One of the best things about our current Airstream parking spot is the small plot of land adjacent to the RV park. To most people, it may appear to be an ordinary field that’s been turned into a circular walking path; to me, it is also a place of prayer and lament. If you were to watch me there on any given day, it might appear that I am just an avid power-walker, stomping around the makeshift track until my Apple watch lets me know that my 5 miles is complete. However, if you were to get close (good luck with that because I’m pretty fast), you might observe me weeping or ranting at the sky without ever breaking my cadence. On the rare occasion—when I’m far enough away from all the other trailers and completely hidden from view—I may even start yelling. Before your imagination runs away with you, I want to assure you that the shouting is infrequent and is normally limited to one drawn-out “AGRHHHHH” or a triple repeat of “why??” (Don’t ask me why, but there is something quite satisfying about yelling, “Why, Why, Why!!!” to a bunch of confused cows in the field.) You must try it sometime.

Perhaps you’re wondering what would prompt me to modify my normal routine of walking in quiet solitude to one of frenetic emotional processing. The answer is that I’ve come to embrace the need to lament. According to the dictionary, to lament means expressing sorrow, mourning, or regret. I don’t know about you but I seem to be dealing with all three these days.

Michele Cushatt, author of A Faith That Will Not Fail: 10 Practices to Build Your Faith When Your World is Falling Apart, writes that “to lament is to give expression to the sorrow in your soul. In a sense, it is to make a formal complaint, but to take that complaint to the only One who has the power and authority to do anything about it: God Himself.” I have countless burdens for myself and others, and there is not a darn thing I can do to fix them. In fact, when I’ve tried to make things better, they seem to get worse 😩. And therein lies the need to lament…

To lament means we give our pain a voice if only to an audience of one—THE One, that is.

The alternative to voicing our pain is to squelch it and allow our wounds to go untreated. The fallout from untreated wounds is serious: not only can the buried emotional pain manifest in a seemingly random physical illness, but if untreated long enough, bitterness and hopelessness become the lenses that inform our entire outlook in life. Cushatt, a three-time survivor of cancer and a myriad of other personal challenges, would agree. She writes, “I needed to stop trying to stiff-upper-lip my way through (which made it far worse) and instead allow myself to tell the truth about my pain.” Although this kind of statement deserves an “AMEN,” there are far too many people who would hesitate to agree. I think there are many reasons why this might be so. Let’s consider a few of them.

One of the most common objections to pressing into lament is that lamenting requires us to connect to our pain. Let’s face it; most of us have an aversion to that, and for good reason. I mean, experiencing pain is just so—I don’t know—painful! I’ve counseled countless people who have expressed a fear that if they “go there,” a dam will break, and they may never find their way back. If that is you, I hear you. Death by grief is a fear of many, so you are not alone. I honor where you are and won’t try to talk you out of your fear. After all, your emotions are real (even if they’re not always true.) A better way forward might be to find ways to make the process feel less scary to begin with. (More on that in a minute.)

Perhaps surprisingly, even people of faith are resistant to expressing lament. Many will utilize spiritual tools and Christian platitudes to either avoid experiencing emotional pain or try to prove to God that they are remaining faithful in the storm. Therapist Dr. Anitia Phillips calls this practice spiritual bypassing. You may have noticed this when you ask someone how they’re coping with a personal tragedy, and they reply, “God is good, brother!” Can you see how this response completely bypasses the opportunity to express one’s true feelings? (It’s important to note that you can believe that God is good and still express your pain. There is no Christian law against that.)

It’s important to recognize that God isn’t disappointed when we question Him or hurl expressions of rage or anguish His way. He expects us to lament. Why else would roughly two-thirds of the Psalms be ones of lament? N.T. Wright suggests that lament actually proves our relationship with God. He notes, “Israel brought their lament to God in the Psalms on the basis of His covenant with them. These prayers and songs were not vain attempts to convince a distant deity to notice them. They were not like the priests of Baal dancing and cutting themselves to conjure a response. These were a people whom YHWH—the sole sovereign creator—had called His “firstborn.” They were asking their Father to act accordingly.” We can do that too!

It’s not just individuals whom God expects to lament. In Scripture, we see examples of groups or even cities lamenting together. In Isaiah 29:2, the prophet predicts that the whole city of Jerusalem will moan and lament when it is besieged. Imagine what it would be like to be part of a group that comes before God to share their corporate pain! I had a taste of this when Jeff and I first joined our church in Connecticut. Although we were brand new to the community, we attended a church-wide meeting to deal with the fallout from an associate pastor being let go. Apparently, this pastor was beloved by some and perhaps not so much by others, so her departure caused a rift in the community. People were hurting, and the community was divided.

We weren’t sure what to expect from this meeting. I worried that it would descend into a “he-said, she-said” gathering of ugliness. Thankfully, my fear was unfounded. Instead, the elders of the church led the group in a time of corporate lament and repentance, with the goal of bringing healing and reconciliation to the body. Because we were new to the church and basically knew no one, I didn’t expect to be moved as much as I was by this interaction. When we broke into small groups to pray, I found myself crying out to God for forgiveness and mercy on behalf of myself and those in the congregation. Although Jeff and I had nothing to do with the rift in the church, I completely identified with them through my own brokenness and sin. As we prayed, I remembered all the times in my own life when I had disparaged a brother or sister in Christ or was critical of church leaders without praying for them. It was easy to lament with people I didn’t know. In fact, it was a privilege and gift as well.

In addition to lamenting in groups, there is also a biblical precedence for lamenting with others in a more intimate way. Consider the early days of Job’s trials when his three friends came to be with him. “When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him because they saw how great his suffering was” (Job 2:12-13). The presence of another person when we lament can provide a circle of security against the pain that threatens to engulf us. This assumes, of course, that the other person knows how to be a safe person to begin with. (Job’s friends started well, but if you know the story, you know they lost their way and began to try to “fix” him.)

Let’s face it: Because many of us are not able to sit in our own pain, we are not able to do that with others. Many of us tend to be more comfortable “doing” than “being,” so given a choice, we default to action. We’ll make a meal, mow a lawn, or text “praying for you” rather than sit on the ground with someone in pain for 7 minutes, never mind 7 days, as Job’s friends did. I believe there’s a good reason for that. If we sit with the pain of another, we are forced to confront our own grief and confusion about why there is so much suffering to begin with. Although I understand the desire to avoid that discomfort, it misses the whole point of lamenting. We lament precisely because we don’t “get” it.

“Lament is what happens when people ask, ‘Why’ and don’t get an answer.” N.T. Wright

We are conditioned to want to understand what is going on, so when we can’t make sense of a situation, we are way out of our comfort zone. I get that! I like predictability, too. We are a culture that values knowledge, so it’s infuriating when life doesn’t make sense. We want to know why! (Heck, I’ve even resorted to asking cows for answers!) When we can’t figure out why something happened, we are tempted to fill in the blank ourselves (like Job’s friends eventually did.) This is why people sometimes say ridiculous things to grieving parents who have just buried a child. When confronted with a lack of answers, it’s far better to just be quiet than to guess why something happened. I suggest we commit to lamenting with them instead.

If you are hesitant to allow yourself to lament, I want to encourage you to dip your toe in the water. You may already have perfected the art of complaining about your problems; why not complain to the One who can do something about them? Remember, you don’t need to hide your feelings from God. (Spoiler alert: He knows them anyway.) When we lay every emotion and every experience before God, we reinforce a bond of intimacy and connection with the Creator of the universe. Lament can help us feel that we are not alone.

“…He will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deut 31:6)

One way to create more safety in this process is to ask someone to support you. Speaking from experience, it can make all the difference in helping you to overcome your fear. Here’s a silly example: Have you ever been on the ride, The Tower of Terror, at Disneyworld? If you have, you may understand how terrifying the whole experience is. As I stood in the hour-long queue, I watched countless groups ahead of me scream bloody murder as they proceeded to freefall at 39 miles per hour from a “haunted” hotel. I know it was only an amusement park ride, but I felt sick with fear as I waited to experience this incredible fusion of human engineering and theatrical genius. Tension built the closer we got to the head of the line. When it was finally my turn to board the ride, I was only able to do so because I had the support and encouragement of my friends and family around me. Holding the hand of my friend provided me with the safety and containment I needed to overcome my fear. Although this might be a frivolous example, it illustrates my next point: it’s easier to do hard things when we have the support of others.

Although I am by no means an expert when it comes to lamenting, I am constantly reminded of my need to do so. Last night, as Jeff and I talked about a very painful situation in our lives, I could feel the pull of the field again. I shall be walking out there today. (I may even rant at the cows.) What about you? Will you invite God into your pain?

At the end of last week’s post, I encouraged you to dip your toes in the water by starting to name your pain. I also suggested that you ask God to show you where your body experiences that pain. (I am very aware of the balls of tension (grief?) in my upper back at the moment.) You may want to consider this as a sign that your soul needs some relief. It can be helpful to read a psalm of lament to connect to your own grief and pain. If you would like to give it a go, here are a few suggestions:

  • Begin by quieting your body and mind with deep, slow breathing for a few minutes.
  • Ask God to be with you and wait to sense His presence.
  • Slowly read Psalm 25 out loud (see below).
  • Re-read the psalm again, but this time, pay attention to the words that jump out at you. For example, the word “ashamed” might catch your attention.
  • Journal about what your heart is saying about that word. Ask God what He wants you to know.
  • If you sense pain bubbling up, avoid squelching it. Let your body respond to what is happening inside. Cry or moan if you feel led to. If you are alone, ask God to help you express your pain in safety.
  • When you are finished, give yourself a hug.
  • Finish with deep breathing.

Psalm 25:1–2, 16–21


A Psalm of David.

1 To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul.

2 O my God, in You I trust,
Do not let me be ashamed;
Do not let my enemies exult over me.

16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
For I am lonely and afflicted.

17 The troubles of my heart are enlarged;
Bring me out of my distress.

18 Look upon my affliction and my trouble,
And forgive all my sins.

19 Look upon my enemies, for they are many,
And they hate me with violent hatred.

20 Guard my soul and deliver me;
Do not let me be ashamed, for I take refuge in You.

21 Let integrity and uprightness preserve me,
For I wait for You.

*I would love to hear if you have had any experience with lamenting alone or with others. Do you have any suggestions or practices that help you express your pain to God?

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