Learning to Lament

What should we do with our sadness?

If life was one sunny day after another, this question would hardly make sense. But in these bodies, we know grief; we feel it in our bones. We see the storms. At times we feel like opening the spigot and filling buckets with our tears.

Unfortunately, many churches don’t make it easy for Christians to admit their sadness. “How are you?” greetings have only one acceptable response: “Fine, thanks.” Beyond individual relationships, the community activities and liturgies of some churches have no space for sorrow. Every face wears a smile and every song is jubilant.

This need not be the case! There is a precious, biblical category of prayer known as lament. When we ignore this tool God has given, we miss a rich opportunity to trust the Lord and lean on him in difficult times.

Four Steps to Lament

Mark Vroegop’s book, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, is an exploration of Biblical lament. Vroegop is a pastor at a church in Indiana, and he and his wife were awakened to lament when one of their children was stillborn. He writes with depth and wisdom that come only from experience.

Vroegop defines lament as “a prayer in pain that leads to trust” (page 28).

You might think lament is the opposite of praise. It isn’t. Instead, lament is a path to praise as we are led through our brokenness and disappointment. The space between brokenness and God’s mercy is where this song is sung. Think of lament as the transition between pain and promise. (Vroegop, page 28)

The first half of the book explores the four elements of lament, the first of which is turning to God. This may sound too basic to mention when it comes to a type of prayer, but Vroegop makes a compelling case.

To pray in pain, even with its messy struggle and tough questions, is an act of faith where we open up our hearts to God. Prayerful lament is better than silence. However, I’ve found that many people are afraid of lament. They find it too honest, too open, or too risky. But there’s something far worse: silent despair. Giving God the silent treatment is the ultimate manifestation of unbelief. (Vroegop, pages 31–32)

After turning to God, the second step of lament is to complain. Yes, there is a godly form of complaint! It is found throughout the Psalms of lament.

If you’re going to offer a complaint to God, it must be done with a humble heart. As I said before, I don’t think there is ever a place to be angry with God. However, I do think it’s permissible to ask pain-filled questions as long as you’re coming in humility. Proud, demanding questions from a heart that believes it is owed something from God will never lean into true lament. (Vroegop, page 52)

A complaint is never an end in itself. Indeed, “we bring our complaints to the Lord for the purpose of moving us toward him” (Vroegop, page 54). The third ingredient of lament is asking God. Specifically, we call “upon God to act in accordance with his character” (Vroegop, page 57). The question of why moves to the question of who. If we have confidence in who God is and what he has promised, we can ask him boldly to intervene and help.

After asking God to work, we come to the final step of lament. We trust. We hold onto God as we wait for deliverance.

Lament helps us to practice active patience. Trust looks like talking to God, sharing our complaints, seeking God’s help, and then recommitting ourselves to believe in who God is and what he has done—even as the trial continues. (Vroegop, page 74)

Laments in the Bible

Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy is packed with Scripture. Each of the first four chapters—one is devoted to each of the four steps of lament—takes a close look at a Psalm of lament. (Mark Vroegop reports that more than one third of the Psalms are laments!)

In the next part of the book, Vroegop walks his reader through the book of Lamentations. While not an exegesis or commentary, he highlights important themes from the book. Vroegop shows us that lament is thoroughly biblical and teaches us what we can learn through the practice of lamenting.

The last part of the book is dedicated to application. Vroegop suggests specific ways that lamenting might take hold for individuals and churches.

When Lament is No More

Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy was a valuable book for me to read. I saw that lament is a biblical prayer category about which I’ve been ignorant, and I now understand how valuable the discipline and practice of lament can be for Christians.

Perhaps most importantly, this book has changed my prayer life. I now have some tools for mourning before the Lord and crying out to him in pain and sadness. Mark Vroegop has taught me this is a normal—even an essential—part of being a Christian.

However, lament will not last forever. Though praise and thanksgiving will continue through the ages, there will be no occasion for lament in heaven. Ultimately, lament points us to the sure, curse-free future God has in store for his children. Though lament may start in despair, because of the work of Jesus, it ends in hope.

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Book Review: Labor with Hope: Gospel Meditations on Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood

My mom volunteers at her home church to coordinate their rather robust library. She snapped a picture of a new book she was preparing for circulation and texted it to me, asking if I wanted to read it before she put it on the shelf. Being about four weeks from my due date at the time, it seemed like the right read at the right time, so I said yes. 

The book was Labor with Hope: Gospel Meditations on Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood by Gloria Furman (with Jesse Scheumann), and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who relates to any version of childbearing or child rearing. 

First, the chapters are short. At an average of 3–5 pages per chapter (and only 151 in the book), Furman gets not only that less is sometimes more, but also that five minutes of attention may be the most a person, especially her primary audience of moms, has to devote to reading. (They’re also a good length for reading in the waiting room of an OBGYN.)

Second, Furman takes an inclusive view of motherhood. She recognizes the labor of the months of gestation and the months (or years) of the adoption process, conception by traditional means and with medical intervention, raising children from infancy and entering their lives later. She not only leaves room for the “non-traditional” mother but seats her at the head of the table. 

Third, this book delivers on its promise of gospel hope. If you want pages of witty, relatable mommy moments sprinkled with Bible verses, this is not for you. Instead, this book offers unshakeable hope rooted in the whole of Scripture. 

Furman’s premise is that God is not like us, but rather we are like God. Our human experience of birth and mothering reflects aspects of God, rather than God simply using a familiar experience to explain himself. A core example from the book is that women suffer to bring forth children because Jesus suffered on the cross to bring forth his own people.

Scripture uses the image of childbearing frequently and in a variety of contexts. It’s used to describe God’s judgment, his relationship with Israel, and Paul’s labor among the churches, among a long list of others. Furman makes a thorough, though not comprehensive, study of each of them. The book is a rich dive into what Scripture says about childbirth and rearing and how that should affect our view of the vocation of mothers. 

Furman talks about Jesus All. The. Time. She talks about Jesus way more than she talks about the tasks of mothering, like changing diapers and preparing snacks. This is not a particularly practical book, in that she doesn’t offer tips on discipline, meal times, or family devotions. But it achieves its goal as a series of meditations on both hope for moms and the hope motherhood points to. 

I appreciated that Furman assumes that the women reading her book can grasp the deep and rich gospel teaching she presents. Her writing is both approachable and beautiful but in no way simplified for “mommy brains.” She sets out to offer real hope for the physically, emotionally, and spiritually painful work of mothering, and she knows that it only comes through a more than surface-level understanding of the gospel. 

My daughter’s middle name is Hope, and there’s a plaque on her wall that reads, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19). Labor with Hope anchors its hope—for parents and their children—in the only safe harbor, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

Photo courtesy Sarah Wisniewski