Over a decade ago, a travel company launched an advertising campaign declaring the third Monday in January to be the most depressing day of the year.
Some scoff at the calculations used to pick “Blue Monday,” which would be Jan. 16 this year. However, the seasonal concepts behind the idea — like colder weather, post-holiday let-down and less daylight — can often lead to people feeling especially melancholy during these days and weeks.
But some ministers are pushing for churches to take action to minister to those suffering from Blue Monday symptoms — knowing that they are likely sitting in the pews on a Sunday morning.
There is a precedent for such action. Churches are known to hold gatherings during the Christmas season to help those experiencing grief, or going through the holidays after the loss of a lost loved one. These services of consolation, or “Blue Christmas” services, can give people space to grieve.
Jerry Young, interim pastor at Calvary Hill Baptist Church in Fairfax, Va., says some people are “just burying” their grief and suffering “because they don’t want to be a burden to others.” Those struggling can include caregivers, people grieving the loss of a loved one and those suffering pain from aging or other ailments.
“You can’t make the pain go away,” he says. “So a big part of what I want to do is to give permission to grieve openly and give a forum in which it’s understandable and accepted to share those kind of things.”
He added that the comfort of God and other people can help someone realize “they’re really not alone even though it seems like to them like they are.”
Lamenting in Worship
Taylor Sandlin, pastor at Southland Baptist Church in San Angelo, Texas, views lamenting as a way of declaring “life matters.”
“Sorrow and grief are part and parcel of the human experience. When bad things happen and no one says a word, tragedy is heaped upon tragedy. We honor life when we grieve its absence and protest its violation.”
Thus, Sandlin said he views lamenting as an important part of worship.
“There is no possible way to worship in spirit and in truth without learning to lament. Globally, there is more violence and injustice than can even be understood. Truthful worship will include questions and complaints about the sorry state of this world and seek God’s intervention. An absence of lamentation in worship makes liars of us all.”
Lament’s absence in worship gives the impression that church is only for those people who have it together, he added.
“If our testimonies only include those who have experienced victories in the here and now, we essentially tell grieving, sorrowful people that their voice is not welcome in our church. A church that makes a place for lamentation is a church that opens its doors to all people.”
Sandlin said he fears that by downplaying lament and grieving, churches may instead promise something untrue, as if the Christian life only makes everything great. Embracing lament exposes this deceit.
“Many of us not only don’t have our best lives now, we have rotten lives now. Our faith doesn’t magically make everything better.”
Faith means crying out to God that things are not as they should be and trusting that God not only agrees with us, but that he is doing something about it, Sandlin said.
“That something has a present reality in the lives of believers, yes, but also remains unfinished. Lament in worship helps stir the hopes of the people that God hears our cries and will one day intervene.”
Given the importance of lamenting, Sandlin hopes churches will work to help people feel more comfortable with public displays of grief. He suggested pastors talk about the process with the aid of the Psalms providing many texts to use.
“Pastors can help church members understand that prayers of sorrow and even protest are faithful forms of prayer,” Sandlin says.
He mentioned special services — like All Saints Day and a service of consolation during Christmastime — that can particularly help people remember and grieve loved ones who have died. Sandlin also views communion as a time to talk about grief. He recounted one service where they observed the Lord’s Supper at tables as “church members shared photos of family members and friends that they longed to eat with again.”
“It was a service filled with lament and hope,” he said.
— A version of this story originally appeared at wordandway.org.