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How long, O Lord? Why the marketplace needs lament

The Church can and should be a place where people can talk about the loss of their business, their frustration and confusion without being pressured to explain it.

JUBILEE CENTRE AUTOR 193/Charlee_New 20 DE SEPTIEMBRE DE 2022 12:13 h
Photo via [link]Jubilee Centre[/link].

“In the business world, we relentlessly define and measure success—and so we implicitly define failure. But we have no useful or successful cultural way of dealing with that same failure.” (Claire, a business leader, name changed for anonymity)


Loss is real

Claire lost her business 18 months ago. It failed. She threw her heart and soul into it. She chose her business partner carefully (or so she thought). She got her family on board and, together, they made sacrifices for it to succeed. It even began to make good profits—until it didn’t.

She knew it was a risk. She’d heard the stats (20% fail in the first year, 60% within the first three years) but she’d believed anyway.

When it all fell apart, she became depressed. She’d let down her family, her employees and her vision.

Claire is a Christian, and while her friends and family at church were kind, they kept skirting around her loss.

‘It’s not really a failure. Nobody could have succeeded.’

‘It just wasn’t the right timing.’

‘You’ve made inroads for the next person to try.’

‘It’s not failure because you showed up and tried anyway. You did what you were called to do.’

I interviewed ‘Claire’ recently as part of a research project, and she told me that nobody would acknowledge her failure, and she felt alone in her mourning.

In our culture we seem to have a problem with acknowledging failure. It is something many of us have a tendency to deny. But as this (real) story illustrates, leaving people alone with their loss is to abandon them when they perhaps most need to be heard.


Lament: giving voice to pain

Expressing pain or loss is called ‘lament’.

Lament isn’t exclusive to Christianity. Although it is often missing in our own culture, lament is common to humanity. Whether it’s expressed as prayer or protest, it’s ‘a general human impulse – the impulse to give voice to pain.’ (Rebekah Eklund)

From a biblical perspective, lament is not just acceptable—it is necessary for the life of faith.

Lamenting to God, within that covenant relationship, is the appropriate response to pain, suffering and injustice on the part of God’s people.

It’s in books like the prophets, Job and the Psalms that we see outpourings of grief and confusion laid right at God’s feet. There’s no tiptoeing around the issue, ‘because what is the point in offering a polite, well-intentioned, theologically-appropriate lie?

It is, after all, offering a lie to the One who sees our hearts.’ (Jamie A. Grant) Lament is honest with God, and maintains relationship with him even in the midst of difficulty and disappointment.

Jesus himself takes the words of the psalmists at his darkest hour and laments his pain and abandonment. (Matthew 27:46)


Lament isn’t just personal

The honesty of lament isn’t just about providing therapeutic relief for the individual, it also has a wider effect. That’s because lament is both personal and public.

Think of the Psalms, a book of songs set to music for temple worship. It may come from personal or communal experience, but the expression of lament is a public act of grief that awakens us from our numbness.

Lament in public shapes God’s people to:

  • Hear and acknowledge pain and suffering

  • Identify with and understand others, even when it challenges received wisdom or status quo

  • Engage with justice questions – ‘Hearing the stories and voices of lament refines and drives our discernment and critique of the principalities and powers at work in the world’ (Andrew Williams, Cambridge Paper 23/1, March 2014)

  • Sustain a prophetic imagination that things can and should be different

  • Ask God to intervene (trusting in His promises and character) and move towards hope

The absence of lament deprives the Church and the world of these things. It is a ‘costly loss’ when lament is suppressed.

But the task of the Church in lament is clear, as Walter Brueggemann says, ‘the prophetic tasks of the church are to tell the truth in a society that lives in an illusion, grieve in a society that practices denial, and express hope in a society that lives in despair’.


We urgently need lament in the marketplace

If lament is a forgotten art in our society, there is nowhere it is more likely to be ignored (or frowned upon) than in the marketplace.

Claire’s is one illustrative story of a business loss. In any given year, many businesses fail.  And even though this is a natural part of the country’s economic life, there’s still a huge impact on the people involved.

The Church can and should be a place where Claire can talk about the loss of her business—a place where she can talk openly and candidly about her disappointment, frustration, sadness and confusion without being pressured to frame or explain it away.

In fact, her emotions are welcomed and directed towards a God who wants to hear from her, honestly.

But the last few years have also been different to ‘any given year’. It’s not been business as usual. Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, businesses have found themselves in an increasingly precarious position.

As we head into the Winter of 2022, with rising inflation, labour shortages and spiralling energy costs, the language of ‘Build Back Better’ feels further and further away for businesses in the UK.

Lament in this context allows ‘Claire’ and other business owners, managers and workers affected to name not just the painful emotions of loss, but the forces that worked against them and the injustices that they have experienced.

In a context that allows lament, frustration and disappointment become questions about the ‘why’.

Why couldn’t we meet our bills even though we worked so hard?

Why did the pandemic hit right as my live events business was getting off the ground?

Why did our little local bakery close down while the national chain store survived?

Why do we have to face redundancies and scraping around for a low wage job while others comfortably ride out the crisis?

Taking up the call to lament, the Church can make space for these questions and emotions, listen well to others and dwell with them. And then take up the creative task of prophetic imagination and a wrestling faith.


Practicing lament?

This is an invitation for the church to practice lament. For some, the loss of livelihood, income, working community and identity is tantamount to a bereavement. We should minister in all types of loss—the marketplace can’t be the exception.

For a church to choose  to make space for lament is a powerful statement that difficult questions and emotions are welcome before God.

Here are some practical suggestions for how a church might begin to explore how to do this:

  • If lament starts with listening, how can you create a safe, listening space? Is this something which your church’s home-groups or small groups could attempt?

  • Does your church regularly bring together people to talk about their work and the challenges and joys involved? How could this be done?

  • Could there be a physical or virtual space to ‘name losses’? A garden, memorial or even a website for stories?

  • Could there be scope for creativity – speaking, writing, drawing or music?

And as you listen, here comes the next challenge:

  • How can you take all these expressions of pain and confusion and direct them back to God?

  • Is there a more formal way each year that your church could give space to members of the congregation to acknowledge grief of different kinds?

  • Is your collective worship only praise? Is the only type of prayer is a ‘thank you’? Could we broaden out worship to include lament?

These ideas may seem simple, but it feels like we have a long way to go as a church in re-learning the practice of lament. So, even something small and simple would be a start?



Lament, addressing the heart of God, is prayer that urges God to listen and respond to the reality of our situations. This is a mighty task of the church, to join with others in saying, ‘How long, O Lord?’ (Ps.13) and unashamedly asking, ‘Rise up and help us; rescue us because of your unfailing love.’ (Ps. 44:26)

And these prayers are entirely appropriate for the workers and business owners facing the pressure of closure today, and in the weeks to come.

Charlee New, the Jubilee Centre’s Storytelling Lead & part of its ‘Church & Enterprise’ research team.

This article was first published on the website of the Jubilee Centre and re-published with permission.




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