The Art of Lament

When was the last time you chose to lament?

It isn’t really something that we do in our culture1, is it?

As a society we’ve become very good at distracting ourselves. We all have our poison. Mine’s Netflix binges. Yours might be alcohol, or exercise, or sport, or academia, or pretty much anything other than having to actually stop and deal with something.

Doesn’t that sound familiar?

Jesus talked about lament. He said:

“Rich2 are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Hang on a minute – there’s a richness to be found in mourning? When was the last time anyone was grieving and thought to themselves, ‘wait, this is really enriching my life’? The crucial part of the idea Jesus is trying to get across is the last bit.

They will be comforted.

Often we distract ourselves from our grief – wether it’s over a break-up, a loss of someone close to us, failure to achieve something, or something else – we find ways not to deal with that grief. I’ve found that the result of doing this for years and years is that the grief is still there, buried deep down, just waiting to cause an argument with my fiancée or my mum or one of my friends. My grief usually ends up hurting those close to me.

Why do we do this? Perhaps we’re afraid that we’ll never find comfort.

The Good News

Jesus is saying that we don’t have to live like this. He says that we will be comforted.

If we take the time to engage with our grief, then we often find that rather than it making things worse, we start to feel better. That’s why we have funerals. It’s why we revisit the graves of loved ones. It’s why we sometimes feel compelled to go “back there” to that place when we rationally think we shouldn’t. It’s why we write break-up songs.

Taking time to mourn, to lament, whatever it is for, gives us space to work through our grief. It allows us to move towards acceptance, and to move on with our lives. There’s a richness in not being held back by our grief.

Living It

  • The next time you catch yourself binge-watching, binge-drinking or whatever it is you do to escape from your grief, go and talk to someone instead. Maybe a close friend, maybe a counsellor.
  • If you don’t feel you can talk about it, write a journal. Look over your thoughts from before each time the grief comes up, and notice yourself moving forward.
  • Do you know someone who is struggling? offer to give them space with mourn – to lament with them about their grief.

Rich in Love

When I was younger I used to dream of being a successful software engineer. I used to idolise Bill Gates. I would dream of the day I’d have a huge mansion and all the money in the world. I’m actually relatively successful in financial terms, but I’ve learned along the way that money hasn’t bought me happiness.
Central to the teachings of Jesus is a talk he gave to a crowd that gathered on a hillside.1 The talk is essentially Jesus’ manifesto.
In those days, teachers weren’t just people who helped you get on the conveyor belt of life – through school and university – they were the most highly regarded members of society. They devoted themselves to learning about and memorising the stories of their people and of Yahweh2, their god. As a teacher, you had a “way” that others followed. This particular talk is recorded as a kind of greatest hits of the ‘way’ of Jesus.
The talk starts with a sort of table of contents – known commonly as the “beatitudes”3. The first of them says this:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven”
I include that because you might have heard it before. However, it’s not a very helpful translation. You might think that doesn’t make much sense. Let’s start by going over some of words that are, essentially, religious jargon in our day and age, as they’re useful things to understand if you ever try to read through these stories yourself.
  1. blessed – in Jesus’ time, it was common to describe a wealthy person as “blessed”. Today, the word has primarily religious implications that weren’t there 2000 years ago. So, without wanting to remove the poetry of what’s being said, it’s best to say “wealthy” instead.
  2. poor in spirit – the words “in spirit” are actually only included in one of the two accounts of these teachings4. The phrase does not mean lacking in spirit – whatever you might understand that to mean – but instead implies a poverty that is both physical and spiritual. This could be because the two have often, throughout history, been intertwined – and could well have been added later.
  3. kingdom of Heaven – the people of Jesus’ time wouldn’t have ever used the name of God (Yahweh) out of respect for it. Thus, this is a euphemism for “Kingdom of God”, which is in itself an expression that essentially means “the domain in which things are the way that Yahweh wants them to be”. Similar to the idea of Jesus “way” (his teachings).
So a better translation of what’s been written might be:
“Wealthy are those who are poor, for they belong to the way of God”.
Jesus says elsewhere,
“Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your comfort”. 
Far from endorsing the narrative of his time, Jesus suggests that having riches isn’t the same as being seen favourably by God, nor is it the sign of a good life.

The Good News

Jesus often talked about bringing good news to people5. Often, he said he had come to bring “good news to the poor”. What’s the good news here? It is that you don’t have to be rich to feel a richness, a wealth, a blessedness, to life. Instead, seek to be part of the way of God, and you’ll find that life takes you on a poorer, but richer, path. In a song written by King David6, he says:

“God is gracious and compassionate. Slow to anger, and rich in love.”

Living It

  • The next time you find yourself longing for a higher paycheque that you don’t really need, take some time to meditate on the richness that is found elsewhere.
  • Instead of doing more work, consider using your time to help others, trying to learn what it means to be rich in love.
  • If you’re struggling financially, remember that though the world might judge you a failure for this, God does not.