Tuesday, March 20, 2007


By Nathan Brown

We need to practice sadness.

It need not be grand or eloquent, poetic or dramatic; just simple sadness.

Try it sometime. Watch or listen to a news broadcast or flick through a newspaper and allow yourself to feel the real people suffering in each headline. Look across the city lights and reflect on how each light represents a different story, each unique and with its own joys but also each scarred by pain and tragedy. Listen to the people with whom you come into contact and hear the frustrations, disappointments and sorrow, often not far below the surface of their lives. Be sad.

It seems it should be an easy thing to do but I don’t think many of us do it well. We’re too quick to rush into explanations, justifications and rationalizations; too ready to get mad, get even, become sentimental or indulge in a few moments of contrived outrage that is talkback radio’s stock-in-trade; and in our church setting, we’re too easily tempted to see each new tragedy, tremor, turmoil or terror as yet another evidence that we are right—morally, prophetically, theologically or culturally.

And we miss the profound human and spiritual experience of being just plain sad.

Or we work hard to convince ourselves we need to smile because “God loves you,” that somehow allowing ourselves to be sad would deny our faith. But even the preacher of Ecclesiastes points out that there is “a time to cry” and “a time to grieve” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). In the world in which we live, grief is a vital part of an authentic life of faith. Indeed, our faith should soften our hearts in a world that tends to harden them against repeated sorrow.

One of the aspects in which so much of our worship and worship music is lacking—and perhaps more so in contemporary worship—is the act of lament. It seems we have not learned how to share our sorrows and fears in the communal setting of our worship services. Yet, Christian musician Michael Card has suggested that of the 150 psalms—the hymnbook of the Old Testament—80 express lament, frustration and uncertainty to God.

And so many people of faith throughout the Bible had their dark hours and cried out to God, often with great vehemence, as part of their experience of faith. Jesus Himself—in His heartbroken, Good Friday cry of “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)—demonstrated that such bitter expression is not wrong and may even be an act of faith, dark though it may be amid an even bleaker darkness.

Faithful lament “is the voice of those who know God’s goodness but find the troubles of the present moment near overwhelming. Such a lament, sung in our midst, does not solve anything really. But so much of life’s trouble has no easy solution. So learning to sing songs of faithful lament helps us give voice to our experience together, before God” (Christian Scharen, One Step Closer).

Rather than being a denial of faith, the experience and expression of authentic grief is an affirmation of the God we are questioning. It is a path “well worn by the footsteps of these ancestors in the faith who brought their doubts, suffering and even outright anger before the God whom they knew to be faithful regardless of how things looked at the moment” (Scharen).

The reality is we mourn what we care about, or as one poet puts it, “Every lament is a love song” (Jon Foreman). And as God’s people, we are called to care for it all, to feel the pain of the brokenness of our world. We are called to care about everyone and everything. Every person, with their unique hurts, fears and sorrow, matters. And the big stories of our world are important to us primarily because so often real people are being crushed, oppressed and excluded. The grief we feel is an initial recognition that this is not how it should be.

Two of the most profound moments in the ministry of Jesus are when He paused to grieve openly for the people, the city, the nation He cared about (see John 11:35 and Matthew 23:37).
Jesus wept—and at times, in a world of such sadness, so should we.


  1. I once heard Mike Frost say that the "Jesus is my boyfried" P&W category of music was overcatered for and what we need is writers to pen hymns of lament and musicians to compose the music of lament

    so you're in good company

    Marcus Curnow of Urban Seed, (Melbourne, Aus) re-wrote a well-known song this way:

    Shout to the Lord (Angry)
    (Lyrics: Marcus Curnow 2005)

    Why Jesus? Why favour
    Those who do not like you?
    All of my years I cry bitter tears
    I wonder where’s your mighty love?

    No comfort, No shelter
    Where is the refuge and strength?
    Let every breath, all that I am
    Never cease to question You

    Shout to/(at) the Lord
    All the Earth, let us bring
    Powerlessness, tragedy
    Rail at the King
    Mountains fall down
    And the seas will roar
    Hear the sound of the pain

    I long to see the work
    Of your hand
    Forever I’ll seek you
    Seek to understand
    Nothing to hold
    But the promise I have
    In you

  2. I totally agree. To allow our hearts to be broken by the suffering of others is to show the deepest of sympathies.

    I am a tender-hearted person and have to go on 'news fasts' from time to time or I tend to get very low. Feel so helpless to do anything about the troubles I see. I believe every pain is felt by God. In the end of all things, He is the One who has suffered most and lost so much.

  3. Brilliant, brilliant ... our culture is so geared towards avoiding sadness. This is something I have appreciated learning from Buddhist friends -- how valuable it can be to just BE with the emotion we are feeling at the moment rather than trying to FIX it -- but as you point out it is of course there in our own heritage as well, particularly in (to quote Monty Python) "Those miserable Psalms ... they're SO depressing!"