Learning to Lament: Grieving the Small Things

We live in a comparison culture. As self-oriented people, we constantly measure ourselves against others. We even compare our suffering. When our situation doesn’t seem as bad as someone else’s, we will often dismiss our struggles as not significant enough to mention (to God or to a friend). But if we ignore our experience and don’t acknowledge its impact, the hurt is still there. We don’t learn or grow by dismissing it; the pain just festers and bleeds into our relationships and behavior. 

One of the beautiful truths about lament is that even the small things are an invitation to turn to God and walk through it with Him. Relationships are forged in the daily moments. If we only turn to our Father in crisis, we won’t have intimate trust and dependence built up, and we won’t know His voice as well. The more often we turn to Him with a humble posture of lament, the more we will grow.

The current pandemic has delivered so many unexpected disappointments and losses. You may not have lost a loved one or your job, but you have been impacted in some way. How can we learn to deal with disappointment in a way that is both honest and humbly dependent on God? Lament gives us a language and a framework to process through the daily hurts and losses, to be comforted by God’s presence, and directed by Him in how to respond. When we turn to God, every small thing is an opportunity to know Him more and be shaped to reflect Him to others. 

The process of grieving the small things looks just like any other lament:

  • Turn to God and acknowledge the struggle, whether it comes in the form of loss, fear, confusion or disappointment. Give voice to what you feel.
  • Seek God’s help to understand why you’re feeling this way. Why does this struggle feel significant? What do you care about and value in this situation?
  • How do God’s character and ways speak to your experience? Remember truth, cry out to Him for help and wisdom, and yield your heart to trust in Him.

Learning to lament the everyday hurts and disappointments takes some intentional practice to develop a rhythm of noticing and taking them to God. In my life, I want this turning to become an automatic response from a heart that knows, loves and is yielded to my Father—as natural as reaching for food when I’m hungry. Here are some practical tools that are helping me grow: 

  • Journaling. When I’m not journaling, I’m not really processing. This practice helps me to be still enough to understand what I’m dealing with and encourages me to be consistent in turning to God. 
  • Sharing with a friend. We can benefit from the help of other believers to give a fresh perspective on what we’re going through and remind us of truth. 
  • Recognizing patterns. There tend to be certain themes connected to the things I get upset about and the reasons why they impact me. Noticing these patterns helps me learn about my own heart and emphasizes what God is teaching me.
  • Searching Scripture. As I see these patterns and learn from God’s Word, it’s helpful to keep a list of truths and verses from Scripture that remind me of what God has been showing me about Himself and how I live before Him. 

Learning to Lament: Grieving in Community

There is much beauty in personal lament as we connect one-on-one with our Father. We need that intimate kind of lament. But God has designed the church as a family, so there is also great fruit in practicing lament in the context of community. Sometimes we are all facing the same loss or hardship, and grieving together strengthens the entire Body as we point one another to the Lord and collectively root ourselves in truth. The shared experience of honest, raw lament can bring healing and unity to the whole community. Difficulty has a tendency to lead us to turn inward and deal with the pain alone, so it takes intentional effort to see each other, engage, and walk through grief together. 

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

—Romans 12:15, ESV

The more common occurrence is for an individual, family or group within the Body to go through seasons of unique suffering. We may struggle to know what to say or how to help, since there’s usually not much we can actively do to change the situation. But lament praying can be a helpful tool to connect with those who are suffering, letting them know they are seen and loved. Through lament, we can enter into the pain of others—growing in understanding and empathy through listening, calling out to God on their behalf, and standing with them in solidarity. As members together of the same Body, what happens to one person impacts all of us. 

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 

—1 Corinthians 12:26, ESV

As we come close to the suffering and sit with them in the pain, a gift we can offer is to pray for them (and with them if they’re willing), crying out on their behalf when they feel too broken to put words together. And as we think about coming alongside those who are suffering to lament with and for them, we know that times will come when we are the ones who need to invite others into our pain and lean on them. 

Another type of lament that can be done in community is corporate repentance. This practice doesn’t seem to be very common in American churches today, but we see many examples in Scripture (such as Nehemiah 1:1-11 and 9; Daniel 9:3-19; Ezra 9:6-10:1). Whether it’s the whole church Body praying together, or the pastors leading, coming together to confess our common sin and turn toward repentance can be a powerful practice used by God to produce much fruit—in individual hearts and the church as a whole.

This work of walking through grief in community has to be rooted in love, empathy and humility. It’s a way that we reflect the incarnating work of Jesus, who took on flesh and entered into our broken world to bring redemption. As we learn to lament together, it can yield closer relationships, unity, and the whole Body being built up in Christ and pointed toward truth. Through listening to and understanding the trials of others as we come alongside them, lament also leads us to compassionate action (Deuteronomy 24:17-22; Hebrews 10:32-34; 2 Corinthians 8:1-5). 

Learning to Lament: Love and Longing

As we walk with God through lament, He reorients our mind toward truth by His Word. But He also works to shape our heart, to grow in us a deeper love and longing for Him and His Kingdom. The God-focused, reorienting nature of lament makes it an act of worship, which in turn amplifies and deepens our worship. 

“Every feeling that turns toward God actually becomes part of our worship.”

Untangling Emotions

The work of lament in my own heart is stretching and humbling; it’s pulling me in deeper. It’s been leading me to behold more of the surpassing greatness of God and be satisfied in Him. Here are some of the ways that I’ve seen God use lament to shape hearts:

  • Aligning our heart to love what God loves. He values life and people. He stands for what is good. He loves justice and redemption, truth and grace. Instead of just chasing our desires and loving ourselves, lament can conform our loves to His. 
  • Growing in us an increasing distaste for what God opposes. Rather than turning a blind eye to the brokenness in the world, and in our heart and life, we can acknowledge and grieve our own sin, as well as the ravages of sin and brokenness that we bump up against each day.
  • Giving us an increasing longing for redemption and the motivation to join God in this work. It may mean forgiving someone who has hurt you and working to pursue reconciliation, or sharing with others the invitation of the Gospel to be reconciled to God through Christ. We reach out to others, especially those who have been marginalized, and invite them to come near. 
  • Having our expectations shaped by His purposes. Lament can increase our eternal perspective and give us open eyes to see how God is at work. A change in perspective and expectations transforms how we pray. We still pray for tangible gifts such as healing and financial provision, but we go further to ask for help that is rooted in God’s redemptive purposes—heart change, reconciliation, dependence, perseverance, increased faith, humility, and so on. Lament helps us lean into the painful things we face and look for resurrection. 
  • Making our heart tender toward God and people. As we experience God’s comfort and compassion toward us, our love and trust in Him grows stronger. As we see our own brokenness and weakness, and God’s mercy in response, we’re equipped with grace to love others and walk patiently with them.