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Lament vs. Despair: A Conversation with Michael Thornhill

There seems to be a fear around sadness. And not just being sad, but truly grieving. Somehow these emotions were deemed bad or unhealthy; that we shouldn't embody them, feel them or allow ourselves to even have them. When we see someone hurting, someone deep in anguish and grief, we want to look away or minimize or offer a shortcut to escape. We do this to ease our own discomfort more than to actually care for the other person. Perhaps it has to do with comfort. We are afraid to be uncomfortable, we don't like it (understandably) and we definitely can't tolerate sitting with someone else who is in pain. It's just too hard, and it requires too much of us. We as a culture do not know how to grieve well.

Something I have been learning this past week is the difference between despair and lament. I had a conversation with my friend Michael Thornhill, associate director of cross-culture ministries at the Coalition for Christian Outreach, on the Arise Podcast and he said, "Despair is rich with disbelief. Lament is rich with belief."

Lament demands something that is counter-cultural: to believe, to hope. There is no hope in despair. Lament however is full of hope: it is full with a deep longing that is attached to belief. Belief that it could be better, that the story will end differently.

"The degree to which I don't lament is the degree to which I cheapen hope." Michael Thornhill

There is a story in John 11 where Martha and Mary's brother Lazarus was sick and dying. They sent messages to Jesus for him to come and heal their brother. In this time, a brother to two unmarried women was likely their only advocate, protector and provider; Their brother was likely their only source of life. Jesus does not return immediately, but in fact stays away for several days. By the time Jesus does arrive, Lazarus has been dead for days and Martha and Mary are in mourning for their brother. When she sees Jesus coming, Mary falls at His feet, weeping and says, "If only you had been here, he would not have died."And Jesus, who was moved in His spirit, wept.

Jesus knew how the story would end. He knew that through His power He would raise Lazarus from the dead. But even before He shows God's glory in resurrection power, He wept with Mary and Martha.

"What would Mary's faith be if Jesus never wept?" Michael Thornhill

Jesus met her in her grief. He joined her and others in lamenting. He embodied the kind of sadness and grief that is laced with hope and full of belief.

That's what I want for myself and others. I want to be able to hold grief and hope together, to join in lament that can hold both death and resurrection together. Beauty and Brokenness.

Will you be a person of hope in the midst of grief? Will you sit with and join them in lament?


You can listen to the full conversation with Michael at or anywhere that you get your podcasts.

Also in this podcast conversation:

  • How lament is used in racial reconciliation as a tool to move our culture forward.

  • Black History Month and why Black History needs to be a conversation all year long. Black history is American History, and Black History Month is meant to highlight Black History but instead it's become the only time of year that it's talked about.

  • Conversations around race are not exclusively for people of color but are for white people as well. How can we be inviting white people to engage their own stories? "You have to be curious about your own story, not just about the story of the person of color you know." The key then is having curiosity: because "Curiosity invites us to ask questions without judgement."

  • The Superbowl halftime show, acknowledging outrage as well as the beauty, Latin culture, political statements and arousal structures.


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