Lament Toolkit: Understanding and Practicing Biblical Lament

Grief and loss are familiar in these days. Pain, injustice, and suffering are knocking at our doors in ways we cannot ignore. The Bible shows us a way to meet this deep pain and suffering through the practice of lament. In this toolkit, you’ll find a host of resources to help you and your church understand what lament is and how to practice lament. As we lament individually and in community, let us be joined together through both our hope-filled expectations and our calls for God to act swiftly to bring forth God’s kingdom this day.

Why do we lament?

In the Old Testament, talk of God is characterized by dialogical thinking. Lament creates space for this dialogue and moves the theology of suffering into interaction with the theology of celebration.

Soong-Chan RahProphetic Lament

From the Bible, we learn much of lament. Recall David, Job, and Isaiah in their respective times of mourning. Their grief is symbolized with ashes and sackcloth, and marked with honest, anguished cries. In Scripture, too, we find the wailing women, professional mourners called to grieve in community. And there is Rachel, “weeping for her children” with “lamentation and bitter weeping” (Jeremiah 31:15). To these voices and tears, we add our own.

In the midst of a global pandemic, perhaps we recognize in a greater degree the need for Christ to come again. Life in quarantine has exposed the complexities of pain and suffering in the world. As a result, we have uncovered the rich tension of hope-filled expectation. We feel the pain and suffering that exists in the world, yet we know that Christ is Lord. We grieve the current order of the world, yet we believe that Christ will deliver us. The kingdom of God is here, but we have yet to see the new heaven and new earth that is coming.

Out of the ashes, we rise, for this is the way of the cross. We celebrate the resurrection of Christ and yearn for the day he makes all things new. But we cannot forget the pain and suffering of the crucified Christ, nor can we sidestep the aching of this world. We grieve and cry out to God; we lament.  As we lament individually and in community, let us be joined together through both our hope-filled expectations and our calls for God to act swiftly to bring forth God’s kingdom this day.

Understanding lament

Lament is an unfamiliar topic for many people. And, it can often feel uncomfortable, perhaps due to its foreignness or its honesty, or perhaps because lament forces us to come to terms with our grief and to sit in that hard space. As you begin—or continue—to think about and practice lament, it may be helpful to orient yourself through these resources.

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Videos

An introduction to psalms of lament

In this brief video, the Rev. Dr. Carol Bechtel, a professor at Western Theological Seminary, introduces lament as sad songs of praise. It’s a simple, yet profound framework for how we think about lament and why it’s important.

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Get the theological framework for prophetic lament

Lament reminds us that God is present, not only in the triumph of our day-to-day life, but also in the suffering of our day-to-day life.” Hear more from Soong-Chan Rah in this short video in which the author provides a compelling synopsis of his book Prophetic Lament.

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Resisting the urge to rush past pain

The tendency is to rush through grief and lament, but the Rev. Andy Bossardet and the Rev. Dr. Micah McCreary say that there are gifts in pausing. Learn more through this recorded conversation, which also covers the psychological, sociological, and spiritual impacts of trauma.

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How your background shapes the way you lament

Andy Bossardet and Micah McCreary continue discussing lament in this second video, focusing on how culture and background affect how individuals lament.

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A global mission perspective

Rawee Bunupuradah, an RCA Global Mission missionary, shares some of the incredible loss the church is experiencing in Bangkok, Thailand. And yet, he reminds the church that we are like Christ in suffering, and there is something that can never be lost. Watch these stories from the field.

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Unchained: Generational Trauma and Healing

This one-hour Emmy-nominated documentary examines the lingering trauma handed down from the American slavery system. Through powerful stories we begin to understand the moral courage needed to face racism. Fill out a quick form for free access to the documentary and discussion guide.

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Podcasts

Rediscovering biblical lament: Scott Cormode interview

Scott Cormode, professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, talks about looking to old and new faith practices of the church, leadership that begins by listening to longings and losses, and praying through psalms of lament. Listen to the podcast.

A new way to mourn (from The Daily)

In “A New Way to Mourn,” a 45-minute podcast from The New York Times, a man shares how he has grieved and memorialized his wife, who died in quarantine.

Articles and books

Hip hop and lament

What does hip hop have to do with lament? Pastor Peter Watts shares his thoughts on biblical expressions of lament, as well as those found in contemporary hip hop music. Read the article.

Read the article

Freedom to Lament: journeying through pandemic pain

Christians often have a hard time expressing grief. But there is power and freedom in creating the space to lament well. You don’t have to be happy all the time, writes Jill Benson, a member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America, in her reflection on journeying together through pandemic pain.

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A book for diving deeper

Dive deep into lament by reading Prophetic Lament by Soong-Chan Rah. The book can be described as a commentary on Lamentations, but more so, Rah argues that the church must recover the practice of lament, for there are deep implications for how the Christian faith interacts with a suffering world.

Get the book

We’re experiencing trauma; here’s how to cope

Nancy Smith-Mather reflects on trauma healing and reconciliation work in South Sudan, which has been plagued by civil war and violence for decades. Here, she builds bridges between what she’s learned in South Sudan to what we’re experiencing due to the pandemic. Read the article.

Read the article

Rejoicing in Lament

Interested in helping your congregation navigate lament? Consider reading and studying the book Rejoicing in Lament by J.Todd BillingsIn addition to the book, you can use this study guide to help your group begin to think more deeply about their journey through lament—both individually and corporately. Participants will be asked reflective questions centered around the depths of sadness and reckoning with God in the midst of challenging seasons. Billings uses the Psalms to encourage Christians into a deeper posture of authenticity and honesty before God and in fellowship with one another. Download the free reflective guide here.

Download the study guide

How Jabez Helped Me Understand My Disability

Peter Gordon shares how the brief biblical story of Jabez gave him words of lament as a person with a disability. Read the article.

Read the article

A Call to Justice and Mercy

In this sermon, Rev. Dr. Patricia Sealy draws from the prophet Zechariah to call the church to action—name the wrongfully slain, lament inaction, speak prophetically, and move forward with God’s justice and mercy as a witness of faith. Read the sermon.

Read the sermon

Practicing lament

It’s possible that some of the provided resources, meant to help define and familiarize lament, have stirred up some feelings within you. The following resources are meant as an entrypoint into practicing lament.

Write your own psalm of lament

Rev. Dr. Carol Bechtel, a professor at Western Theological Seminary, teaches you how to write your own lament. Watch the short introduction, and then try your hand at a written lament.

Learn how to write your lament

Learn a biblical model for expressing lament

When talking of lament, the psalms are often referenced. Dr. John Witvliet, director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, outlines the structure of lament psalms, which provides a model for expressing your own lament. Voice your lament through the psalms.

Read about the structure of lament psalms

Listen to your community’s laments

The key to beginning a lament journey in our congregations and contexts is knowing what people are grieving. You can do this by listening to their longings and losses, as theologian Scott Cormode explains. What exactly does this mean? Ask people what they’re longing for and what they’re grieving.

Experience communal lament by listening to the longings and losses of your community. As you prepare to listen and lament together, read about active listening and listening for the Holy Spirit to prompt your response.

Learn how to listen betterServing and Connecting in This Time of Transition

Gather with us virtually

Share stories of lament and hope through virtual gatherings. Bring prayer requests, concerns, and ideas to lift one another up, share resources, and find mutual encouragement. These Building God’s Church Together virtual gatherings take place on Mondays at 7:00 p.m. (EDT). Get details about upcoming gatherings and sign up.

Join us for a virtual gathering