So this morning’s Psalm got me started – and not in a welcome way. As I turned to my scriptural journal to record some thoughts prompted by the psalmist’s cry to cry no more, I was greeted by a reflection made just a year ago. I resisted the temptation to read what I wrote last year, suspecting it likely touched on the thing that sent me to bed weeping for too many nights over the past years.
Psalm 6 is considered a Lament and Penitential psalm prayed individually and corporately, alike. It speaks directly and explicitly about pain and physical illness and brokenness. Someone who is critically ill personally – or in its historical liturgical setting, a remnant-sized congregation exiled – appeals to God for pity, healing, mercy and to be saved from death.
1 Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger; *
do not punish me in your wrath.
2 Have pity on me, Lord, for I am weak; *
heal me, Lord, for my bones are racked.
3 My spirit shakes with terror; *
how long, O Lord, how long?
4 Turn, O Lord, and deliver me; *
save me for your mercy’s sake.
Importantly, to my way of thinking and unlike traditional laments, the individual or congregation’s present situation is not linked either to innocence nor transgression on the part of the psalmist. In other words, no one is to blame. The illness is what it is. The remnant in exile is where it is. The psalmist is crying out to God that the misery, pain and sadness come to an end – and preferably on this side of dirt.
5 For in death no one remembers you; *
and who will give you thanks in the grave?
6 I grow weary because of my groaning; *
every night I drench my bed
and flood my couch with tears.
7 My eyes are wasted with grief *
I lived this psalm for a long season of my life – couldn’t pray it without my eyes swelling with the tears that had only just drenched my bed the night before. It was in those years that I was praying and reading most of the lections through my own selfie-lens. Every word of scripture found its way to may achy breaky heart to assure me that in God’s time the thing lost would be restored. As I envisioned, dreamt of, hoped for.
But meanwhile, as I self-obsessed and prayed for something that was never going to be, life went on. Like real life. All around me. As Dan Piraro’s panel illustrates so aptly, my selfie-lens to the scripture and the psalms especially, blinded me to the reality of the life I had and had been gifted. My heartbreak was what it was. Period.
A selfie-focused lament makes little room for reality – sort of like a prayer operating in denial. That’s how I came to see it. And denial is not a weapon against heartbreak, a dream eluded, loss of a loved one, against an aging parent with memory loss, loss of movement and mobility, loss of a job, a home. A selfie-focused lament holds onto false hope. It is an all smiles portrait in front of a beachfront with a tidal wave in the background.
I prayed Psalm 6 in this way for so long, giving props to the psalmist for ‘getting me’ and my situation, lo those millennia ago. I was so caught up in my head and heart I couldn’t see the forest through the trees. Couldn’t see that this state of lament would ever change. I was pretty sure I’d live in that weepy tear-drenched place ad nauseam. Which is why I hesitated to read what I had written just a year ago in my scriptural journal. When I turned there I thought I’d read another woe-is-me entry.
But praise God, that is not what I found. Just a year ago this psalm popped up and I was reflecting on how grateful I was to have left the season of lament. How grateful I was to have been given time in the past years to broaden the lens through which I read scripture in lieu of the narrow self-focused one I used for personal application to my detriment.
I’ve come to appreciate the universal truths woven into nearly every story the Holy Spirit inspired the psalmists, scribes, prophets, eyewitnesses, gospelers, and apostles to write. In so doing, I’m given breathing room to pray a psalm like today’s and not weep for me, myself and I but to give thanks that we have a loving God who hears and accepts our prayers. All of our prayers. From all of us. In every season. Through every trial. Exile. Illness. Heartbreak.
Praise God from whom all blessings and seasons of lament, flow.
Daily Office Readings: AM Psalm 5, 6; PM Psalm 10, 11
1 Kings 1:38-2:4; Acts 26:24-27:8; Mark 13:28-37