The Lost Art of Lament

Dear Friends,

I have appreciated your support so much this summer. Your generous prayers and donations contributed not only to my experience at the Jesus, Justice, Poverty Institute (JJP), but also helped us practice equity in fundraising. After my JJP funds were raised, you contributed about $1000 in additional support. This extra money helped pay for some of my “Returner” friends – JJP participants who come made it possible for “Returners” - students from under-resourced or marginalized communities – to participate in JJP. Our program would have suffered enormously without the voices of individuals who have seen the underbelly of injustice. We regularly relied on their stories and perspectives to personalize the topics we discussed. These narratives are so needed, but so often get silenced instead. Thank you for amplifying their voices this summer!

When people ask me, “What did you do this summer?” my first answer is to say: “We cried a lot.”


Our posture of lament was the most shocking, memorable part of JJP for me. My first time hearing someone crying at JJP hearkens back to my first blog post: it was the morning of June 18th; the morning after we’d studied the first chapter of Nehemiah; the morning we learned that 9 black churchgoers had been shot and killed in Charleston. Yu-Shuan gathered the staff to pray in the hallway outside the Fireside Room in ReGeneration Church. I remember hearing her sniffles rise to a full-on wail: “God! Why would you let this happen to your children?!”

As I sat cross-legged in the Fireside Room, listening quietly, I felt my body go tense like I’d been swimming in cold water. I was afraid to lament. I knew that what had happened in Charleston was awful. But I felt unprepared to grieve the deaths of nine strangers. People always say, “It’s no use crying over spilled milk.” Of course injustice is upsetting. But what’s the use in crying about it? It doesn’t change anything – right? And it hurts!

But this summer I learned that the deepest wounds are the most painful to treat. If you have a gash, and it’s been there for a while, you have to peel off the old, sticky bandage, clean it with alcohol, and keep it from getting re-infected.

We suffer from these wounds: pride, racism, insecurity, fear – and it’s painful, but lament is how we start to invite God to heal us.


Lamenting kick-starts my anesthetized heart, forcing it to release its cries. Lament is a weapon against apathy. Like with Nehemiah, lament leads me to pray. As my heart cries, “Why?” it cannot help but then cry, “Why, God?”

I am the something (or someone) that is changed when I lament. Lament changes me. It causes me to hunger for justice, to thirst for reconciliation. It pricks, prods, and pushes me until my dull pain becomes a hopeful ache. It transforms my apathy into activism.

Coming home, I’ve been surprised how much I miss the space JJP made for lament. It’s easy to slip back into the numbness of privilege. I have been well-trained at putting the world on mute, at plugging in my headphones, or plugging into Netflix; at cramming my schedule, at keeping busy, at staying detached.

But God is good! He never stops pursuing me. For the last three Sundays at church, my eyes have welled up whenever we sing songs about the cross. The songs remind me of our times of intercession at JJP, and also just how willing Christ was to enter into our painful, broken existence.

And God is gently prompting me to lament. Late one night, I cried with my mom about some hard family dynamics. That changed my posture as a brother. At church, I prayed with a woman whose 7-year-old niece is suffering because of her parents’ messy divorce. I called Michelle, a black friend from Stanford, who I will be living with in Ujamaa (a predominantly black dorm) next year. Together we groaned for God to create more Christian justice spaces on campus. Even when I tried to distract myself, I learned a valuable lesson in confronting pain from Coleman, a character in 4 Minute Mile.

And mysteriously, these moments have caused me to hope. To rejoice. I believe that this must be the work of the Holy Spirit, our Comforter: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” -Matthew 5:4.

JJP set me on a journey – a journey toward justice, toward God’s shalom. We took baby steps in lament, repentance, listening, serving, and proclaiming. So far it has been a tough journey, but a good one. I look forward to walking forward this fall, with lots of good company – in Ujamaa, in IV, with all of you, and of course with Jesus.



Caleb Colby


Caleb has been attending Redemption Church with the rest of the Colbys since 2003. He is grateful for how his Sundays there (which are rare, now that he studies at Stanford) encourage him to press on towards shalom. Other sources of similar encouragement: a good beer; a close game of basketball (or Settlers); and hearing God’s voice in the words of a stranger.

Check out Caleb's blog to view photos from JJP and read further reflections.