Morning Pages: Psalm 13
If you've ever wondered what it looks like to wrestle with the Lord, Psalm 13 provides the answer. This psalm is short, with only six verses. But it is a powerful display of holding the tension of brokenness and suffering in one hand and the faithfulness of God (even in his seeming absence) in the other.
Perhaps, by now, you are weary of every psalm being about brokenness and suffering. I get it. But maybe we need a frequent reminder from the psalmists that this is real life. As followers of Jesus, we are not exempt from pain and trouble. He warned us it would be so (John 16:33). So the psalms are our teachers and guides. They show us what it looks like to wrestle, in faith, with a God who doesn't always act according to our expectations. And, at the same time, to cling to him because we know he is our only hope.
David's psalm begins with a series of questions:
Verses 1-2 How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
David shows us the depth of his spiritual suffering in this series of questions. Forgotten. Abandoned. Longing for God's face. Left to wrestle with his thoughts and sorrows on his own. Vulnerable to his enemies. This is spiritual desolation. Not only are his physical circumstances hard, but his spiritual life is barren of the presence of Yahweh. There's a lot David can face when he knows the Lord is with him, but Yahweh's seeming absence is his undoing.
I can relate to that. Sometimes we are acutely aware of God's presence in our suffering, which brings us comfort and an ability to endure. But other times, he feels distant and inactive, which we equate to his lack of love and care for us. We may even be tempted to question his existence or ability to do anything about our situation. And when God allows suffering to linger and his comfort to remain hidden, we may grow discouraged, depressed, and apathetic. Sometimes, we may even become bitter and angry and completely turn our backs on God.
But, because David knows that Yahweh is his joy and his only hope, his only response is to cry out to the Lord for help:
Verses 3-4 Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
He pleads with Yahweh: Consider me. Answer me. Restore me to life. Don’t let my enemy prevail over me. David appeals to the Lord’s mercy, justice, and goodness—to look upon him, to see his suffering, and to act on his behalf.
And then, in verses 5-6, David steadies himself:
Verses 5-6 But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.
David says: I have trusted. My heart will rejoice. I will sing. These are statements of deliberate action. He is not allowing his feelings to determine his actions. This is an important lesson. We are in danger of two errors when it comes to our emotions. The first danger is to dismiss them as irrelevant and antithetical to faith. This is both unhelpful and unbiblical. Our God, in whose image we were formed, is full of emotion—love, anger, jealousy, compassion, grief, and joy. Our emotions are not a symbol of weak faith. They are not sinful; they are good and God-given. Emotions are meant to be felt and expressed in the safety of healthy relationships—with God and others—or they turn toxic and make us sick mentally, emotionally, physically, relationally, and spiritually. And an emaciated theology of emotion in the church casts shame on and further isolates those grappling with mental illness.
The second error we can make is to elevate our emotions and make them the truest and most important thing. This is equally harmful. Because while our feelings do matter, they are not meant to govern us or hold us (or others) emotionally hostage. As author Lysa Terkeurst says, our emotions are indicators, not dictators. They are the check engine light that alerts us to something in our lives that needs attentive care.
David does not deny his grief, confusion, and struggle over Yahweh's seeming absence. On the contrary, he fully expresses his sorrow and his longing. But he also does not allow them to define who Yahweh is or how he will respond to him. Instead, David makes a deliberate choice to trust in the Lord and to worship him regardless of his physical, emotional, and spiritual circumstances because God is a God:
—of steadfast love (goodness, kindness, faithfulness, unshakable love)
—of salvation (deliverance, victory)
—who deals bountifully with his children (generous, gracious, abundance)
David doesn't diminish his emotions in light of God's seeming absence. But he also doesn't diminish God's faithfulness in light of his circumstances. David holds both of these in tension. And this is the hard work of our faith: to allow two things to be true at the same time. You can endure prolonged suffering with no sign of God's divine hand offering relief or rescue, and God can still be good and faithful. So despite his circumstances, despite his suffering, David chooses gratitude and worship. But not before he honestly laments.
David gives us a pattern for wrestling with God in prolonged suffering:
Ask God for help.
Give thanks for his goodness and faithfulness even while awaiting rescue.
This is both a picture of and a guide for wholehearted living. For intimacy to grow, honesty must be present. At times, circumstances are hard, and suffering is overwhelming. You do not have to deny that. You can cry out to the Lord, bringing all of your emotions to him—not just the ones you think are acceptable. Including your doubts and frustrations with him. But your circumstances don't diminish his goodness. So you can praise him for his faithfulness—even while waiting for rescue. Because both things can be true at the same time.
This is often easier to say than it is to do. It takes intentionality and practice, but the fruit of it is intimacy with Yahweh.
Until next week.
All my love,
P.S. My friend Ruthie Delk created a Gratitude and Lament journal to help guide you through that process. You can get one of those here.
Here is a song for your week:
And here's one more: