“How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” (Psalm 137:4 KJV)
I keep hearing this plaintive cry of the Israelites from the pain-laced Psalm 137. Though I’m not living in exiIe as they were, I am living in a strange land of my own. It is strange for many reasons, some sharable and some not. As I near completion of radiation for breast cancer, I am also struggling with glaucoma issues that cause me to live my life between the radiation clinic and the ophthalmology office—and the couch. And November is always my month of special thanks-giving.
Though my “strange land” often feels quite lonely, I know very well that I am not alone. Many of you reading this are dealing with your own strange lands. I know. I know because I know some of you personally. But I also know because we all live in a fallen world, the backdrop against which we sing our redemption songs. Strange lands are sometimes visible to others who live alongside us. But sometimes the strangeness lies deep within, where no one else knows. I think often of author Skye Jethani’s observation: “There is a sorrow words cannot express and no embrace can remove. It abides deep within, and is accessible only to the one who carries it.”
And there is this backdrop of the news. Every single day seems to bring more tragedy, hurt, and heartbreak. It comes in many forms—from earthquakes and floods and mass shootings to sexual abuse and domestic terror and all kinds of silent screams and secret suffering.
How shall we sing a song of thanksgiving amidst all this? Slowly, painfully, I’m finding out the answer. It is totally counter-intuitive. But it is true. We can sing a truer, deeper song of thanks when we walk along paths that push us to go deeper. This is not a new truth, and certainly not my personal discovery. Saints and sages have expressed it in many ways for centuries. When much is stripped away, what really matters most becomes clearer. A few verses (out of many) illustrate this great Biblical truth:
“. . . when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light to me.” (Micah 7:8b KJV)
“. . . For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10b ESV)
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26 NIV)
This is only the tiniest sampling of a Very Big Truth. Here’s what it has looked like in my life lately. When I am at my weakest, I feel His strength all the more powerfully. When He is all I have in the loneliest places, I want to know Him more and more. It turns out the view from the couch—or the radiation or ophthalmology waiting room—is clarifying.
It’s a deeper Thanksgiving this year. Oh, don’t misunderstand me. The tangible blessings I have to count are endless. With six great kids and eleven precious grandchildren (just for starters!) I have more than enough to focus on in the “seeing the glass half full” department. All of us who live with full bellies and warm homes and accessible medical care have myriad blessings to count.
But here’s what I really want to say: Singing the Lord’s song in a strange land is not always easy. It actually takes quite a bit of practice. But the song is all the more meaningful. And necessary. Beautiful, even. Because, as my grandson Bengt observed many years ago as a 4- or 5-year-old, out of the blue from his car seat in the back of the van: “Dad, I don’t know if you know this. But God is all the light we ever really need.”
Indeed. The Lord gives songs in the night. Day or night in your “land,” sing with me this Thanksgiving.