reading today is a lament by Job to God. Job desperately wants to talk to God, but he cannot find God. While we read the verses today, try to listen to Job’s complaint. Remind the reader to read these verses slowly and with emphasis.

Read Job 23:1-9, 16-17.

3. Discussion (15 minutes)

  • We read that job is “bitter” about his situation. What do we know about the situation Job finds himself in? Do you think Job is right to both feel, and more importantly express, his bitterness?
  • Have you ever felt bitter about a situation you found yourself in? How about a situation you were put in? Which situation was easier to feel bitter about?
  • Have you ever felt bitter about God? Explain.
  • Job shares his sense that God is not listening to him in these verses. Have you ever felt that God was not listening to your prayers?
  • Have you, or anyone you know, ever given up on prayer? If comfortable, can you share the things that were being prayed for or about?
  • When in your life has God not answered your prayers? Explain and discuss. (Note: Allow for students to grapple with this question. Don’t try and provide all the answers or any of the answers. Simply let students marinate on this for a little bit.)
  • When we don’t feel that we can approach God, when God seems unreachable, what do we do during this time? What does Job do?
  • In our scripture reading today, Job wants to talk to God, but he cannot find God. Job says in verse 17, “If only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face.” Have you ever just wanted to “vanish”?
  • Why do you think Job said this? What would you tell Job if you heard him say this? What would you tell a friend or maybe even yourself if you were in this situation?

Remind students that it’s okay to have doubt. It’s okay to struggle and have questions about their faith. It’s okay to simply sit in the silent presence of God and ask those tough questions. Take a few minutes to let students write on 3x5 index cards any questions they have for God. Tell your students that you are not going to answer the questions today, but keep the index cards someplace close, so that over the next few weeks, you can be reminded of those questions and seek ways to find the answers to the questions through prayer and scripture.

4. Activity and Discussion “The Practice of Lament” (20 minutes)

Tell your students that they are going to practice something called “lament.” Lament is a way of expressing grief or sorrow. Students are going to finish a sentence and at the end of the time together, they will have the opportunity to pray for one another. Give each student a sheet of white paper and a pencil or pen. Invite them to finish the sentence of the following prompts. Give each prompt about two to three minutes each. (You may want to put on some calming music during this time to allow for students to better concentrate on their lament.)

  1. “Hey God, something in my life feels off . . .”
  2. “God, I don’t understand . . .”
  3. “God, I am angry about . . .”
  4. “God, fix . . .”
  5. “God, I trust you because . . .”
  6. “God, I praise you even when . . .”

Remind your students that God can handle their complete honesty and that they will be the only one who sees what they wrote. God actually invites our complaints and questions. Honesty with God leads to better trust in God. Thank your students for being open to this exercise and move on to the final prayer response.

Remember those prayer requests you asked students to write down earlier in the lesson? Take a minute to pass those back out at random. Give each student a card and make sure it does not belong to the student. Invite students to spend some time reading the card and then, if they’re comfortable, invite them to pray. Have a leader start and end the time of prayer and invite students to pray during the in-between time.

During this time of prayer, make sure to allow for silence. It’s okay to sit and wait in silence in the presence of God.

Close your time together in a manner that is typical for you.

Total time: 50 minutes


  • Pens or pencils
  • 3x5 cards (2 per person)
  • Large sheet or curtain
  • Name tags
  • White computer paper (1 sheet per person)

In This Series...

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes


  • Green

In This Series...

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year B - Lectionary Planning Notes