Archive for October, 2016
“I feel as if I can never cease praising God. Come and rejoice with me over His goodness.” The words keep echoing in my mind. Really, in my heart. They’re the introduction to a paraphrase of Psalm 34 that is, in a sense, our family Psalm. More on that to come.
“Really? Praising God? Now? In the midst of this mess? As I sit by this hospital bed? After I’ve just buried my husband? When I am so desperately concerned about my child’s special needs? While it seems I’m always waiting for a doctor to call back about the next diagnosis/surgery/meds? When my marriage is struggling so? Rejoice? Really?” These are the other words that echo in my head—and heart. They’re not necessarily spoken words. But I see them on strained faces and hear them in worried voices and watch them in weary walks. When I am at Mom to Mom. When I visit with my neighbors. When I answer the phone. I hear them.
It’s these voices, actually, that make me love Psalm 34. I originally loved it as my Nana’s favorite Psalm. It is inscribed on her tombstone. Then I came to love it at deeper levels at the time when my father-in-law was dying by inches over a nine-week period at the age of 52. During those long weeks, my mother-in-law drove into that Chicago hospital every day and sat by his bed. They read this paraphrase of Psalm 34 together nearly every day. I often mention Psalm 34 in my teaching and writing. I often pray this Psalm in dark hours of the night. But in this chapter of my life—and in this month of giving thanks—it means more than ever. For me, it defines gutsy gratitude:
Paraphrase of Psalm 34 (from Psalms Now—Leslie F. Brandt)
I feel at times as if I could never cease praising God.
Come and rejoice with me over His goodness!
I reached for Him out of my inner conflicts, and He was there to give me strength and courage.
I wept in utter frustration over my troubles, and He was near to help and support me.
What He has done for me he can do for you.
Turn to Him; He will not turn away from you.
His loving presence encompasses those who yield to Him.
He is with them even in the midst of their troubles and conflicts.
He meets their emptiness with His abundance and shores up their weakness with His divine power.
Listen to me; I know whereof I speak.
I have learned through experience that this is the way to happiness.
God is ever alert to the cries of His children; He feels and bears with them their pains and problems.
He is very near to those who suffer
And reaches out to help those who are battered down with despair.
Even the children of God must experience affliction,
But they have a loving God who will keep them and watch over them.
The godless suffer in loneliness and without hope;
The servant of God finds meaning and purpose even in the midst of his suffering and conflict.
“I reached . . . He gave. I wept . . . He was near to help and support. His loving presence wraps around us. He meets [my] emptiness with His abundance and shores up [my] weakness with His divine power. He is ever alert . . . He is very near . . . He reaches out to help.” These are the reasons—at least a few of them—that we can say the opening lines with integrity. These are the foundation of gutsy gratitude. These are the reasons we can say thank you even when it takes extraordinary courage to hang on to His truth amidst our current realities. Even in the midst of . . . Even “if He does not . . .” (see Daniel 3:18) Even after . . .
These were the words of the ancient Psalmist (probably David, in a time of great trouble). This was the testimony of my grandmother. These were the words that sustained my husband Woody’s parents through a long dark passage. These are the words I live by. This is the truth about our great God. These truths are the reason the Apostle Paul could command us to give thanks in everything. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
Wherever you are in your life, whatever your journey in this November 2016, whatever courage it may take to praise God, even though _______, I do hope these good words from our God will invade your soul and ignite within you a gutsy gratitude. A joyful outpouring of thanks that only He can give. For this I pray—for you, for me, for all of us. Because, as Ann Voskamp says “Our worlds reel unless we rejoice. A song of thanks steadies everything.” (The Greatest Gift, p. 190)
There’s a lot of groaning in my world lately. Not whining. Not self-pity. Not, to use the Irish word that says it perfectly, whinging (it’s pronounced “win-jing,” and according to my daughter, my Irish grandkids do it a lot. I think I do, too). Groaning. There’s a difference. Whining, self-pity, whinging—they’re all full of words. Groans are wordless. They’re the deep-down ache of ongoing, private pain.
Ask the people who know. A woman struggling to start over and find new life after seven years of a nasty divorce settlement. A mother who has just learned that the cancer has returned to her precious little daughter’s body, after several years of thinking it was gone. The many moms with special needs kids who get up every day and courageously face not only the ongoing daily challenges but also the battle of advocacy for getting their kids what they need. A wife bravely determined to mend a hurting marriage amidst multiple losses. Moms grappling with the deep invisible wounds of mental illness—in themselves or in their families. Caregivers wrestling with unspeakably difficult treatment decisions. A “sandwich generation” friend whose roles as wife, nana, daughter, and daughter-in-law keep her care-giving in all directions. Life at a dizzying pace.
These are all stories I’ve heard this week. All people I pray for—and groan with. And there are many more. “. . . sorrows like sea billows roll . . .” (from the precious old hymn, It Is Well With My Soul)
But I’ve also seen a lot of grace this week. Not just groans. Grace. Love. Stubborn love. Perseverance. And courage. Lots of courage. I’m reminded of the little sign Woody gave me years ago: “Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’”
So where does this courage come from? I think it comes from groans and grace. I find it so encouraging that according to the Bible, we are not the only ones who groan. In writing about our fallen world and our desperate need for redemption, the Apostle Paul writes, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pain of childbirth right up to the present time. . . . In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us in groans that words cannot express.” (Romans 8:22, 26) Ahh, so we are not the only ones who groan.
In another of his books, Paul writes about where the strength comes from in the face of trials that just aren’t going away: “My grace is sufficient for you,” the Lord told Paul after not removing from Paul something he was struggling with, “for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) So that’s where the grace comes from. I see so much grace in the women I mentioned earlier. And power. Power to keep moving. To keep persevering. To keep “trying again tomorrow.”
The secret? They—and we—know that they are not alone in their groaning, in their feeling, on some days, “I just can’t get up and do this all over again.” It’s in their very weakness that God displays His power. And His grace.
Max Lucado nailed it when he said “God answers the mess of life with one word: grace.” (Grace: More than We Deserve, Greater Than We Imagine) And, as Ann Voskamp has observed, “You can always breathe when you know all is grace.” (The Greatest Gift, p. 40)
Groanings and grace. They do go together after all. God hears us—and joins with us—in our groanings. And He promises us His grace. Grace sufficient. One day at a time.