12 You have turned my wailing into dancing; *
you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.
13 Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; *
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks for ever. (Psalm 30)
I knew I was unsettled this morning as I opened up my bible to the readings assigned for today. The dreams of my restless night’s sleep seemed to hang over and around me – a sort of dark cloud feeling. Instead of going right to the readings, I chose to busy myself with some household chores hopeful that routine might erase the musings of my subconscious.
When I finally sat down to be with God’s word my mood – feeling – whatever you want to call it – wasn’t much changed. My heart and head felt heavy and burdened by the images of the previous night’s sleep.
I opened my bible to the first psalm and at verse 7 I know I’m in trouble – not going to get the peace I am looking for. I feel sort of slapped in the face, actually. I’m already down, why put this Word before me? Ugh.
I just want to get on with a fun filled Saturday and I am here before God’s word to get me in the right frame of mind. All I’m looking for is a way to get a smile on my face.
But this psalm – this pause – would not have it. I know where the psalm is going and I don’t want to go there.
I know its petition. Indeed I have prayed this ‘turning my weeping into joy” psalm, this “thank you for saving me” psalm, this “thanksgiving for ever” psalm on behalf of myself, my church, of other leaders in God’s church. I have prayed this psalm for and with my father and for friends and loved ones pushed to the brink of illness and brokenness only to be saved, healed, touched by our Lord, God.
But this morning? I wasn’t feeling it. I knew I was pushing back. My ego, flesh, self was pushing back. It wasn’t pretty, “Because you know this not to be your experience, because you know your mourning has not been turned to joy, your faith has not earned you God’s favor, you don’t feel saved from anything; because you know that your experience with God and God’s church has broken you apart, broken your life up; because brokenness is your predominant experience of late, maybe it is time to stop looking, praying, thinking that this saving joy is yours to be had and yet to come. Enough with the promise already. Give me something, Jesus, to stick around. To keep at this. Come Holy Spirit. What is in this for me?”
I had fallen into the ,’it is all about me, trap’ of the ego. What’s in it for me? How could I have landed there this morning?
My first year of seminary I was sitting in the refectory with new classmates. As each introduced themselves I was struck at all the broken lives surrounding me and feeling so out of place. I had no such brokenness – or so I thought. No, the landscape of my life up to this point was verdant, open, joyful, full, loving, blessing-filled. I listened to the stories of my colleagues and could hear myself praying a prayer of thanksgiving to God along the lines of the Pharisee in the temple thanking God for not making him like the taxpayer praying next to him – the parable Jesus teaches in Luke 18:
10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
Really, truly. This was going through my head on one of my first days as a seminarian to become a priest in God’s church.
Verse 7 of today’s psalm took me back to that day. I realized I had entered the prospect of ministry in God’s church with this level of self-righteousness and confidence.
7 While I felt secure, I said,
“I shall never be disturbed. *
You, Lord, with your favor, made me as strong as
And then, well, it all went to hell in a hand basket as they say. All the brokenness and pain and mourning I had heard existed rained down, torrentially at times, on me and many loved ones around me.
I have yet to find my way back to that place of security, confidence, settledness, and self-righteousness – that place at the table with all the broken folks but me. Thank, God.
At the same time, I haven’t experienced this saving joy that Psalm 30 keeps putting before me – sort of slapping me with. I haven’t found a way to joy. And I know I am sort of over it – sort of exhausted at the effort to get there, wondering once again why I continue to believe God’s Word will settle me. So many promises alluded to in scripture seem to have alluded me.
Or have they. Maybe I am just wrong – again.
Just as I was wrong about my confidence in the Lord and His in me at that table with the “taxpayers” on my first day of seminary, could I be wrong about how I understand the promise of this psalm?
I think I was paused here today to rethink what God is saying to me – beating me over the head with, even – again. Instead of looking for ways to walk away from His word entirely because it hasn’t ‘worked for me,’ what if. What if, for today, I just readjust my thinking and read the story in the psalm as a moment – not a lifetime – but a moment in a lifetime.
Maybe saving and joyfulness and thanksgiving are moments in time. Part of the process – part of a life well lived – seasonal, even. Like threads in a life’s tapestry – at times full on in your face, at most others hidden in the background. Like clouds – at times bright and light, and at other moments dark and pregnant with rain.
What if I thought about saving MOMENTS, joyful MOMENTS, loving MOMENTS. Could I get to saving joy this way? Would recalling times I knew the Lord had saved me from peril, did protect me, had turned my weeping of the night to a morning of joy, would recalling such moments provide a more real picture of things as they are, and not how I feel or perceive them to be?
Yes. And no. Sort of. Kind of.
Not a full on saving joy experience, but a smile. A smile came to my face recalling the saving moments. I’ve had many in my life. I have been saved – and blessed.
Looking up from the Word today and pausing here for such a long moment to recall the moments of grace in my life – well – I have nothing but thanksgiving in my head and heart. I know this was a God moment.
Thank-you, God. Thank you, thank you.
Now, on to my fun Saturday.