Learning to Lament


In the midst of good in our lives, we fear—because we believe “all good things must come to an end.” Something bad is going to happen, we think—and inevitably, it does. Life isn’t perfect so we experience—at varying degrees of separation—disease, death, relationship heartache, financial trouble, school shootings, and terrorist attacks—just to name a few.

In the midst of evil in the world we fear—because, in the words of a friend, “It seems like the bad guys are winning.”

In the good and in the evil. That’s a lot of fear.

In Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering, Tim Keller observes, “No matter what precautions we take, no matter how well we have put together a good life, no matter how hard we have worked to be healthy, wealthy, comfortable with friends and family, and successful with our career — something will inevitably ruin it.”

He’s suggesting what we already know; suffering can’t be avoided. So why all the fear ?

Maybe we’re so afraid of suffering because we anticipate an emotional state we think won’t be able to process or endure.

My dear friend Leigh is leaving the U.S. in just a few days to begin a lifelong commitment to loving the people Indonesia in Jesus’ name. She recently completed a month of pre-departure training in Colorado. As she shared about her experience, one of her new skills in particular grabbed my attention.

“To get ready for the transition and endure the change, they taught us that we have to lament. We shouldn’t just be fine with the sadness of giving up life as we currently know it. We need to be honest with ourselves about what is making us sad, what we’re going to miss, what we fear. So we spent an afternoon in lament to God, bringing all the things before him that were stirring up deep emotions in us.”

Lament: A passionate expression of grief or sorrow.

I do not know how to lament well, not have I prioritized it as an antidote to fear, a sword of love in the darkness. Rarely do I lean into the sadness and hardships of life when they come. I think I have to be strong, to push through or stoically accept hardships. Or I’ve spent so much effort trying to control and prevent suffering that I want to push it away when it comes. “This isn’t what I had planned! I’m going to emotionally pretend like it isn’t happening,” my subconscious protests.

Those reactions are a function of my pride, my independence. The same self-reliance that causes fear, because I can’t imagine the thought of having to bear the weight of suffering alone. But we don’t have to.

The Bible demonstrates the importance of lament; it draws us to God. Think of Jesus in his passionate sorrow while praying the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest, torture, and suffering on the cross.

36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

There was no fear mentioned, only deep, deep sorrow—to the point of death. Sorrow that led him to the throne of God, where he was very honest and intimate with the Lord–“please take this cup from me.” Lament is basically prayer, worship, and imploring God in our sadness and suffering. It’s taking off the mask of having it all together before God, and being real. He already knows the depths of our hearts anyway.

Think of when a spouse or someone close to you suffers over some problem in silence. Haven’t you found yourself imploring with that person, “Why didn’t you just tell me?” God thinks the same thing. He wants us to come in our joy and in our sorrow.

Maybe if we knew how to lament like Jesus, to grieve at the throne of God in our sorrow and suffering, we wouldn’t be so afraid.

Lament is a function of love. As Jesus modeled, it is a core part of our relationship with God. In the security of that loving relationship, fear’s grip will be lessened. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18, ESV)

I hope that I can join my friend Leigh in learning to lament well. I hope I remember when I’m tempted to sit in fear that I’m never alone and that suffering can sharpen our longing for eternity. As Keller observed, “While other worldviews lead us to sit in the midst of life’s joys, foreseeing the coming sorrows, Christianity empowers its people to sit in the midst of this world’s sorrows, tasting the coming joy.”