Psalm 55 and the Throes of Honest Grief

praiseBy Joe LaGuardia

Like many who grieve the loss of a loved one over the holidays, this past Christmas has been particularly difficult for me.  I lost my father over two years ago, but the waves of grief (see chapter 6 in our book!) come at me in different intervals.  Sometimes I can stand and resist; other times, grief wipes me out and its hard to surface.

As an introvert, it is also difficult for me to express this grief.  I have a good support system, but putting my feelings into words is not always easy.

I am not alone in this challenge, and Daphne and I have taught people for years that the book of Psalms is God’s set of prayers for us, gifted to us, that helps us find the right words to say when we need to talk to God.

No wonder there are psalms of celebration, lament, hope, grief, despair, anger, joy, and blessings.  No human condition or emotion has escaped the scope of the psalms in the fullest expression of our soul to God.

For those grieving, I encourage you to check out Psalm 55.  I have been praying this psalm every day since the beginning of the week, and when I stumbled upon it, I kept praising God that there is a psalm that puts words to my deepest emotions.

There are movements in the psalm that might be familiar to others who are grieving:

V. 1 – Provides words for those who feel abandoned.  The poet pleads with God, “Do not hide yourself from me.”  Many people think that feelings of abandonment is a sign of weak or absent faith.  Quite the contrary, revealing those feelings to God is an honest affirmation that God will respond.

V. 2- Expresses those times when the noise of the world crowds in around us.  It is deafening, and we need solace.

V. 4- Affirms that those who grieve truly have a broken heart.  Our grief is real.  It is not a figment of our imagination, nor is it a process we can simply “get over.”  Acknowledging that fact can be a frightening but liberating experience.

V. 6– This verse is my favorite.  In the midst of grief the other night, I told my wife that sometimes I just want to run and hide.  This is normal (though, again, very frightening).  This verse gives a poetic reminder that I am not alone in my feelings of running, of choosing “flight” over the “fight” instinct:

I say, ‘O that I had wings like a dove!  I would fly away and be at rest; truly, I would flee.”

There is no better way to say it!

V.  13 – There are times when our friends try and help us, but only provide cliché or vacuous platitudes that make matters worse.  This is not their fault, but the closest friends will know when to speak and when to listen.

Historically, this verse gives us a deeper clue into the heart of the author of Psalm 55: He or she has been hurt by a friend, and a promise had been broken.  This is the source of grief.  Although the source of our grief may be different, we do understand where the author is coming from: words matter, and sometimes our friends are no friends at all in matters of heartache and loss.

V. 16 – This verse marks a turning point in the Psalm.  The author, once expressing all of the honest feelings that accompany grief, can turn to a posture of hope and trust in the Lord.  There is an expression of hope: “The Lord will save me.”  Later, in verses 19 and 23, there are expressions of trust.  The Psalm ends with a declarative statement, “But I will trust in you!”

V. 22 – As in many other psalms, this one includes an invitation for others to join the author in praying to God and coming to God for help.  Since God is in charge (see v. 19), then anyone can come to God and be honest with God.  As Christians, those of us who are in Christ, do not fear bridging that divide between our lowly positions on earth and God’s majestic presence on the heavenly throne.  We should follow the call of the author: “Cast your burdon on the Lord, and God will sustain you!”

As I was praying through this psalm yesterday, I stumbled on a devotional by F. B. Meyer who quoted an anonymous (at least he didn’t give the source) poem that sums up the geography and movement of this psalm.  It moved me too:

Oh for the faith to cast our load,
E’en while we pray, upon  our God,
Then rise with lightened cheer
.

Amen.

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A sermon on Psalm 22 and the Geography of the Soul

By Joe LaGuardia

Here at the Tapestry blog and the ministries Daphne and I run, we encourage people to pray the psalms.  In fact, our prayer life follows the rhythm of seasons of life and the journey of a faith lived out in a mix of uncertainty and deep abiding faith often exhibited in the psalms.

Did you know that there is a “geography of the soul,” a pattern of contours that follow our highs and lows, joys and sorrows.  But what does this geography look like?  How do we read the maps and the signs of the Spirit’s presence in our life?

I had the privilege of preaching on the geography of the soul at Trinity Baptist Church last month.  Perhaps you will find encouragement in the words of hope of Psalm 22–an unlikely source for victory and a blueprint for navigating the interior space of our soul.

Thou Shall Not Worry

prayerBy Joe LaGuardia

“Do not worry,” Jesus told his disciples in no uncertain terms (Matthew 6:25).  It’s one of the clearest admonishments in scripture, and it stands up there with the ten commandments as being, well, God’s Word for us today.

There are many times, however, that I have read that scripture and said, “It is easier said than done.”  I wonder why Jesus told us not to worry when the only thing any of us is really good at is worrying.

Upon reflection, I suppose that there are different types of worrying.

The first is to worry when you are anxious about something in the future.  Since the future has yet to happen and you are not sure whether your fears are founded or not, this worry can be a distraction and can keep you from seeing the blessings in life.

The best medicine for this type of worry is gratitude.  We need to be thankful for what we have, enjoy the moment, praise God for waking us up this morning, and give God any anxiety we may have about what the future may hold.

Jesus said it himself, “Do not worry for tomorrow will bring worries of its own” (Matthew 6:34); and Paul’s letter to the Philippians states, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything be thankful and make your petitions known to God” (4:6).

The second type of worry is chronic worry tied to anxiety disorders or depression.  This type of worry requires intervention and resources that help people move beyond the disorder or cope with it.

Sometimes, a person can go to a therapist for a few sessions and get things straightened out.  Other times, people need therapy or medication over the long haul.

I once knew a person who struggled with an anxiety order, and she concluded that if she only had more faith in God, then the anxiety would go away.

The only problem was (as I saw it) that she already was a person of great faith.

I was able to demonstrate to her how her faith inspired my own life and encouraged so many people around her.   We agreed together that the only way for her to move into a place of acceptance and coping was to get help.

God provides us with some good counselors for a reason, and its helpful to know that all of us deal with chronic anxiety every now and then.

There is a third type of worry with which I am familiar, and that’s the worry I think all of us feel no matter how close we are to the Lord.  This is the worry that accompanies responsibility.

Unlike the first type of worry, this anxiety does not stem from uncertainty or fear of the future.  Nor is it chronic anxiety that paralyzes life.  Instead, this type of worry is that on-going anxiety you feel when you are responsible for someone or something.

If you are a parent, you know what I mean!

There are certain worries that I have only experienced as a father, and these worries do not go away.  I worry for my children’s health, safety, their little God-given spirits, and very lives.

But I also find that this worry is not all bad.  In fact, something would be wrong with a parent who did not worry about his or her child.

It’s a healthy worry because it grows out of concern, compassion, grace, and empathy.  Who wants a parent who does not worry, or an employee who does not worry about meeting a budget or a deadline?

I think that, at the end of the day, we really use the word “worry” for many different things.  Since the second type of worry I mentioned is biological and can’t be avoided, and the third type is required for relationships in which people matter, Jesus may have said, “Do not worry,” to those of us who only struggle with the first type of worry–that of the future.

But no matter the type, not worrying is certainly easier said than done.