Adaptation from Hopeful Lament

Jan 22 / Terra McDaniel
Adapted from Chapter 4, “Letting Sorrow Be a Conversation with God”

Lament is about lost or forgotten love. It is the dream of resurrection. Lament dares to believe God is interested in our pain and loss. It trusts God is moved by suffering. It is engaging grief with confidence that God doesn’t turn a blind eye to cruelty, greed, oppression, or deceit. It is practicing the hope that God truly is near to the brokenhearted.

The Psalms and Prophets are all about connection with God. But not just any connection: Walter Brueggemann says, “Israel insists that the communion be honest, open to criticism, and capable of transformation. These are the prayers of a people with a deep memory of liberation and a profound hope for a new kingdom.” He contends our culture is addicted to denial and that laments “provide a way for healing candor.” Lament, and not just hope and celebration, need to be welcome in our lives.

Laments aren’t a rejection of faith but an embrace of a faith that loves justice and mercy. It’s an invitation to bring our whole selves, families, and communities, with all their complexities, into God’s loving presence. Lament creates a chance for something new to be born because it acknowledges what is missing. I am convinced it is our best hope for healing the divisions that plague us. We have some unlearning and relearning to do together. We need to rediscover our history and get creative about new ways to engage grief and confession.

Brueggemann says psalms of praise and thanksgiving are only partial forms on their own. They admit trouble exists, implying a need for deliverance. That perspective is also evident in the hope of deliverance in Isaiah 61, which inspired Jesus’ first sermon in his hometown. Isaiah said he’d been sent to bring good news to the oppressed, hope for the brokenhearted, and liberty for captives. He was offering comfort for anyone in sorrow. He was bringing them a garland to replace the ashes of mourning.

The In-Between

Lament is breathing room for grief. It is willing to admit that hope, and a sense of the Spirit’s presence, sometimes feel an ocean away. I once heard a teacher say that God has no potential: he meant that God is settled, unchanging, and utterly complete within the Trinity. I believe that’s true—and yet God allows himself to be moved by us (Isaiah 43:26; Mark 7:24‑30). Our pain, loneliness, and exhaustion all matter to God as much as our joys, dreams, and hopes do.

Like God, we can allow things to shift, developing meaning and clarity over days and months and decades. A process of the dawning of hope, healing, and essential truth telling has been happening in my soul for years. And I know it is a work that remains unfinished and that will continue. I wonder where you are being invited to allow such things to percolate and deepen with time.

I love that the Psalms take sin and evil seriously. They beg God to deal harshly with the powerful who are manipulating or hurting others.

Sometimes repair and renewal can happen in the briefest of conversations or prayers. But when loss is significant or complex, restoration must happen over months and years, allowing the broken pieces of grief to be formed into a sort of mosaic. The broken pieces that make up mosaics mirror the disorienting fragmentation of grief and the ways that lament can contribute to new life. The broken pieces offered as laments honor the past, have courage to live the now authentically, and dare breathe hope for future restoration.

Cultivating Healing Together

We can grow our ability to honor our own experiences while also forming more healthy connections with God and others. Healing and renewal will take a unique route within each of us.

It is vulnerable to admit things are broken or wrong or hard. But such confessions make renewal and reconnection possible. Healthy relationships change over time in response to life’s circumstances. It happens in human relationships and also with our connection with the Spirit. St. David says that the kind of relationships that foster growth “contribute to our wellness and our maturity and encourage us to be separate individuals who are also kind, relational, and collaborate well with others.”

Brueggemann and others describe theological perspectives of psalms and other biblical prayers as moving through cycles of orientation—describing the world as it ought to be—and then disorientation and reorientation following injustice or other brokenness. I can’t help but notice a common thread between those ideas and St. David’s psychological description of relationships as naturally traveling between connection, disconnection, and reconnection. She says we can recognize similar patterns in the natural world, “in the mini-sermon written in the life, death, and rebirth story of butterflies, oak trees, and stars.”

The same pattern is also present in the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The incarnation is God’s definitive word on whether the Holy will remain aloof from suffering. Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection tell the story of a God who would risk everything to make a way to restore connection and heal brokenness. And it isn’t only for those with perfect theology, who never make mistakes, or who are part of the right group. All are welcome to be part of God’s family. Jesus told his friends on the night before he died that they would mourn, but that their anguish would turn into joy, like a mom in labor whose pain is eclipsed when she holds her child (John 16:20‑22).

Jesus completed the move from orientation and connection by leaving heaven; he faithfully entered disorientation and disconnection through his death; and he returned to reconnection and reorientation in his resurrection and return to heaven. This is the kind of Love that longs to meet us within our griefs, large and small, and carry us to the other side toward newness. In the years I have been learning to lament, I’ve found it to be a kind of alchemy, slowly transforming love and loss and suffering into hope, renewal, and more love.

Adaptation from Hopeful Lament by Terra McDaniel. ©2023 by Terra McDaniel. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press.

Join Terra in her upcoming course, Accompanying Others Through Grief, on Mondays from February 19-March 25. The liturgical calendar offers regular chances to attend to our grief as individuals and in community. This six-week course is for pastors, spiritual directors, and others who want to explore how to better accompany individuals, families, and communities through grief during the season of Lent and throughout the year. 

Terra McDaniel
Terra is a spiritual director, pastor, teacher, and writer who loves making space for people of all ages to tune into their own souls. Terra is convinced that the Spirit is working both within the church and outside it and feels particularly called to host those who feel spiritually homeless. You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, and at