My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest. Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame. 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; "Commit your cause to the LORD; let him deliver-- let GOD rescue the one in whom he delights!" Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother's breast. On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled; I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me; they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots. But you, O LORD, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid! Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog! Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me. 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. From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him. The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations. To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it. *******************************************************************
I’ve been in the practice of journaling for many years. I use my journal as one of the ways I pray, to write out my situations- and along with it, my anger, my worries, my fears, what the psalmists call “laments-” which is just another way of saying that I dump all of myself out in the journal… I can also use the journals as a way to look over my history, and see how God has moved over the course of my life. In fact there are certain entries that I refer to again and again, as I know the stories they contain will bring me assurances that God has been faithful over the course of my life, even though sometimes it didn’t feel like it.
However, the process of journaling is not just about pouring out complaints or whining. There is a cycle that I need to work through that makes each entry a prayer, as opposed to a cathartic exercise. I start with just how I’m feeling… I write out all my emotions, all my fears, all my pain (even the smallest details of what I'm experiencing). You see it’s only in letting God in on all of myself that I can be completely open to hear God whispering a word into the ear of my life. Unless I can stand naked and fully exposed before God, with all of my anger and hurt laid out, a place of total honesty, I can’t get real relationship with God. It’s only after pouring all my 'stuff' out that I can say to God: “OK, here’s the situation-here’s me- now please... help me. It feels like I’m alone down here and you need to step in like you have so many times before.” It’s the process of opening yourself up that opens the door to prayer. (Hint: God knows your heart & mind anyway- may as well be honest)
The practice of journaling- pouring out your heart and soul to God is not new... It’s all over the scriptures and especially present in the Psalms. In Psalm 22 we hear the psalmist’s lament, who pulls no punches right from the beginning… “My God! My God! For what reason have you forgotten me?”
Have you ever been forgotten? I can remember when I was a little girl and I was waiting outside the school for my mother to come and pick me up. We lived within walking distance, (all the kids did then) but I was too young to walk home by myself. This one afternoon, I waited outside the school with the other kids to get picked up, like we normally did. But as all the other kids left for home, Mom wasn’t there. It started getting later and before long I was alone. It was beginning to drizzle and windy and cold, and like any normal 5 year old, I started to panic. "Where was she?"
When this happens to you, the worry travels from your brain to your body. There is a visceral reaction that happens when we are afraid. Your hands get sweaty and your knees feel weak… your breath gets a bit quicker and becomes shallow - there’s a knot that starts in your stomach…and it rises up to the back of your throat. You want to cry, but you can’t. After all, you can’t cry, can you? Cause once you cry, there’s nowhere left to go… It means that you’ve given up once you cry. So you just keep blinking back the tears. The environment around you begins to change… Every sound becomes a threat. Everyone who passes by suddenly become strangers in the worst sense. Your vision is blurred as your eyes move back and forth in hopeful expectation that someone will remember you! Someone will come to their senses and sweep you up out of this dust of death with the scary beasts and wild dogs. And suddenly, something happens... and all the fear and the frustration and anger and worry all well up and you let the tears flow! If you’ve ever seen a child in that state, they don’t whimper… they cry out loud… deep wailing cries... maybe someone will hear them… maybe someone will come to help if they can just be heard. But you know what? A child isn’t calling out for just “someone.” That call that comes from deep within is for a specific person… for me it was Mom.
That is why, in that same moment, even when you can’t quite make the shadowy figure coming toward you to rescue you from the horns of the wild oxen… there is a revelation of a desperate faith; a radical faith. A faith that not just remembers the one you’re crying for, but a faith that reminds the one to whom you cry out, that there is a real relationship involved here… a relationship that has been, for the moment, abandoned; forgotten. But further, this is a relationship between the two of you that holds a history of steadfastness that is now being called into account.
For the child left outside alone, it is the crying out… “Mom! Why did you forget about me? Come get me! You’re my Mom! You’ve always been the one who has been here to rescue me so get here NOW! I can’t wait any longer! I’ve had enough!” In those words, although there is a pouring out of complaint, there is also a remembrance, a glimpse into a personal history- a journal, the history of the times when Mom has come through in the past, and she has; the child is sure of it. There is no other reason to cry out. And in that history- there is an expectation that Mom will be there now- and she is. "I knew you would come... I knew you would come..."
For the psalmist who has been forgotten, abandoned, the situation is no different. Let’s look at the journal entry in his life. Amidst the pain and abandonment and anger the psalmist is showing, there is a surety that God will indeed come. Even with the knot in his stomach, the panic that sets in at the back of his parched throat… He both explainsand complains about his situation before God. He is bold enough to be angry with God and honest enough to admit his own impatience with the suffering. But there are really two lists going on- the list of complaints- but a list of ways God has been there in the past. The psalmist not only reminds himself, but reminds God, of their relationship and of God’s faithfulness. The psalmist writes, in the middle of his complaints- verse 4&5 “In You (God) our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and You delivered them. To You they cried, and were saved; in You they trusted, and were not put to shame.” There are wild dogs encircling him- he’s miserable- yet he remembers that God has been faithful for generations.
And finally, when the psalmist has poured out every part of himself to God, he finally hears the first whisper from the God who will save him, even if in his own memory. So by verse 21, God is rescuing him from the horns of the wild oxen! In fact the second half of this psalm is a song of praise! God has come- and everyone will know it! Yet, it's important to note that the joy expressed, (delight and relief) comes once the Psalmist is safe within the tight embrace of the God. It is the same uncontrollable heartfelt weeping that overcomes the child, once more in the arms of Mom, safe at their breast… ‘I knew you would come…I knew you would come….’
How do we get to this place-this close, intimate relationship with God; a relationship based on steadfastness and surety? Look again at the psalm; the writer has not only brought his pain honestly to God and poured out his frustration and hurt, here’s the important part… has left that hurt in God’s hands. The psalmist doesn’t try to be anything more than he is… He has been totally, authentically human before God. And that authenticity and honesty has brought healing and a renewed faith. The Psalmist has worshipped God from the midst of His pain. And even though he was feeling abandoned enough to cry out, “Where are you God?” the psalmist wasn’t going by the way he felt. He felt as if God were not there. But looking past his feelings, he relied on his faith... faith in his relationship with God, faith in the steadfastness of God and faith in the promise of God to always be with him.
But for many of us, these are hard words to hear. Our lives aren’t always simple, and we don’t often have the ability to look past our situation when we are in so much pain & fear…when the future lies in so much uncertainty… illness… the economy… family crisis… depression… we don’t know what will happen to us next- how bad will things get? And especially during those times, and maybe too, because we are Christians, we can feel like others are watching us to see our reaction in how we will handle our hurt…When the wild dogs begin to circle around, and scoffers are crying out…”Hey, didn’t you pray about it? I thought you were a Christian… big religious one… why don’t you just get God to take care of it…” And we can feel forsaken.
And before you get defensive, trust me... it happens to all of us- In fact, we recognize in this psalm the very words Jesus cried out from the cross. These are the very words Jesus drew up from his own pain and agony. By the time he said them, he had been hanging on the cross for six hours… and like the abandoned child he is, with these words reminds himself, reminds God, in fact, reminds anyone who can hear him, that this God who has left him on the cross to die, this God that has for the moment abandoned him will indeed be faithful, even if Jesus does not or cannot feel it right now. This is Jesus’ darkest hour. From the most desperate deepest part of his grief Jesus allowed the pain to rise up- amidst the scoffers and mockers, to call on the most radical part of his faith! And there, on the cross, windy and cold, poured out like water, hands and feet shriveled, throat parched…As his eyes move back and forth in hopeful expectation, blinking back the tears... Jesus, lets out a wailing cry from deep within!
‘My God, My God! Why have you forgotten me? Where are you? You’re my Mom! You were supposed to be here! I did what you told me to do! It wasn’t supposed to take this long! I’ve had enough! Come down here now and get me off this thing!” And in that moment we get a glimpse into the journal of Jesus’ relationship with God… we feel the history.
But by using those particular words, the words which would have been so familiar both to him and to his followers, he not only cries out to God; he reminds everyone who can hear him, reminds himself, reminds US, that Jesus is in a relationship of radical faith… that God is still in control! That even in this time of deepest darkness, God is near, and God is worthy of praise. That no matter how things may look right now, even in the middle of this wilderness of waiting… when he can't quite make out God's shadowy figure coming toward him, God is there… and it is that agonizing place that becomes a place of hope… a place of irrepressible hope… a hope that remembers and affirms that God has never abandoned or forgotten us, no matter how we feel. God has come through for us in the past, and that memory is still there somewhere… and even through the tears, it fuels our hope… and whispers in our ear, above the sounds of the scoffers and wild beasts, and reminds us that we are in a relationship of trust, of covenant … that calls us even now to step out in radical faith… And finally, when we have cried out from deep within our being…when we have given all we have to God and left it in God’s hands… we can begin to hear that song of praise, softly at first perhaps, but growing ever stronger as we realize that we are tight in God’s embrace once more…. In fact we have been all along… wrapped in her arms… safe at her breast… ‘I knew you would come…I knew you would come….’