Leaving Space for Lament

Currently, our City Group is reading and discussing Inspired by Rachel Held Evans. This past week we discussed a chapter on Scripture passages of lament. Through our conversation, we all agreed that based on what we read, the church is sometimes a hard place to be when you’re in a season of lament. Which is unfortunate. The church should be the place we feel the most comfortable to share all our hurts--even the deepest, darkest ones we assume no one else will understand--without fear of being misunderstood or unaccepted.

While we have plenty of examples of people who have gone before us who have experienced struggles, and trials, and, frankly, real-life (including several in the Bible), it’s still hard to find space for lament in church. 

In this chapter, Rachel shares, “That American tendency toward triumphalism, of optimism rooted in success, money, and privilege, will infect and sap of substance any faith community that has lost its capacity for ‘holding space’ for those in grief.” And it’s true. When our churches take on a mindset or even an atmosphere that we have it all together, we leave hurting people sitting in the pews feeling even more isolated and alone and unwelcome. It gives them one more reason to keep it hidden so they don’t stand out. From an outsider's perspective, churches holding this mindset often look like they are only for people who have it all together. And this type of thought or attitude can deter someone new to the church from feeling like they belong. 

Both of these scenarios, whether we like it or not, break down the community of a church. They leave no room for vulnerability. But, when the church makes space and does it well, it often leads to deep growth as a body of believers. 

But being vulnerable is hard. Sitting with people in their trials and deepest pains isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. It’s more than a casual, “How are you?” on a Sunday morning. And holding space for people in our community who are hurting is a lot harder than saying the next “right phrase” or sharing an encouraging Bible verse (which of course isn’t bad in and of itself). 

Lamenting together is hard work. 

Rachel goes on to share in the next few sentences about the value of the Psalms in times of lament. She shares, “The Psalms are, in a sense, God’s way of holding space for us. They invite us to rejoice, wrestle, cry, complain, offer thanks, and shout obscenities before our Maker without self-consciousness and fear. Life is full of the sort of joys and sorrows that don’t resolve neatly in a major key. God knows that. The Bible knows that. Why don’t we?”

As our City Group discussed this chapter of Rachel’s book, we all came to another agreement that churches don’t necessarily always ignore lament. Sometimes we have a special poem, prayer, or even Bible passage reading focused on lament. But there is always some sort of positive spin at the end. An uplifting praise song, a reminder that God blessed Job in the end, or a short reflection on God’s goodness, even in times of trial. Still, it’s hard for us to hold space for lament. It takes trust, vulnerability, and a willingness to be uncomfortable with each other, none of which is easy. I believe City Chapel has done a good job of holding space for those who are suffering from illness, have experienced loss, or live with anxiety and depression. Yet, there is always more work to do. I want to challenge us all to do the hard work. To take one step toward holding space for someone who might not have the energy for one more peppy praise song on a Sunday morning or one more surface-level conversation. 

As a pastor of a church I attended once shared, “We, the church, are a bunch of beggars telling other beggars where to find bread.” We don’t have it all together nor should it look that way. So let’s stop pretending. Let’s do the hard work. Let’s leave space for lament--regardless of how uncomfortable we might feel.

Written by Kelli Gilmore