Rediscovering Lament

As a discipleship leader, I have noticed a pattern: Whenever we find ourselves stuck spiritually, pain is usually the culprit. Pain is a terrible, unnatural consequence of the fall, so it makes perfect sense that we seek to fight it, numb it or avoid it. And yet, we cannot just wish pain away. If we do not deal well with it, then pain has the power to distort our relationships and our souls.

God invites disciples to do something entirely different with our pain—something that transforms it into a means of healing and peace, both on a personal and at a systemic level. In the midst of our pain, God invites us to respond with lament.

Let’s start with how lament transforms personal pain. Learning to lament is like learning a new language. Lament is the language that God has given us to talk to him about pain. In his book Weep With Me, Mark Vroegop observes that when we read the psalms of lament, we discover a four-step pattern: turn, complain, ask and trust. Rather than moving away from God in our pain, he invites us to turn to him, complain authentically, ask for what we desire and then trust him with the results.

Lament brings deep personal peace because it allows God to meet us where we actually are, and because it invites us to trust that, even through our pain, God is indeed working out his good purposes. At its heart, Vroegop writes, lament is “a prayer of pain that leads to trust.” It is because lament leads us to trust that it also becomes God’s antidote to pain, one that transforms pain into a spiritual catalyst.

But let’s go further. Lamenting corporately can also transform systemic pain. I believe that the racial unrest of our generation is God’s invitation for us into enter into solidarity with our brothers and sisters in pain. As we lament together, mourning with those who mourn and rejoicing with those who rejoice, we live as though we truly are the body of Christ. The shared burden of pain that we experience in solidarity catalyzes us all to pursue change together. There is no other way forward.

The evangelical church has largely been ineffective in racial reconciliation efforts precisely because we resist lament. In our wealth and comfort, we prefer praise to lament. In his book Prophetic Lament, Soong-Chan Rah reflects on how even though about 40% of the psalms are laments, a much tinier percentage of our contemporary worship songs deal with lament. A recent Christian Copyright Licensing International survey of the top 100 worship songs most frequently sung in churches revealed that only five of the songs would qualify as a lament.

Nothing is wrong with songs of praise, of course—but there has been an imbalance. The contemporary church’s resistance to pain is precisely what makes the church ineffective in the sustained pursuit of justice with suffering people within the body of Christ. The evangelical church has tended to either avoid or try to speedily fix the pain of our racial challenges rather than enter into the harder and costlier practice of true solidarity. And true solidarity is exactly what is required for long-term systemic and cultural change. So, brothers and sisters, if we want to experience true peace and healing—as individuals and as the body of Christ—let us relearn how to lament together.

Michelle Sanchez
Michelle Sanchez

Michelle T. Sanchez has served in various discipleship and evangelism leadership roles for more than a decade, most recently as executive minister of make and deepen disciples for the Evangelical Covenant Church. She’s the author of Color-Courageous Discipleship (WaterBrook).