I chuckled when I saw the lone “late bloomer” on our azalea bushes. All the others had their season in the sun blooming bright pinks and purples, but now most were brown crusty blobs ready to drop to the ground.
I’m a late bloomer, too, when it comes to learning the language of lament and grieving well with others. I thought the mark of a good Christian was rock-solid faith and sharp Bible-verse recall to combat all anxiety, fear, and doubt. Extinguish and vanquish any of those negative emotions as soon as they arise, lest they erode your faith, I thought.
Over the decades of my Christian walk, however, I’ve slowly learned that these things have strengthened my faith, not derailed it. My weaknesses and questions have driven me to rely on Christ more, to trust that He meant it when He said, “My power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corin. 12:19)
Yes, we are to “be strong in the Lord and the power of His might.” (Eph. 6:10) But bucking up and sucking up my pain is relying on faith in myself to push through. It’s rushing past the slow work of God’s sanctification, bypassing the necessary steps of grief, lament, rest and of humbly inviting others to join in my sorrow.
This world is hard, not one part unaffected by the fall. Our bodies, our relationships, our work, our ministries are all groaning and waiting for redemption, a time when all things will be made new. But just like the azalea bushes that bloom and go dormant, there is a time for everything including a time to weep and laugh, a time to mourn and dance (Ecc. 3).
We lack patience – with God and others.
With fellow believers, we forget they have the same Holy Spirit to comfort and point them to the truth of God’s character. Of course, we should encourage them, but we must be slow to speak and quick to listen (James 1:19).
When others expose their raw emotions in their suffering, it feels unnatural for us to say nothing. The quick-fix platitudes and band-aid advice that flow easily from our lips, however, do not help an active, gaping wound. We must learn the language of listening, lament, and shared grief if we want to be a balm to the hurting.
“Let’s stop rushing things that need time to grow — including us,” Jennifer Dukes Lee writes in her recently released book, Growing Slow*. Our healing, our relationship with God, bonding in community with others in life’s deep, hard places — these are slow-growth seasons that require patience.
With God, we are impatient with his timing.
We want our burden removed, our pain healed, our grief to give way to normalcy. But Scripture reminds us again and again to wait on the Lord. He is with us in the wait, and though we may never see the reasoning, our seasons of waiting are yielding fruit.
The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. Lamen. 3:25
If we allow it, those sad buds of crusty faith will give way to brighter blooms in due time. Our faith will display vibrant colors like endurance, perseverance, hope and deep trust that God’s goodness permeates life’s hardest days.Your weakness doesn't mean your faith is failing; it means you recognize that your own strength isn't sufficient. Click To Tweet
In Isaiah 30, the Isaelites wanted a quick, easy solution to their fears. They wanted protection from the Assyrians, but they foolishly sought it from the Egyptians. Instead of waiting for God to work, they rushed ahead “to carry out a plan, but not mine” (Is. 30:1), a plan of “shame and disgrace.” (Is. 30:5)
For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling Isaiah 30:15
How quick are we to rush ahead and fix things for ourselves or others? When wrestling through deep questions of suffering and grief, our strength can be found in returning and rest, quietness and trust, as the verse says above. Are we willing?
Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him. Isaiah 30:18
Unlike us, God is patient. He knows our frame (Psalm 103), understanding we often must come to the end of ourselves before He showers His grace, mercy, and justice on us. God is not a cruel gamemaster, but a loving Father who knows when we are ready for His gifts in the midst of our pain. Self-help mantras, ignoring our pain, or rushing through our battles won’t gain us the strength we crave.
Practicing a New Language
I’m learning, too. In my own experiences with chronic illness and grief from losses that still ache, my reflex is to still offer puny substitutes in place of real comfort. This old flesh is a terrible comforter.
In the past month, I’ve talked to several who have openly shared their hurt – lingering frustration over symptoms from a covid long-hauler; a widow learning new things, needing God’s grace and others’ help along the way; a friend with a difficult diagnosis processing her fears out loud.
If you are the sufferer, honesty invites the body of Christ to extend compassion, grace, and practical help. Your weakness doesn’t mean your faith is failing; it means you recognize that your own strength isn’t sufficient. And that is a beautiful realization.If we put on our "too blessed to be stressed" faces, how can God's people grow in their capacity to comfort, serve, and pray? Click To Tweet
Let’s prune the old ways of “good Christians don’t struggle” and replace it with honest lament, shared grief, and making room for the Holy Spirit to work.
Let’s practice this new language together.
Some of the phrases in the first list may be true, but they are not timely. They may seem helpful, but they’re not healing. They may be quick, but they’re not careful. Let’s listen with patience and grace, then seek to offer Spirit-led words when we do speak. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” Prov. 25:11
-God is good all the time!
-Everything happens for a reason!
-All things work together for good!
-God must’ve needed another angel.
Friend: “I have cancer.”
You: “I’m so sorry.”
Listen as they process. Cry with them.
Friend: “Another Mother’s Day has come and gone without a child in my arms.”
You: “That sounds really hard. I’m sorry.” or “I don’t know what to say, but I know your heart aches.”
Listen. Cry. Send a sweet note letting them know God sees them.
Friend: “I just lost my husband. I don’t think I’ll ever feel normal again.”
You: “I’m sorry. Tell me about him (use his name).”
“I remember…” (share a sweet memory)
“I’m so sad with you.”
Sit. Hold their hand. Listen. Cry. Send a gift card for groceries or a treat.
(See a theme here?)
We can do this together, Church, and be a place of honest lament and healing as we wait on God’s patient work in us and others.
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Grief and Lament Resources
How to Discourage a Grieving Friend – Vaneetha Risner
“When we analyze grieving people, we add to their burden.”
“But when friends minimize my struggle, it magnifies my pain.”
Yes, You Should Say Something – Nancy Guthrie (related to death, but can be applied to many situations)
“What makes a great friend in the midst of grief is someone willing to overcome the awkwardness to engage. He or she comes alongside and is willing, at least for a while, to agree that this is terrible, unexplainable, the worst.”
3 Things Not to Say When Someone is Suffering – Edward Welch
Do not say: “If you need anything, please call me, anytime.”
“Sufferers usually don’t know what they want or need, and they won’t call you…Wise friends buy more dog food, do the dishes, drop off a meal, cut the grass, babysit the kids, clean the house, give a ride to small group, drop off a note of encouragement and then another and another, help sort out medical bills, and so on.”
Dare to Hope in God – How to Lament Well – Mark Vroegop
“Lament talks to God about pain. And it has a unique purpose: trust. It is a divinely-given invitation to pour out our fears, frustrations, and sorrows for the purpose of helping us to renew our confidence in God.”