But as for me, I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God. You are my help and my deliverer; Lord, do not delay. Psalm 70:5 (NIV)
There is an urgency that comes with being at the end of one’s rope. I was recording a Wayfarer Weekend podcast with a guest earlier this week (you’ll find out who in a few weeks), and she described hitting an “end of my rope” moment in life. Her journal entries from that time, she said, were a simple, repeated refrain of “Help me!”
Today’s chapter, Psalm 70, stands out for its brevity. In fact, it’s basically a repeat of verses 13-17 of Psalm 40. It’s as if David’s circumstances are so pressing, his present pain is so acute, that he can’t find the spiritual, mental, or creative resources to come up with anything lengthy or original. He’s having an “end of my rope” moment and simply blurts out a repeat of a refrain he made before:
“God?! Quick! Help me!”
Along my journey, I’ve occasionally been asked by others how to pray. It’s kind of like asking, “How do I have a conversation?” There’s no real magic to it. It’s just having a conversation with God which, as with any relationship, can be very different one moment then it is the next. Circumstance usually dictates the content, tone, length, pace, and intensity of the conversation.
There a certain waypoints on the road of life when all I can muster is a cry for help.
I have very fond memories of my grandparents taking me on childhood visits to see Aunt Kate and Uncle Frank. It was typically an afternoon visit when the Dutch American tradition of mid-afternoon “coffee time” was strictly observed, though Aunt Kate always make tea and served some form of Dutch treats with it. Kate was my grandfather’s sister and was afflicted with what I assume is the same genetic form of hearing loss that also afflicted my grandfather and was passed to my father and then to me. She wore an early type of hearing aid that looked like a transistor radio that hung around her neck with a wired earbud that made it appear to my child-eyes that she was always listening to a ball game on the radio. Uncle Frank was legally blind, though he was a renowned gunsmith and he sightlessly crafted things with his hands that I couldn’t manage to craft with 20-20 vision and all the tools in the world. I once struck up a conversation with a complete stranger at a bar in Minnesota and somehow we ended up talking about Uncle Frank. The guy was seriously in awe and wanted me to try and get him Uncle Frank’s autograph (Frank had long since passed away).
As I grew older, it fascinated me to visit Kate and Frank and watch them navigate life together in their little house. She was his eyes. He was her ears. I never heard a word of complaint from either of them regarding their disabilities.
Illness and physical ailments are part of life’s journey. I recognize that, for some, it is significant to the point of being all-consuming. I count among my many blessings the fact that I have enjoyed relatively good health thus far in my trek. The genetic Vander Well hearing loss has been more annoying than debilitating in any way.
I have known many individuals along the way, like Kate and Frank, who have had to live with various forms of illness, weakness, and impairment. I have also observed the diverse ways that individuals handle their difficulties from those who courageously and wordlessly adapt to those who wallow ceaselessly in victim-status.
We are nearing the end of the first section in the anthology of ancient song lyrics that is the book of Psalms. The compilers ended “Book I” of the anthology with four songs with confession as a central theme. Today’s chapter, Psalm 38, is the first of them.
David is seriously ailing. The reason and nature of his wounds and illness are lost to history, but the warrior-king is ill to the point of distress and he hears the whispers (real or imagined) of those who are waiting for him to die so they can politically maneuver themselves into positions of power. He enjoyed a relatively long life and made his mark as a strong and heroic warrior. I can imagine that being physically diminished had to have been a struggle on multiple levels for him. So, as he always did, he channeled his emotions into song.
I have noticed that it is very human for those who have enjoyed health an strength to spiritually question sudden and drastic changes in their fortune. Job questions, agonizes, and laments at great length. So, it’s not surprising that David would wonder if there was something he did to bring on his own ill-fortune.
I have learned that one of the great things about the Psalms is that they often give words to my own very human feelings and emotions. I can identify with David’s own human emotions and struggles. Sometimes I encounter individuals who think that being a follower of Jesus is some kind of psychological crutch to avoid life’s harsh realities, but I have found it to be just the opposite. I can’t be a follower of Jesus if I’m not willing to fully embrace suffering life’s harsh realities. In doing so, it’s nice to know that others, like David, have been there before. I get to sing the blues along with him.
At the end of his “woe-is-me” blues David utters a simple plea for God to be near, and to help. I can almost feel him so depleted of life energy that all he can muster is a meager cry for help.
Sometimes on this life journey circumstance reduces us to compacted prayer,
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
My friend Matthew and I are putting together a workshop for men called “More Than Conquerors” next month at Westview Church in Waukee. We originally did the workshop a few years ago in Pella so we’re in the process of updating it for a new audience. The basic idea is that as a man I’m supposed to experience this sense of being a winner, a victor, and God says I’m “more than a conqueror,” but then I get totally overwhelmed by the fact that the IKEA instructions have no words. So, we dig into that dilemma with the guys.
Yesterday we shot some media for promotional material. I had Matthew (who is a rather gentle, somewhat introverted Marriage and Family Therapist) put on war paint and got him to give me his best warrior scream for this photo.
Then Joseph hurried from the room because he was overcome with emotion for his brother. He went into his private room, where he broke down and wept. Genesis 43:30 (NLT)
“Big boys don’t cry,” many of us were told when we were young. Boys are supposed to be strong and fearless. We’re supposed to hold our emotions in check. At least, I know that has been the generalized sentiment I’ve both experienced and witnessed. I’m not even sure that it’s a conscious and overt message for many. It’s just the message our culture has sent and believed. I can still remember seeing my dad cry for the first time. It made such an impression on me I can recall almost every detail of the moment.
I find it interesting that Joseph hurried from the room each time he became emotional. Of course, he did not want to tip his hand and reveal himself to his brothers before he had a chance to work his plan. Nevertheless, I would tend to believe that the culture of Egypt was not that much different than our own in that regard. It would likely be seen as a sign of weakness.
The further I get on life’s road and the the deeper I grow in my relationship with Jesus, the more I feel, identify and express my emotions. When I was younger I would brood and act out in all sorts of ways, completely unaware of the emotions that were seeping to the surface in my words and actions. I can recall going through a period of time in my thirties when I literally experienced Ezekiel 36:26:
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
God took me through a stretch of the journey in which there was an uncorking of emotions that I’d been stuffing my whole life. I learned to feel, identify and express things like anger, disappointment, fear, joy, contentment, and satisfaction in meaningful and healthy ways. In the midst of it, I learned to weep and to experience the healing of spirit, soul and body that comes when you can feel strong emotion and let the tears roll.
I’ve come to embrace the truth of Ecclesiastes 3, that there is a time for everything. I believe for all men there is a time and place for utilizing our God given bent towards controlling emotions in order to accomplish a difficult task and persevere through certain circumstances. But this does not mean that it’s necessary or particularly healthy to dam up our emotions all of the time. There is time for controlling emotion, and there is a time for expressing them. Maturity comes with the wisdom to know the difference.
Do a keyword search for the word “wept” in God’s Message and you’ll find a long list of manly men throughout antiquity who wept openly as Joseph did in today’s chapter. Jesus Himself is among them. I’ve come to learn in this life: Real men weep.