Over a decade ago, a travel company launched an advertising campaign declaring the third Monday in January the most depressing day of the year. Many experts scoff at the calculations used to pick “Blue Monday,” which would be January 16th this year. However, the seasonal concepts behind the idea — like colder weather, post-holiday letdown and less daylight — can often lead to people feeling down this time of year. Add loss of a loved one, struggles at work or home or pain from a serious illness and chances are that many people sitting in any given church on Sunday are hurting.
Many churches hold a special service during the Christmas season to help those experiencing grief, or going through the holidays after the loss of a lost loved one. These services of consolation or “Blue Christmas” services can give people a space to grieve. After the holidays, however, such opportunities appear much less frequently in churches. The Baptist World Alliance devoted a podcast in December to the concept of lamenting, especially during Christmastime.
Jerry Young, interim pastor at Calvary Hill Baptist Church in Fairfax, Va., said some people are “just burying” their grief and suffering “because they don’t want to be a burden to others.” Those struggling can include caregivers, people grieving the loss of a loved one and those suffering pain from aging or other ailments.
“You can’t make the pain go away,” he said. “So a big part of what I want to do is to give permission to grieve openly and give a forum in which it’s understandable and accepted to share those kind of things.”
He added that the comfort of God and other people can help someone realize “they’re really not alone even though it seems like to them like they are.”
Lamenting in Worship
Taylor Sandlin, pastor at Southland Baptist Church in San Angelo, Texas, views lamenting as a way of declaring “life matters.”
“Sorrow and grief are part and parcel of the human experience,” he explained. “When bad things happen and no one says a word, tragedy is heaped upon tragedy. We honor life when we grieve its absence and protest its violation.”
Thus Sandlin views lamenting as an important part of worship.
“There is no possible way to worship in spirit and in truth without learning to lament,” he said. “Globally, there is more violence and injustice than can even be understood. Truthful worship will include questions and complaints about the sorry state of this world and seek God’s intervention. An absence of lamentation in worship makes liars of us all.”
“An absence of lament in worship gives the impression that church is only for those people who have it together,” he added. “If our testimonies only include those who have experienced victories in the here and now, we essentially tell grieving, sorrowful people that their voice is not welcome in our church. A church that makes a place for lamentation is a church that opens its doors to all people.”
Sandlin fears that by downplaying lament and grieving, churches may instead promise something untrue, as if the Christian life only makes everything great. Creating space for lament “pulls the covers off of this deceit.”
“Many of us not only don’t have our best lives now, we have rotten lives now,” he added. “Our faith doesn’t magically make everything better. Faith for us means crying out to God that things are not as they should be and trusting that God not only agrees with us, he is doing something about it. That something has a present reality in the lives of believers, yes, but also remains unfinished. Lament in worship helps stir the hopes of the people that God hears our cries and will one day intervene.”
Given the importance of lamenting, Sandlin hopes churches can work to “help people feel more comfortable showing public grief.” He suggests pastors talk about lamenting, with the Psalms providing many texts to use.
“Pastors can help church members understand that prayers of sorrow and even protest are faithful forms of prayer,” Sandlin said.
He mentioned special services — like All Saints Day and a service of consolation during Christmastime — can particularly help people remember and grieve loved ones who have died. Sandlin also views communion as a time to talk about grief. He recounted one service where they observed the Lord’s Supper at tables as “church members shared photos of family members and friends that they longed to eat with again.”
“It was a service filled with lament and hope,” he reflected.