I’ve read this Psalm so many times over the last week that I think I could recite by heart. I feel connected– deeply connected– to it because it is so RAW and so DESPERATE:
6 1-2 Please, God, no more yelling,
no more trips to the woodshed.
Treat me nice for a change;
I’m so starved for affection.
2-3 Can’t you see I’m black-and-blue,
beat up badly in bones and soul?
God, how long will it take
for you to let up?
4-5 Break in, God, and break up this fight;
if you love me at all, get me out of here.
I’m no good to you dead, am I?
I can’t sing in your choir if I’m buried in some tomb!
6-7 I’m tired of all this—so tired. My bed
has been floating forty days and nights
On the flood of my tears.
My mattress is soaked, soggy with tears.
The sockets of my eyes are black holes;
nearly blind, I squint and grope.
8-9 Get out of here, you Devil’s crew:
at last God has heard my sobs.
My requests have all been granted,
my prayers are answered.
10 Cowards, my enemies disappear.
Disgraced, they turn tail and run.
The sadness and sheer exhaustion indicates to the reader that the author is nearly at her wits end (v6 “I’m so tired of all this” and v2 “I’m so starved for affection.Can’t you see I’m black-and-blue, beat up badly in bones and soul?”). The words seem almost forced to me at v8 (“Get out of here, you Devil’s crew”). Who among Us when at their wits end has the strength left to muster such a strong command? I know at times when I’ve felt this kind of emotion, most of my energy is spent completing only the necessary tasks. So it was startling for me to see how quickly the psalmist went from groping around in the dark to having all prayers answered. And that it was at that moment in v8 when I read the command that the light bulb moment occurred for me.
In my experience, most of my blessings haven’t happened in the blink of eye, in some immediate v7 to v8 kind of way. They’ve happened slowly, deliberately and, with diligence. So I wonder if the author here has not really received those answered prayers that she is referring to. Maybe, she is speaking her truths into existence– speaking to the future instead of focusing on the difficult present. The author’s determination to pen it, to recite it, and CLAIM IT is reminiscent of another later Psalm 31 (v23-24) which is “I know you take care of those who pray and spend time with you” and “I am trying not to lose it, to not give up, I expect you will save me soon.” Perhaps the lesson One (me? you? We.) can take from this is that even in the midst of travails, our words have POWER.
We are guided, no, instructed by this psalm to SPEAK LIFE despite. To believe, to trust and to focus on with confidence, in demeanor, in words, and even in facial expressions, the time when according to Her plan, our prayers are answered.
Did I just say even our facial expressions should be focusing on the time when our prayers are answered? Yes, yes I did. What would that look like? A smile of course! So, you want me to smile even when I am in the midst of the storm? Now you’ve got it! The simple physical act of smiling can make you happier.
According to the Scientific American:
“It would appear that the way we feel emotions isn’t just restricted to our brain—there are parts of our bodies that help and reinforce the feelings we’re having,” says Michael Lewis, a co-author of the study. “It’s like a feedback loop.”
What the author is saying is, sad face = sad emotions and (you guessed it) happy face with a smile can lead to happier emotions. Other studies have shown that even when that smile is not yet real it has the power to lift our mood.
If science can demonstrate that a “not yet real” smile has the power to lift our moods, what do you think not yet real words can do to our mood? Or our lives?
What if, even when I didn’t feel it, I said : “I am so happy today!” or “I can feel God’s majesty working in my life” even when that’s the furthest thing from what I am feeling? Or if I exclaimed, “Man I feel GREAT about myself!” or “I love my body!”
I don’t know what would happen if we spoke these things daily, but I have feeling that like the psalmist we might begin to see our prayers answered sooner than we think.
In close, “I AM POISED FOR GREATNESS!”
What not yet real sentiments will you speak into your life today?
49 1-2 Listen, everyone, listen—earth-dwellers, don’t miss this.All you havesand have-nots,All together now: listen.
3-4 I set plainspoken wisdom before you,
my heart-seasoned understandings of life.
I fine-tuned my ear to the sayings of the wise,
I solve life’s riddle with the help of a harp.
5-6 So why should I fear in bad times,
hemmed in by enemy malice,
Shoved around by bullies,
demeaned by the arrogant rich?
7-9 Really! There’s no such thing as self-rescue,
pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.
The cost of rescue is beyond our means,
and even then it doesn’t guarantee
Life forever, or insurance
against the Black Hole.
10-11 Anyone can see that the brightest and best die,
wiped out right along with fools and dunces.
They leave all their prowess behind,
move into their new home, The Coffin,
The cemetery their permanent address.
And to think they named counties after themselves!
12 We aren’t immortal. We don’t last long.
Like our dogs, we age and weaken. And die.
13-15 This is what happens to those who live for the moment,
who only look out for themselves:
Death herds them like sheep straight to hell;
they disappear down the gullet of the grave;
They waste away to nothing—
nothing left but a marker in a cemetery.
But me? God snatches me from the clutch of death,
he reaches down and grabs me.
16-19 So don’t be impressed with those who get rich
and pile up fame and fortune.
They can’t take it with them;
fame and fortune all get left behind.
Just when they think they’ve arrived
and folks praise them because they’ve made good,
They enter the family burial plot
where they’ll never see sunshine again.
20 We aren’t immortal. We don’t last long.
Like our dogs, we age and weaken. And die.
This is a shift from the celebratory tone of the previous two chapters to a solemn tone of salvation. The psalmist is painting a clear portrait of the inevitability of death, and consequently, the impermanence of life. The Psalm as I read it aloud gave me pause at the v15 mark when it reads, “But me? God snatches me from the clutch of death,
he reaches down and grabs me.” this was extremely relevant for me because of a very vivid dream I had about being chased. The dream ended with me being hurt, near death (scary, I know!), and laying on the ground singing “Hallelujah, Salvation, & Glory” . Anyway, the dream is very present for me at the time of this writing so (even though it was a dream) I am remembering the simultaneous feelings of pain and peace. And in that very moment, like the psalmist outlines, God reached down and grabbed me. This is key.
If we make ourselves available to God at all times, but especially those times when we feel consumed by internal or external darkness, it is in God’s desire and God’s ability to ACT to save us. She’s not a passive God to watch and give small warm and fuzzy signs of direction out of the abyss; no, She’s an active God who extends loving, frantic arms to literally and figuratively snatch us from doom.
Let’s pause on that promise of salvation for a moment. You are saved, despite. Walk in that, breathe that in all the way. You are saved, despite. I don’t care what the world tells you! You are worthy, just as our God is worthy. Trust.
The above point about not caring what the world tells you is a good segue to the next portions of the text, v20 “We aren’t immortal. We don’t last long. Like our dogs, we age and weaken. And die.” which to me is saying be very careful what you put your stock in, your “fame fortune and riches” (v16) can be taken to the family burial plot, but no further than that. So, what are you doing today to leave a greater legacy behind? God will protect your reputation. Honor and serve Her, not the bling and all will be granted in your favor. On some days when I read this, it feels like an uphill battle. Have you ever tried, really tried, to ignore world?! It’s everywhere! (smile). One key takeaway for me is despite the impermanence of life, it is our duty to celebrate and love what matters, in our short time here.
Once we are keenly aware of our own mortality, our actions can be set accordingly. Spend time on that which matters, Friend! As a framing tool, perhaps this list of the “Top 5 Regrets of the Dying” by Bonnie Ware, a palliative nurse, can shed light on what others feel when they can no longer avoid their own mortality (i.e., they are faced with their own death). The list is as follows:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
“This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.”
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
“This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
“Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.”
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
“This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”
What can we learn from this list of regrets of the dying? How do we avoid experiencing these same regrets? Through daily action! Allow yourself to feel happier today. Out of love (not fear) call that old friend you’ve been meaning to catch up with. Accept a little bit more about your own shortcomings. Chief among them for me is the theme of forgiveness. Forgive yourself. Now. Not not in a few minutes– right at this very moment.
As the psalmist notes twice in this passage (v12, v20), “We aren’t immortal. We don’t last long.” My prayer is that for today, and each day that follows, we are so inspired by our own mortality that we live with an unparalleled zest, fearlessness, and passion for life.
Per #3, I will have the courage today to tell you exactly how I feel: I love you.
The neat thing about being a packrat is how even when you forget yourself, your documents and keepsakes always remember you. This week I am cleaning out old spaces to let new light in.
I am going through boxes that are more than a decade old and found this piece of awesomeness. I wrote a poem for a class on November 3, 1999. I was 19 and a sophomore at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. Aggie Pride!
Here it goes:
I prayed for rain and I patiently await her arrival,
I called for her to calm my sorrowed spirits,
Yearned for her to speak freedom’s fate into existence.
Cried for her to remove fear from my heart when
Looking into the lazy blue eye of the devil himself.
He was speaking in a language unknown,
Leading me toward oceans of certain death.
I prayed for rain and still I wait.
I danced for rain and she pretended to be oblivious,
I performed for her as if she were the Creator himself,
I perfected my movement before the sunrise on the Coast,
Now I hail her with spiritual songs under
Blazing death in fields of King White.
I dreams of days when we were together,
Running beside the Nile in laughter,
Speaking of old times with Pharaoh
I was taken away from her comforting arms,
Now I dance for her and she cannot see me.
We were as one, in the likeness of the spirit,
Together as sisters in time, I crave her cleansing,
Nurturing, purifying my soul.
I will give my life and fight till the death to find rain,
We will be reunited, or fighting I will remain.
In the photo you can see that the Professor writes “Did you notice the many places you could have left out words to make it more poetic” <– I still STILL suffer from this issue of being verbose!
Let’s not focus on that though…I got an A.
My piece reminds me of a great worship song by MercyMe. I’m going to go back and read it again, and use this song as a soundtrack. You too?
“My story ain’t deep, but it will be told.”
Heard this today and it really resonated with me as I aim to strike the right balance in this new space. I have so many topics I want to cover! I will try to remember that all entries don’t have to be profound. But with diligence, they will be posted.