Freedom From Pain & Learning the Art of Lament

Some of my most awkward moments have been when I was present in the pain of the people I’m called to pastor, and I didn’t know what to say.

I can remember sitting in the living room of a family from the church whose infant son had stopped breathing in his swing one day, and I didn’t even know what to feel, let alone words to say. I lived across the street from a member who was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, and when I would visit her I felt like an alien visiting earth. Part of it is just inexperience and learning what to do in those moments…but mostly it’s because I don’t know how to grieve.

Much to Grieve

From the moment sin entered the world and shattered it, pain has been present, and grief has been a primary emotion. We might understand grief through our disappointing career path, betrayal, injustices in the world, natural disasters, illness, relationships, infertility, the breaking down of the moral fabric of a culture — we probably should be grieving more and grieving first before we do anything else. 

Too often we outrage on social media posts around politics and other cultural issues, when instead we should lament and grieve before God, not post a litany of grievances before man

Literally anything that happens in a broken world, anything that shouldn’t be, anything that heaven won’t know, gives us an opportunity to grieve.

Yet, we have so many cheap alternatives to real grief before God. We’ll run to creation instead of our Creator in fear or sadness or anger. Resorting to substances, food, overworking, tv or entertainment…we numb our pain. Anger and bitterness drive and direct us when we don’t know what to do with our sadness. But all throughout the bible God invites us to true emotional health, to grieve before Him and with Him. 

I want to learn to lament.

Now we’re not talking about being free from pain — that won’t happen until we are with Jesus. But we can learn the practice of finding freedom from pain — where it doesn’t paralyze you. And the only way to find freedom from your pain is the same way you find freedom from your past…you have to walk through it with Jesus.


God wrote a book of prayers for us to pray back to him. Praying the Psalms will give you words for your soul and cover every range of human emotions: joy, sorrow, betrayal, doubt, guilt, shame, excitement.

  • If you’ve been abused, you could pray through Ps 54-56 
  • If you feel lonely you could pray through Psalm 25
  • If you’re discouraged you could pray through Psalm 42
  • If you need to repent of sin you can pray thru Ps 51 or 32
  • If you need rest you can pray through Ps 23

These are Psalms of lament and they tend to follow the same pattern. 

  • They address God directly
  • Are specific in their complaint
  • They confess sin or the sin done to them
  • Offer petition for God to act
  • End with praise. 

My wife had a miscarriage a few years back and it plunged her into a years long spiritual depression and one of the things she said it did was to teach her how to lament. Before that she would pray and she would ask God for things. She would ask God to fix it. She saw God as this Divine Power that just fixed things. But then she learned how to lament, to go to God with what she was feeling in the moment, to be frustrated or angry or sad to him because he isn’t just some Distant Deity, but a Father who is near.

Try It

Grab a notebook and write out a lament…it can be anything that’s made you sad recently. Write one a week for a month, and see what happens to your pain.

“Rejoicing in suffering happens within sorrow. The grief and sorrow drive you more into God. Yes, feel the grief. There is a tendency for us to say, “I am afraid of the grief, I am afraid of the sorrow. I don’t want to feel that way. I want to rejoice in the Lord.” But look at Jesus. He was perfect, right? And yet he goes around crying all the time. He is always weeping, a man of sorrows. Do you know why? Because he is perfect. Because when you are not all absorbed in yourself, you can feel the sadness of the world. And therefore, what you actually have is that the joy of the Lord happens inside the sorrow. It doesn’t come after the sorrow. It doesn’t come after the uncontrollable weeping. The weeping drives you into the joy, it enhances the joy, and then the joy enables you to actually feel your grief without it sinking you. In other words, you are finally emotionally healthy.” — Tim Keller