Learning to Lament: God Speaks

The voices of pain, fear and anger speak loudly. As we journey through lament, we need to listen to and be reoriented by God’s voice. Thankfully, God not only sees and cares for us, but He speaks His words to our broken hearts. Since creation, God has been speaking life and hope and purpose. The written Word reveals Himself—through it we learn His character, His ways and His heart. But it’s not just information—God’s words are relational and purposeful. 

The practice of pouring out our hearts in humble complaint may feel like the easier and more familiar step, but an essential aspect of the lament process is tuning our hearts to hear and receive what God is saying to us. So what are some of the words that God speaks to those who are grieving?

  • God is near, and nothing can separate us from His love. Whatever our pain, He invites us to walk through it with Him. 
  • Just as God daily fed the Israelites with manna during their wilderness journey, He gives us grace and strength for today, and will give it again tomorrow. 
  • No other refuge is sufficient. In Him, we will find rest and joy and hope.
  • He loves what is good and hates what is evil.
  • God is still at work. His power is perfect, and His purposes will be accomplished. 
  • There is more beyond our suffering. We are invited into God’s eternal Kingdom reality, where our present pain is light and momentary compared with our future hope, which is secure and glorious.
  • The world is broken, and we are in need of grace—but He is a God of redemption, and He is making all things new. 

Learning to Lament: The Journey

“To cry is human, but to lament is Christian.” 

Mark Vroegop

It’s natural to want comfort when we’re hurting, so we tend to seek out other people as a sounding board where we rehearse our pain and receive their comfort and affirmation. We cry, we vent, we replay our suffering on an endless loop. For me, it’s so easy to get stuck in that place—the sadness feels all-consuming and it seems like there’s no way out. Now that I think about it, that’s probably why I often avoid acknowledging the sadness altogether—fear that it will swallow me, that I’ll never get out of the pit. 

However, grief is meant to be productive and active; it’s going somewhere. The destination of lament is not a feeling that things will turn out according to our definition of perfect, or a fake display of happiness. Our destination is trust in God as we move deeper into relationship with Him and lift our eyes to focus on His steadfast love and character. Lament leads us on a journey—from darkness to light, hopeless to resting.

The initial step in this journey is to turn to God in response to His invitation. The next element is what we normally think of as the central aspect of grief—crying out to God, pouring out our heart before the Lord. We acknowledge the pain, hurt, fears and frustrations, and we take them to Him. This crying out is very different from just venting though, because of who we’re talking to—God our Father who creates all things and yet knows, loves and cares about us individually. He is the God of all comfort, and we’re talking to Him in the context of relationship.

The journey continues on from there though, leading us to recall God’s character and faithfulness and look to Him for help and hope. By lifting our eyes up off of the pain and focusing on Him, our perspective can be reframed by truth. Like with a camera lens that’s been zoomed all the way in, we can widen the picture, refocus, and see the broader context of what we’re dealing with. Our small story is always happening within God’s grand narrative of redemption. As we continually turn to God and have our vision clarified by His presence, promises and purposes, we grow in trusting and resting in Him, which is where lament graciously leads us. Trust doesn’t mean everything is tied up in a bow—rather, it’s a reminder and persistent recognition that we are tethered to our good God. 

Lament isn’t a one-time linear process; it’s a road we’re going to be traveling as long as we sojourn in this broken world. But it isn’t stagnant; it’s active, moving us toward God and toward each other. 

Learning to Lament: The Invitation

I recently read Mark Vroegop’s book about lament entitled Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy. It gave me a perspective that I really appreciate, and has become a resource that I often recommend to those I counsel. But I’ve been realizing during this season that I really need to learn how to practice lament myself. 

According to Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, the first step of lament is to turn to God. It sounds simple enough, but sometimes this initial turning is the hardest part. Feelings of cynicism or hopelessness can lead us to seek our own solutions. For me, I tend to either plow ahead and try to fix or control the situation, or I just numb my emotions with distractions like food and tv because it feels like too much to think about. We turn to all the wrong places looking for hope and comfort. 

Though I often cry out to God in short bursts, what I really need is to fully turn, sit with Him, and be still. The pain and fear are hard to face, but I know my good Father is inviting me: “Come, you who are weary.” “Seek My face.” “Abide in My love.” “Take refuge in Me.” How foolish it would be for me to ignore that sweet invitation. These are not things I can solve or face on my own, and ignoring or numbing the pain won’t bring about any good fruit. My Father is inviting me to run into His arms, to know His love and mercy, to be shaped by His truth, to find hope in His redemptive work. My heart breaks over the brokenness of the world, and I don’t want to turn away and pretend not to see. Lament is designed to take us on a journey, and the first step is to turn and run into the open arms of our Father, who has entered into our broken world and is redeeming people to Himself.

These Things That Are Not Mine

I would gladly borrow Your knowledge, Lord, so that I could avoid dwelling in the tension of not knowing when this season will end. It feels like life is on hold, and we don’t know what will be left when this is all over. Will there be jobs, food, money? Will there be a future for us, and what will it hold? It seems like the hard things would be easier and more comfortable if we knew the expiration date, if we knew that peace and relief were on the way.

I would gladly borrow Your power in order to make this stop—to keep people from dying and going broke, to make life comfortable and predictable. To keep my friends and family safe, to make sure I’m protected and provided for, to fulfill my own plans and desires.

I would gladly borrow Your ability to be present everywhere. I miss my people, and I long to hold them close. Presence is such an undervalued gift, until we’re suddenly thrust into isolation, and we crave the togetherness that we often didn’t take time for before.

I want to borrow all these things, Lord, but I know that there’s a reason that they belong only to You. You are the One who holds all things together, and You are able to work in all things to accomplish Your purposes. Instead of clamoring for knowledge, help me to trust an unknown future to You my Father, the One who knows me, knows the story from beginning to end, and has made His perfect love fully known. Rather than grasping for control, help me to remember Your sovereignty and be humbly surrendered to You. Your ways are higher than mine, Your purposes are so much greater. Turn my heart to cherish and prioritize the spiritual over the temporal. And when I long to be present with the people I love, let me lift my eyes to You and choose to rejoice and be content with knowing that You are present with them, and that is the greater gift. You know their situations and their hearts. You alone are the God of Peace. May I come into Your presence each day and walk more closely with You, for in Your presence there is fullness of joy.

A Patient Pursuit

Whether we’re in ministry or not, we all experience relationships that are more challenging than satisfying (I’m not addressing abusive relationships here). In difficult relationships, it’s easy to feel frustrated or hurt, and persevering can be a struggle. Often, it’s evident in our interpretation and response how much we’re focused on ourselves and how difficult the relationship is for us. I found myself in such a mindset recently, and a friend reminded me that God calls us to a patient pursuit of people.

Whatever they are struggling with in their lives, we can engage with them and welcome them in. The gospel is put on full display when we move toward them with the love of the Father, rather than pulling away when we’re offended. Instead of focusing on our own dissatisfaction or disappointment in the relationship, God wants to align our hearts with His to grieve our friend’s sin and suffering, as He does. With a compassionate and tender heart, we seek to know and understand them, to encourage and speak truth in love.

Besides pursuing the relationship, we want to also pursue God in prayer on their behalf. When the focus shifts from the relationship being about our happiness and satisfaction, to being used to honor God and accomplish His purposes, we are led to walk in dependence on Him and to be long-suffering, as He is with us. Sometimes we can feel like the burden is on us to change our friend or fix their situation. We end up being driven by a desire to make ourselves feel better, to relieve the guilt or pressure we feel. But God is the only one who can open eyes and change hearts. And it is He who has the power to be a fully sufficient comfort and help in the midst of suffering. As we seek God in prayer for our friend, He can help us to patiently wait on His timing and rest in His ways, with our hope firmly set on Him.

This patient pursuit requires humility. In difficult relationships, two common pitfalls are withdrawing and giving up on the friendship, and crushing them as we seek control and try to grasp for the desired outcome to happen in our preferred timeframe. But a patient pursuit is more concerned with God’s glory and purposes than our own comfort or desires…it humbly remembers God’s own patience with us and seeks to be dependent on Him.

How an Eternal Perspective Shapes Our Present Living

Let’s face it – we are chronically self-focused. Our gaze is usually turned inward, and we evaluate and engage everything through the lens of personal impact. In seasons of suffering or bouts of difficult emotion, our vision is narrowed even more. But in Christ, our mind and heart are being transformed, renewed in the image of our Creator. A big piece of that sanctification process is growing in developing and nurturing an eternal perspective, so that our affections and purposes come into line with God’s. We need our lives to be shaped by God’s promises.

Eternal perspective has become a pervasive theme in what God has been teaching me lately. And the more I learn and grow, the more clearly I see how having an eternal perspective shapes every aspect of our present living. Here are just a few examples of areas that are impacted:

  • SUFFERING | We are given hope and comfort in the midst of suffering and grief. We are motivated to persevere and surrender.
  • FOCUS | We lift up our eyes and take the focus off ourselves. It cultivates a heart of humility.
  • SPIRITUAL GROWTH | We are motivated to know God more and walk with Him daily, and to put off sin and grow in sanctification.
  • PURPOSE | Our priorities are reoriented to focus on God’s purposes. We recognize that life is a gift to be stewarded rather than a competition to gain all we can.
  • WORK | It changes our perspective on work and ministry. Everything we do is fueled by the ministry of reconciliation that has been entrusted to us.
  • FEAR | In the face of anxiety, we are led to trust God and rest in the peace that He gives. This life is fleeting, and the pain and hurt is temporary. God is bigger than the things we fear, and we stand in reverent awe before Him.
  • IDENTITY | Our story is enveloped in God’s, and all glory goes to Him. He redefines and reframes our identity.
  • RELATIONSHIPS | We are motivated to pursue reconciliation in our relationships. We let go of offenses more quickly and remember that relationships are for Him, not for us.
  • LOVE | Our affections are loosed from earthly treasures, and our heart is fixed on our Father who has so abundantly loved us. We are devoted to Him above all else.

Engaging with the Word

The Bible is unlike any other book. It’s not meant to be read passively or selectively. It is living and active – it teaches, convicts and changes us as we interact with it. We come to the Word to learn about God’s character, and to be progressively transformed into His image. So we need to learn what it looks like to engage actively with God’s Word, with a heart of surrender that seeks to know and respond to Him.

Instead of just skimming over the words on the page, take time to really sit in it and reflect. Ask questions, think about what it means, consider how it connects to the overarching story of redemption, identify what it teaches about who God is and how He works.

Invite the Lord to illuminate your heart and open your eyes through His Word. In what ways do your thoughts and desires fail to line up with what you’re reading in this passage? Seek to understand the root of your sin, not just the external action.

Whenever we see some aspect of God’s character in Scripture, our own sin and insufficiency will be evident. Recognizing our sin is a gift of God’s grace to us, and is part of how He is at work changing us. But it’s uncomfortable, so our natural tendency is often to ignore it and focus on things that seem more pleasant and encouraging. However, the only right response is to humbly confess to God our sin and desperate need for Him.

We know that the Bible says God is good and faithful and loving, but in the face of difficulty, it’s hard to remember and walk in those truths. One of the ways for truth to move from our head to our heart is through praise. Whatever you learn in Scripture about God and His work, respond by praising Him – awaken your heart to love and worship the Lord.

Be specific in praying that God will change your heart and mind. We are dependent on Him and need His help to learn to walk in His ways. For example, if you recognize pride in your heart, ask God to grow you in humility and show you where in your life you have been pursuing your own glory instead of His.

Identify particular ways that God is leading you to respond to His Word. Heart change may take time, but you can take steps forward in obedience as He teaches you through His Word.

That God would speak and reveal Himself to us is such amazing grace. May we cherish and engage with His Word, looking not just for information or help, but to know our Creator in relationship and be changed by Him.

Key Strategies for Navigating Conflict

Especially in our closest and most important relationships, conflict has the potential to become volatile and cause severe, lasting damage. But in Christ, our conflict has the potential to display the grace of God and actually strengthen the relationship. This redemptive fruit is not automatic, though. We must depend on God to help us approach conflict in a new way that is so opposite from the natural bent of our flesh. While navigating conflict in this new way is a complex matter, I would sum it up in two key strategies: love and listen.

LOVE | Be committed to unity. Love doesn’t keep score or manipulate. Try to approach conflict with a cooperative, rather than competitive, attitude. You’re on the same team; you’re sitting on the same side of the table. Let your communication be characterized by humility and selflessness. Love and honor each other as people created in God’s image and given value by Him.

LISTEN | Usually in conflict, you will find a clashing of perspectives and desires. Each person is coming at it from a different angle and is interpreting things according to their own interests and experiences. And each party views one particular aspect as the most important consideration or most pressing concern. So be grace-centered in your approach by seeking to understand each person’s point of view and interests. Rather than assuming you know how the other thinks and feels, ask clarifying questions with a desire to truly understand their heart. Then respond with empathy and compassion. Lay down arms, seek God, and work together to reach a wise solution that honors God above all.

Doing conflict from a place of love and grace is hard. We won’t always get it right; we will often hurt those we love. But we can cultivate a pattern of humble confession and merciful forgiveness, and keep moving forward together as we learn a redemptive way to walk through conflict.

*  My perspective has been influenced by Ken Sande’s book Peacemaking for Families. I highly recommend it as a valuable resource for understanding communication and conflict in relationships.

Walking in Wisdom

Each of us are being shaped and guided by particular beliefs, desires, and allegiances that set our lives on a trajectory. Yet often we get so busy living life that we don’t take time to really consider how we are living and what we are pursuing. But God has a specific design for how we have been created to live before Him – walking in wisdom.

Proverbs 9:10 tells us, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” So this wisdom life that God has called us to must be rooted in the fear of the Lord. Nothing else is a steady foundation, and no other posture is conducive to growing in true wisdom. What does it mean to fear the Lord? It’s a matter of the heart – our posture and allegiance – that flows from a right view of God as holy and exalted. Fear of the Lord looks like worship, surrender, obedience, trust and love.

The life of walking in wisdom embraces and is marked by humility. This means we trust that God’s ways are best, even when they are hard or don’t make sense. Humility is dependent on God, rather than being self-reliant. We look to His character, purposes and design as our source for discerning what is right and best. We also seek to have an accurate awareness of our weaknesses and temptations. As we learn to walk in humility, we receive correction and are willing to confess and repent in submission to our Good King.

Scripture teaches us the life-giving value of wisdom, and insists that it must be intentionally pursued. So what does that pursuit look like?

  • Wisdom’s reach is extensive, so we should shine the light of Scripture into every area of our life.
  • We can invite correction, input, and accountability from other believers.
  • Wisdom grows as we take time to process and reflect on our experiences and the responses of our heart. If we stay in survival mode or fill our lives so full that we’re never still, there won’t be an opportunity for growth.
  • We must remember that wisdom is not just about behavior and choices, but heart change and being shaped into the image of God. With this perspective, we can seek out the root and pray for God to change us as we follow Him.

Let us move forward in pursuit of the life God created us for, growing in wisdom as we follow Him in joyful, humble obedience.