My heart has been heavy these last few months as I have watched a dear friend go through some of the most difficult seasons of her life. I know it probably seems to her that I have my life together and everything is going well for me. To be honest, things have been going very well for me. The idea of doing ministry instead of teaching full time has allowed me to slow my pace in life and do whatever needs to be done when the need arises. I am spending more time with my boys, working outside on projects when I catch a warm day, serving in the church when they need me, and enjoying the slower pace of studying scripture as I find something that interests/confuses me. To many, it gives the appearance that I have everything figured out in life.
I am not even sure how all of that fits into what I am currently feeling right now. My heart yearns to be close to those friends of mine who are hurting right now. The ones that are going through a season of intense loss: loss of a loved one; loss of innocence; loss of a future you had planned; loss of identity; loss of security; financial loss and concerns; and loss of control over depression and anxiety. Darkness, anxiety, and loneliness seem to be constant companions. The kind of companions that don’t leave when the lights go off and you head to bed.
Seemingly plagued with the “what ifs” of life. What if I had done this better? What if I had addressed this sooner? What if I had walked away before now? What if I was a better person? What if I saw this coming? What if I hadn’t given away so much of my life to this? Now on a tilt-a-whirl of emotions that never stops long enough for her to catch her breath: anger, betrayal, anxiety, feeling used, feeling like an absolute utter failure, alone, crippling grief, and overwhelmed by the fact that life just won’t stop while she is trying to figure everything out.
And here I sit, with life at a snail’s pace in comparison, living a life many could only dream of having. I have no grief, no loss, no anxiety, no pressure, and no expectations from others. My heart breaks, because I think that just seeing me and my “normal” life only makes her feel worse. My appearance of “having it all together” will only serve in juxtaposition to her life to make her feel worse about the gut-wrenching mess that she is wading through right now – or so I think.
Then I open my Bible this morning to Psalm 136. If you are familiar with your Psalms, then you know that this is the Psalm where after every statement, you see the reply, “His love endures forever”. The first ten verses are about how God is our wonderful creator. Because we can see His creation, we know that, “His love endures forever”. Verses 10-22 give the reader the run-down of how God brought His people back to the Promised Land and how He provided everything for them. It is very clear that as you walk through those verses, that God did prove that, “His love endures forever”.
Still I catch myself pausing at so many of these events and wanting to go back in time. Did it really feel like God was loving them when they were in Egypt? Did they feel like they had a loving God as they stared at the shore of the Red Sea with mountains on both sides and Pharaoh’s angry army on their heels? Was there a feeling of love when you ate manna for the thirtieth year of your life in the desert?
Why was there this psalm talking about God’s love that endured forever? I think that we get caught up in the here and now so much that we lose sight that our God (whose love does endure forever) plays the long game. With eternity in sight, and history in our rear-view-mirror, we can see that God was loving to His people. The same people who were, like me too many times, complaining about not seeing God at work. Failing to look back to see how God orchestrated something that you could have never imagined at the time. All while questioning if God really loved us.
Verse 23, of Psalm 136, catches me in my tracks. All of the events that preceded this verse were the major milestones, or victories, in the life of the people of Israel. Now in verses 23-24, the writer says, “to the One who remembered us in our low estate His love endures forever. And freed us from our enemies, His love endures forever.”(NIV). God remembers us in our low estate and loves us with an enduring love. That doesn’t mean that God put you in your low estate. There are decisions that we make, that put us there. There are circumstances that are beyond our control where we find ourselves in a low estate. There are people, jobs, circumstances, marriages, diagnoses, and finances that find us in a low estate and have become our enemies. Yet, there is freedom from all of this, because in the end God’s love endures forever.
As I went farther into the Psalms this morning, I found myself looking yet again at a passage that I had bracketed in blue pen years ago. In Psalm 138, I had bracketed verse 8 almost in a proof-text kind of way. I could not help now, but see the beauty of verses 7 and 8 together in this psalm:
“Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes, with your right hand you save me. The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your love, O LORD, endures forever – do not abandon the works of your hands.”. (NIV)
It wasn’t just what I had bracketed all those years ago as a promise that God will fulfill His purpose for me. There is so much more. “Though I walk in the midst of trouble” beautifully describes our lives and our troubles: they are walked through alone. Oh, how I wish that I could we could skip through our troubles, or maybe glide through them. What about running through troubles? Riding through them? Making the statement read, “though we walk ..”, just to know that you are in this “troubles” thing with someone else. Yet, as it reads, we are alone in our troubles.
I remember reading in Beth Moore’s Bible Study Breaking Free, that there will be times when God removes everyone and everything that is not Him in our lives. It is only then that we can see that God is what we need. In her most recent book, Chasing Vines she puts it this way, “It reminds us that what we really want is God.” (page 154). You see after the agony of what life is before the comma, we are reassured that God will preserve your life. He will save you with His right hand and he will fulfill His promise for your life.
What will that look like as you go through these troubles? I have no idea. Neither does the author of this psalm. He just reminds God of His promise. Then like me, boldly requests for God not to abandon him (the work of your hands). The Psalter expresses his concern and then trusts God. How hard is that to do when you are walking alone in trouble?
Trusting God is hard to do in normal life and regular situations. Yet trust has to become essential when you are going through the most horrifying thing you have ever encountered. Trust isn’t based on your feelings. That is a good thing when you have become so numb that you cannot feel anything anymore. Trust believes that God’s love endures forever. It is only love that you can count on to be there when you are watching the minutes click by on your bedroom clock waiting for dawn to come.
Trust can also look like what you see in Psalm 142. Not just a verse or two from this psalm, but the whole thing. In my opinion, this is honesty and trust when walking through troubles.
“I cry out to the LORD;
I plead for the LORD’s mercy.
I pour out my complaints before him
and tell him all my troubles
When I am overwhelmed,
you alone know the way I should turn.
Wherever I go,
my enemies have set traps for me
I look for someone to come and help me,
but no one gives me a passing thought!
No one will help me;
no one cares a bit what happens to me.
Then I pray to you, O LORD.
I say, “You are my place of refuge.
You are all I really want in life.
Hear my cry,
for I am very low.
Rescue me from my persecutors,
for they are too strong for me.
Bring me out of prison
so I can thank you.
The godly will crowd around me,
for you are good to me.” (NLT)
Dear overwhelmed, troubled, alone, and abandoned friend. When you feel like no one gives you a passing thought or cares a bit about you, please know that I am going to be here. Not only will I be there,(as the NIV puts verse 7 (b) “Then the righteous will gather about me because of your goodness to me”), when you are on the other side of your trouble and you can see the goodness of God, but also I will be there right now. You are not alone because God is good and His love endures forever, but just as importantly I am here with you. Your grief, anger and confusion don’t scare me, even if the thought of them horrify you. You are beloved and you are never alone.