So, have you ever been confused about how to feel about something? Maybe something good happened to you, but it came at the expense of someone else. Or maybe you were really disappointed in losing a game, but a friend was on the other team so you wanted to be happy for them? I learned this lesson when we started playing board games without kids. As much as I want to win, I love when they get so excited! Although, I don’t like it when they beat me at basketball!
I bring this up because often in life we feel that we need to have one emotion. We feel a need to be happy or sad. We should be excited or disappointed. We struggle at times to handle two emotions at the same time, especially if we think they are competing emotions. I’ve mentioned in sermons before that one of the biggest thought patterns I work to correct in counseling is what we call rigid thinking. This is also called all or nothing and black or white thinking. This is the thought that things have to be one way or another. This concept is characterized by the phrase “either/or.” This means something is either this or that. I am either sad I lost a game or excited my friend won. I am either proud of my promotion or sad that a friend was passed over for me.
However, we don’t really live in an all or nothing world, and we often do not experience either/or emotions. We live in much more a both/and world. For some of us, maybe we experienced this at the wedding of a child when we were both happy for them and a little sad that the relationship was changing. Or we’ve been excited about a job change and sad about leaving our co-workers. A problem we have is that we feel often that we need to choose one emotion over the other and this creates some anxiety or frustration since we are not expressing everything we are experiencing.
So, why am I saying this in a devotion? I think a similar process applies to how we view God. Orthodox Christianity holds that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and benevolent or all good. Most faith traditions teach that God has a plan for us. I mean, Psalm 139 tells us that God knew our plan as he saw our unformed beings. I tell people most Sundays that when God began creating the heavens and the earth, He had a dream about the plan for your life. And yet, sometimes we struggle with this plan. I mean if scripture is true that God’s plan is good and true, why do I have to deal so much sorry, struggle, and disappointment? That doesn’t seem to make sense. That’s because we fall into either God’s plan is good and life is good, or something must be wrong. We struggle to think that maybe both God’s plan is good and life can be a struggle.
Of course, we know that one struggle is that sin is in the world. When Adam and Eve made the decision to live outside of God’s will it affected the world so that we struggle falling in and out of God’s plan. We can make choices based on God’s plan, but we have the freedom not to and that leads to hurt and pain. So, the human condition means I have to deal with what I want and what God provides. Sometimes they line up and sometimes they do not. What do we do then? I mean, if I am supposed to praise God for the plan of my life, what do I do when that plan or circumstance hurts? Well, I think we see a glimpse of this answer in Psalm 13.
Psalm 13 is one of my favorite passages. When I was on a youth choir tour in 1995 I was struggling. I had been going to church my whole life but I wouldn’t say I was yet a follower of Jesus. I knew that Christ died and believed he was resurrected. But, I would not say I was following in the sense of looking to Him for guidance, acceptance, and peace. During some “voluntary” devotion time one day, I read through Psalm 13 and this really spoke to me. I don’t want to go into too much detail on this platform, but I was really struggling with somethings in my life. I was hurting in a lot of ways and very disappointed about things. I was struggling to gain faith in a God that was allowing that to happen to me. Then, I read this Psalm. It is part of what helped me make the decision to give me to Jesus and to follow Him since then. I loved this Psalm so much that my first public speaking about faith was a homily based on this passage. I’d like to read it and then give a few reflections.
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.
So, my first reflection is about the context of this passage. Tradition has this Psalm written as David was being pursued by his son Absalom who was trying to overthrow David and take the Kingdom. David is feeling rejected and hurt by the actions of his son and scared for his own future. Don’t we hear this in the first verse? David is feeling forgotten by God. He feels hidden and separated. That doesn’t sound like a close connection. Have you ever felt less than close to God? Have you ever felt like God was hiding from you or maybe that you needed to hide from God? Well, if you have, you are not alone. Many others have including me and the author of the Psalm who was a man after God’s own heart. If this is how you feel, tell God. He is big enough to hear it and still want and accept you. Israel doesn’t just mean walks with God it means to wrestle with God. We can walk with God and still struggle along the way. And, He still walks with us. I recently heard that God created us to walk with us, not walk over us. When you feel hidden, forgotten, full of sorry, cry out to God with that. It doesn’t mean you don’t love or trust Him. It means you are living in the fullness of the emotions He created you to have.
My second reflection is what David says in the end. I trust in your unfailing love. My heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise for he has been good to me. I can feel forgotten and hidden and believe that the Lord is good. I can believe that I am in a losing battle and that people are against me and believe that The Lord has not rejected me and will continue to save me. It’s not either thing that is great or God is against me. It’s the Lord loves me and things may be hard at times.
My last reflection is that nothing is beyond the work of God. The prophets tell us that God promised David that The Lord’s anointed would not see decay. That is a reference to Jesus who was from the line of David and that Jesus was written off as dead by His enemies and rose again. He was both dead and victorious. I heard the line once that God does His best work in a graveyard. Whatever struggle you have now can both be overwhelming to you and not overwhelming to God.
So, my hope is that you feel the freedom to feel all the emotions God gives you. I pray you to trust enough in the grace of God to call out to him when you both feel hidden and welcome. God is big enough for our emotions and big enough for our needs. Let us pray.
Dear God, thank you that you made me experience Your grace. I pray that when I feel hidden from You, I’ll trust that You are still with me. I pray that when I feel like I am winning the battle, I will continue to trust in You and honor You. I pray that when I feel hopeless or hopeful, I will continue to sing for You because I trust in Your unfailing love. Amen.