How long, O Lord?
To the leader. A Psalm of David.
1 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me for ever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I bear pain* in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
3 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
4 and my enemy will say, ‘I have prevailed’;
my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.
5 But I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
Have you ever had one of those no good, very bad days….that turns into a no good very bad week, that turns into a no good, very bad year? Sometimes that dark cloud seems to hover over us for a lifetime, generations even.
How long, o lord? I have heard the cry so often that I fear I am becoming numb to it. It speaks to a number of experiences. How long, o Lord…will this heat endure? How long, o Lord…before I find a decent job? How long, o Lord…does potty training last? How long, o Lord…will we have to read headlines of another shooting? How long, o Lord…will we have to march in the streets before we are heard? How long, o Lord…will my family reject me for who I am? How long, o Lord…does this heartache last? How long, o Lord…before we find a treatment that works? A cure? How long, o Lord…will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
This psalmist gives voice to the wrenching of our souls…when justice seems to pass you by, when everyone around you seems to be showered in blessings but you are still waiting, when you are giving it everything you’ve got, but still can’t seem to get over the hurdle, when you’re living pay check to paycheck and then you or someone you love gets sick, when the bottom drops out….
We’ve talked about how raw an honest the Psalms are, and that holds true in the good times and the bad. What do we gain by attempting to hide our hurt? Here the heart is laid bare. Before God, there’s no need to pretend.
How liberating it is to hear such honesty within the witness of the bible. How affirming it is to see that we can give voice to our anger, our hurt, our loneliness within the tradition of our faith. And we can do so without tidying it up first and without the shadow of shame. The Psalmist puts it all out there, shakes their fist at the sky, and gives God the full force of what is felt. And you know what? God can handle it. God is big enough for everything we've got -- our pain, our anger, our questions, our doubts. God is present not apart from but in the midst of our suffering, God suffers alongside us in the muck and the darkness.
This week I noticed something about this text that had escaped me before. It’s a small detail, but I think it makes a big difference. While there are several “I” statements…”how long must I bear pain in my soul? And have sorrow in MY heart all day long?...the whole of this lament is not expressed in isolation.
Our pain can become toxic when it turns us in on ourselves, when our eyes are stuck in the spiral of self. I usually need at least a little time to wallow in “woe is me” but if I get stuck there…. It is harder and harder to break free.
We face true enemies of justice, of human dignity, of love. We also face the enemy that lives inside us – self-doubt, internalized homophobia, sexism, racism, classism. The best healing balm, which the Psalmist declares, is to bring our brokenness out from the shadows and into the light, to bring that which would fester in hidden corners into full view.
The psalmist shows us a lament which is certainly felt in the inmost being of one’s soul, but is also unafraid to extend out beyond oneself, to share that lament publicly, even if only in the presence of our creator, to cry out to God. The subject of the sentence is not only me and my experience, but you and yours. How long will YOU hide your face from me? And yet I trust in YOUR steadfast love.
We are not alone in our cries, in our desperation, in our desolation. That matters. Knowing this can help us, but it is still not what ultimately saves us. The psalmist is not timid in asking for what is needed. Consider me! Answer me! Give me light! They demand to be heard, they demand a response, they demand action. They expect it.
And it begins to come into view… that this moment of complete sorrow is also a moment of complete faith. A moment of horror is also a moment for resistance, for defiant pride.
Because what saves us is the foundation on which these hopes rest, the promise that makes us bold enough to speak our messy truth, the resurrection that cultivates life in the midst of death. “I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” We cling to God’s steadfast love – that which endures through anything the world can dish out. God’s faithfulness persists even through the pit. The Psalm gives voice to a world that is not as it should be and yet also proclaims that there is love more powerful than our pain. We are reminded of what has been and what will be – bounty, bountiful goodness and grace. The Psalmist says that even if it’s a sour note, I’m gonna sing because there IS peace beyond our fear and hope beyond our sorrow. I have seen good things come out of this relationship, this God before, and I’m going to lean into that faith, even if ever so slightly, even if no by my own strength, but by its own gravitational pull even in the midst of woe.
So, last week we wrote our own version of a Psalm of joy and thanksgiving, this week I invite you to write a verse that gives voice to lament and hope. Your lament can be personal, it can be communal or societal. I invite you to allow yourself to be honest and raw. And then I invite you to ask God to show you, to give light to your eyes, to reveal where you might also see hope. So we’re writing two verses, as we create a communal psalm of lament and hope.