Please and Thank You

Again and again, the Hebrews turned to their God, crying, “Save us, save us,” and adding their petulant complaint of “This is not fair,” a whine every parent has heard. And yet, in the psalms, they never forgot from what they had already been saved. 

by Marjorie George

When will your puddle of vague unrest gather up into a storm of emotions? And what will that storm name itself: anger, resentment, hopelessness, sorrow, despair?  Or has it already? Good, you are making progress. 

In this morning’s post from The Center for Action and Contemplation, Brian McLaren says, “When we call out for help, we are bound more powerfully to God through our needs and weakness, our unfulfilled hopes and dreams, and our anxieties and problems than we ever could have been through our joys, successes, and strengths alone. . . . 

Naming our anxieties, says McLaren, helps us see more clearly what we are bringing before God. “Anxieties can gray the whole sky like cloud cover or descend on our whole horizon like fog. When we rename our anxieties, in a sense we distill them into requests. What covered the whole sky can now be contained in a couple of buckets. So when we’re suffering from anxiety, we can begin by simply holding the word help before God, letting that one word bring focus to the chaos of our racing thoughts. Once we feel that our mind has dropped out of the frantic zone and into a spirit of connection with God, we can let the general word help go and in its place hold more specific words that name what we need, thereby condensing the cloud of vague anxiety into a bucket of substantial request” 
 (https://cac.org/praying-in-crisis-2020-03-25/).  

The Hebrews knew about storms and anxieties and frequently brought them before God in their psalms. The history of the Hebrew people is one of oppression, exile, and slavery. But their identifying characteristic as a people is deliverance. The Exodus event and the return from exile define them.

Again and again, the Hebrews turned to their God, crying, “Save us, save us,” and adding their petulant complaint of “This is not fair,” a whine every parent has heard. And yet, in the psalms, they never forgot from what they had already been saved. 

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion 
    we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
    and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
    and we rejoiced
(Psalm 126:1-3).

Of the 150 psalms, about a third are psalms of lament. Mostly they follow a predictable pattern: a call upon God, a recitation of the complaint, a petition for help, and – and this is important – an expression of trust that God will indeed relieve their plight.

We can see it in Psalm 22, which Jesus remembered from the cross:

Cry of distress
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
(vs 1)

Complaint
But I am a worm, and not human;
    scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me;
    they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
(vss6-7, see also 12-18)

Petition
But you, O Lord, do not be far away!
    O my help, come quickly to my aid!
(vs 19)

Affirmation of deliverance
I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;
    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
    All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
    stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he did not despise or abhor
    the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
    but heard when I cried to him.
(vss 22-24)

In a shorter psalm, and one which we might emulate, Psalm 13 begins with a mournful cry: 
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
(vs 1)

but ends with a rejoicing heart:
But 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
(vs 6)

“There is in the psalms no quick and easy resignation to suffering,” says Dietrick Bonhoeffer in his little book Psalms, the Prayer Book of the Bible. “There is always struggle, anxiety, doubt . . . But even in the deepest hopelessness, God alone remains the one addressed” (pg 47).

Our circumstances right now demand faithfulness. With the psalmist, we bring our cry to God, ask for God’s help, and look for God’s deliverance. We allow the storm of our emotions to gather, admit our fears to God (and maybe to each other), and know that nothing can separate us from the love and mercy of God.

Psalms to read this week

Psalm 13

Psalm 25:1-2, 6-21

Psalm 31:1-5,9-16

Psalm 86:1-4, 14-17

Psalm 12

Psalm 22

For an interesting exercise, write a psalm of lament for yourself.

Marjorie George serves the Diocese of West Texas as a consultant in adult Christian formation. Reach her at marjoriegeorge62@gmail.com or marjorie.george@dwtx.org  She would love to hear from you.  Or leave a reply to this post.

10 thoughts on “Please and Thank You”

  1. Marjorie,
    Thank you for suggesting we read the Psalms you listed. I just finished reading each one and I must tell you, I am sitting here feeling a certain peacefulness in my soul I haven’t felt in quite some time. Your faithfulness is an inspiration for so many and I, in particular, admire and thank you for the work you do for our Lord.

    Like

    1. These messages are so helpful to my spiritual life. I have forwarded this week’s message to 3 friends. Thank you for your time and energy and God-given gift to provide these lessons.

      Like

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