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). 

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.

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.

Why Community is an Important Piece of Your Counseling Journey

Sometimes people operate from the position that counseling is an entirely personal, private matter. They won’t tell people they are close to that they’re even in counseling, much less share details about what they’re learning and how they’re wanting to change. But this attitude toward counseling eliminates an important element from the process: community. Why should you consider sharing this intimate journey with your community? Here are just a few key reasons…

  1. The counseling relationship is limited and temporary.

    At best, you may see your counselor for an hour each week. Your counselor can’t walk through daily life with you. There are certain limitations in your counselor’s insight and impact that are inherent in the nature of the relationship. While some people may need a longer period of counseling care than others, it’s generally a temporary situation that concludes or becomes less frequent once its purposes are met. As counselors, our goal is to help you address the current issues and struggles, give you tools for growth and change, and then launch you back out to continue the journey in the context of a gospel-centered, discipling community. You shouldn’t rely on your counselor as your sole source of encouragement or nourishment.

  2. Sanctification happens in the context of relationships, and within the local church body specifically.

    Biblical counseling is all about sanctification — pursuing heart change as we walk with God and are shaped by His Word. And that kind of change doesn’t happen in isolation; we’re designed to live and grow in community. The church has been united into a family, and we need one another. It’s in relationships that we are sharpened and challenged, and where we learn to love and forgive.

  3. You need other people to help you remember truth, to hold you accountable, and to encourage you.

    I’ve found that counseling is so much more effective when the people you live life with are aware of the content and progress of the counseling. This allows them to be involved and supportive in specific, tangible ways. And you never know how God will use your story to impact their lives as well.

Counseling can be a painful process, and it’s intensely personal. But sharing it with your community will be invaluable. What’s holding you back from opening up and including others in your journey?



The Church is a Family

What image comes to mind when you hear the word “church”? Do you primarily think of a building, a worship service, a pastor? Regardless of some popular connotations of the word, the church is actually a group of people…followers of Christ who gather to study God’s Word, worship the Lord, serve others, and share the gospel. Jesus created the church, his Body, and he designed it to be a family. There are so many ways that this family dynamic comes into play, but I’ll just highlight two that I’ve been reminded of this week.

First, the church acts as a family by loving and supporting one another. We’re called to give of ourselves — our finances, time, energy, resources, and emotional support. Maybe this looks like bringing dinner to someone who has been ill or is going through a big transition, or buying groceries for a friend who’s struggling to make ends meet. It could mean opening your home to someone who needs a place to stay for a while, or helping a friend move. Whatever it is, we have the opportunity to lay down our own desires and priorities to show love and kindness to our family. So many people have been that blessing to me in different times in my life. There’s something so sweet about knowing that you’ll never be alone, homeless, or without help because you’re surrounded by a family of brothers and sisters in Christ who love you because they’re loved by God.

We’re not created to live in isolation, and we certainly will not grow in sanctification without being in community. A necessary aspect of loving and supporting one another as a family is that we must openly share our lives. Your family can’t minister to you if they don’t know your needs and struggles. Just as we rejoice together, we also grieve and walk through difficulty together. We must be transparent and humble by allowing others to see the ups and downs of our life, and we should also be aware and involved in the lives of others so that we can be available to offer help and comfort, and to meet needs as they arise.

Another way the church functions as a family is to offer accountability. In becoming a part of the church, we are committing to hold others accountable and to invite them to speak into our lives. It’s a two-way relationship. We need each other to fight sin that is so easy to ignore or give into. We also have the opportunity to help each other make decisions and discern situations wisely. As Proverbs 11:14 says, “in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” Our community can offer great insight that we may have missed or purposefully ignored. We are together growing as disciples and being conformed to the character of Christ. It is a great gift that our Father has given us to be able to walk together and keep one another from falling. It breaks my heart when members of the family isolate themselves, forging their own path and not allowing their brothers and sisters in Christ to speak into their life. God was very purposeful in the way He designed the church…let’s not throw away this gift He’s given us.

I am so very thankful for the Body of Christ. I’ve been so blessed by this family, both locally and globally. As I give thanks for this sweet gift, I’m reminded to love my church family well — speaking truth boldly, giving generously, and serving wholeheartedly.