The Christian Practice of Lament: Mechanisms of Change, Moderators, and Flourishing Outcomes
TWCF Number
Project Duration
December 31 / 2022
- December 30 / 2024
Core Funding Area
Big Questions
North America
Amount Awarded

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M. Elizabeth Lewis Hall
Institution Biola University, Inc.

All of the major religious traditions of the world have reflections on the ubiquity of suffering in life, and offer different responses — theological, philosophical and practical — to this human condition. Within the Christian tradition, theologians described how lament can facilitate a kind of meaning-making in suffering, but this prospect has not been empirically tested. 

A research project directed by M. Elizabeth Lewis Hall at Biola University will explore questions such as: Does the regular practice of lament increase flourishing? What are the spiritual and psychological mechanisms through which the practice of lament may lead to increased flourishing? Is the association between the practice of lament and flourishing moderated by group practice or by other factors?

This project situates lament in psychology literature as a meaning-making practice and investigates the impact of a structured lament practice on flourishing-related outcomes. Theologians Kelly Kapic and Jason McMartin will examine theological literature to identify critical elements for inclusion in a structured practice, and for any existing lament practices that have been developed for use in Christian settings. These insights will be incorporated into the development of a guided lament practice that can be practiced weekly. Once developed, the practice will be piloted in a mixed-methods single arm trial to determine its impact on self-reported flourishing.

On the basis of findings from this pilot study, a more structured lament practice will be developed and evaluated among members of two church communities in the greater Los Angeles area. This more structured practice will be compared to an active control condition in a randomized controlled trial (RCT), and will impact on a range of general and religion-specific flourishing-related outcomes. 

In both the pilot study and the RCT, outcomes will be measured using a general flourishing scale, positive and negative affect, satisfaction with life, and linguistic analysis of participants' adjustment to stressful events. Mediators that will be assessed include intimacy with God, eschatological hope, spiritual surrender, theistic intellectual humility, theodical struggling, God locus of control, rumination, forgiveness, and acceptance. Attachment to God, intrinsic religiosity, and neuroticism will be assessed as potential moderators. Heart rate variability will also be measured in the RCT. The project’s hypotheses are that (a) practicing lament will lead to increased flourishing as measured by multiple emic and etic indicators, (b) these effects will be mediated by both emic (e.g., intimacy with God, eschatological hope) and etic (e.g., rumination, acceptance) mechanisms of change, and (c) this practice will be especially effective in group as opposed to individual practice and for some people (e.g., those lower in intrinsic religiosity and higher in neuroticism). 

In addition to journal articles, research reports and other academic outputs, the project aims to offer an online conference for pastors and Christian leaders. The project hopes to advance empirical research on the practice of lament and to make the practice more common.

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