As we continue in our Blessed Are The Crazy series, we’re going to dive into yet another psalm this week – and this one is fascinating in lots of ways. It’s a ballad of sorts, that tells us about God’s faithfulness and God’s providence for us, even when life gets scary and we reach the end of our rope.
Scripture: Psalm 27
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
When evildoers assail me
to devour my flesh—
my adversaries and foes—
they shall stumble and fall.
Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
yet I will be confident.
One thing I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
and to inquire in his temple.
For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will set me high on a rock.
Now my head is lifted up
above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.
Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,
be gracious to me and answer me!
‘Come,’ my heart says, ‘seek his face!’
Your face, Lord, do I seek.
Do not hide your face from me.
Do not turn your servant away in anger,
you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,
O God of my salvation!
If my father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will take me up.
Teach me your way, O Lord,
and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries,
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they are breathing out violence.
I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!
Stuff happens. If you’re paying attention at all, then you know there is plenty of suffering in the world – and a good chunk of it is no one’s fault.
Some suffering does come as a natural consequence of our own actions – when we do dumb or terrible things, then we have to deal with the aftermath. This could be anything from committing a crime and receiving an appropriate sentence, to putting your hand on something hot and getting burned, to anything that starts with “hey y’all, watch this!”
There’s also some voluntary suffering in the world – things that we choose to go through or to endure for the sake of some sort of reward, whether it’s for us or for others. This might include some workouts, childbirth, fasting, or watching Frozen for the 28th time this year.
Then there’s random suffering, where there is no one to blame except for the fact that we live in a messy and broken world. A mouse chews on the wrong wire and sparks a fire. A tornado or a hurricane comes through. The fields flood or a drought dries up the crops.
But then, there is what I call afflicted suffering – this is the direct consequence of someone else’s actions, whether on purpose or accidental. Getting rear-ended by someone who was texting, being betrayed by someone you trusted, experiencing abuse or neglect from someone who was supposed to care for you.
All of this suffering is valid. It hurts. Sometimes, it makes us question whether God might be punishing us for something.
So first off, let me say that you are allowed to be sad and angry and shake your fist at the sky if you need to, because Psalm 27 will still be true: “The Lord is my light and my salvation: whom shall I fear?”
You can fall apart, and God will still be there, holding the pieces.
But once we’re done shaking our fists, there is also a promise for us at the end of this psalm: “I believe that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”
Suffering doesn’t have to be forever. No matter what you’ve done or what has happened to you, you can find healing and hope.
Unfortunately, it’s not automatic. It will probably take work.
So I want to focus for today on that last box of awful – the kind that’s handed to us by someone else, and what we do with that.
Because, unfortunately, if you really wanted to, you could use the Bible to justify just about any course of action.
You want revenge? Exodus 21 says you can take it, eye for eye, tooth for tooth.
You want to vent your rage and wipe them from the face of the earth? Joshua, Judges, and Isaiah all describe the absolute annihilation of Israel’s enemies.
That gets a little harder if you turn to the New Testament, where Jesus flips all of that on its head with his “love your enemies” and “turn the other cheek” speech.
Admittedly, though, even this can be misused when someone demands forgiveness and love while continuing to cause harm.
When I first went to therapy, about seven years ago now, I didn’t go because I thought I had a major psychiatric issue. I mean, we all have issues. But what drove me to that teensy little office at 7 pm on a Tuesday was the fact that someone I dearly loved had psychiatric issues that they refused to get help for – and after one very traumatic incident with that person, I couldn’t cope anymore. I was constantly on the verge of tears. I was either sleeping 10-12 hours a night or not at all. I couldn’t focus on my seminary coursework because I kept flashing back to that one terrible moment.
I hadn’t done anything wrong – but I was still the one who needed help.
And bless her, my therapist made me a cup of tea so I would have something to hold on to, listened to me word-vomit every terrible thing that had ever happened to me and every awful thing I used to say to myself, and said “okay. Here’s what I hear you saying – and here’s the plan.”
I sat with her twice a month for a year, digging through the box in the back of my brain where I stored all of those things I was afraid to deal with. And at one point, I remember saying something to the effect of: “why am I the one sitting in this office, when it’s the people I love who really need the help? Why do I have to be the one doing this work?”
I don’t remember exactly what she said, but here’s what I learned that day: it’s absolutely not fair that we are the ones asked to forgive, to go sit in that chair, to work on ourselves when we’ve been hurt or abused or traumatized. But at the end of the day, we are the only ones we can change – and we deserve that comfort, that healing, and that safe place to be not okay.
The National Council for Behavior Health offers us a definition for trauma: “Individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening with lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.”
In English, trauma is anything that completely overwhelms your ability to cope and has long-term effects on your well-being – which means it can come from any one of the ‘types of suffering’ I named earlier. If you were with us last week and you remember the Anxiety Bucket, just imagine someone coming up to you and dumping that bucket over your head, then smashing it to pieces.
This also means that what’s traumatizing is going to be different for every person. Two people might experience the same event or set of circumstances, and have very different reactions.
Unresolved trauma is also a risk factor for all sorts of negative outcomes down the road, including addiction, violence, increased anxiety, depression, and health problems.
But, as I noted earlier, suffering doesn’t have to last forever. Today, I can think back to that same moment that landed me in therapy 7 years ago without becoming a puddle on the floor. I have a life and a job and friends and family whom I dearly love, and whom I know love me in return.
With the help of that beloved community, and someone who had a plan, I started to believe that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living – that I could not just survive the life I’d been handed, but that I could learn to thrive.
Maybe you’re not ready for therapy, or maybe it’s just not in the budget right now. But there are other options for help, too – support groups, anonymous group meetings, online support communities, books and written resources, and the community you’ve built up for yourself, whether that’s family or friends or coworkers or your church family. It can be important to start with someone you already know and trust.
(And as always, know that my phone line, my office, and my heart are always open to you – and I would love to talk with you and pray for you and help you find the resources that would work for you.)
As we wrap up, I want to offer you one of my favorite poems by Emily Dickinson. It’s called ‘Hope is the thing with feathers.’
Hope is the thing with feathers
that perches in the soul
and sings the tune without the words
and never stops at all.
Sweetest in the gale is heard
and sore must be the storm
that could abash the little bird
that kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chilliest land
and on the strangest sea—
yet never, in extremity,
it asked a crumb of me.
When we’re just trying to survive, it can be difficult to imagine a future that’s any different than what we have. And to be perfectly honest, hope doesn’t take away the ache, the longing, the storms, the fear, or the homesickness.
But, like the cardinal and the bluejay who still sing in the dead of winter, the voice of hope reminds us that there is more to life than this one terrible thing.
strong, beloveds, and let your hearts take courage – because there is hope and
healing for you, too, in the land of the living.