A few years after becoming a Christian, I adopted Psalm 16 as one of my favorite Scriptures and over the next 20 years slipped it into as many classes and lessons as possible. (Kind of like Mrs. Jerry Seinfeld smuggling spinach into her children’s cookies and pizza – there’s really no limit once you get the hang of it!) The entire psalm is a joyous celebration of God’s personal work in the lives of His ‘saints’, and I could always wax eloquent on verses 6 – 7, in particular:
Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.
Yes, I would proclaim, He has set the boundary lines for me (and likewise for all of you): there are not-to-be-mine experiences beyond those lines, things I may never do or know this side of life. But that’s totally fine, because within these lines, what gifts He’s given me! What a ‘pleasant place’ it is to live under the umbrella of God’s love! And my inheritance – all losses restored, all tears wiped away, all of Heaven revealed and given — means I’ll be eternally blessed, far beyond whatever I might have ‘missed’ on earth. So what is there to lament, and what is there to fear, knowing that “He is at my right hand” and “in [His] presence is fullness of joy”?
I preached those words through years of change, loss, pain, infertility, marriage struggles, shaky beginnings and sorrowful endings – preached them with every fibre of my being, with my mustard seed of unshakeable faith…
…until the day came when I couldn’t read my favorite psalm without bursting into tears.
By 2005, it seemed the boundary lines had dissolved, the inheritance had disappeared, and the joy was but a distant memory. My treasured words tasted like sand in my mouth. For over twenty years, I’d been running a subtly-but-inevitably marked path, twisting and unpredictable, yet perfectly planned by my loving Father. Now I found myself spent and lost in an unmarked wasteland, a desert without tracks, sign posts, or horizon. I’d run from laughing to weeping, from the peak to the pits, as if I’d taken a wrong turn on a high pass and plummeted over a cliff, landing hard in the middle of nowhere.
And that is why, during the time of my life when I needed God most, I struggled as never before to read the Bible and pray.
Here’s what would happen. Every time I closed the door and knelt to pray, I’d weep uncontrollably and find no comfort. So I began to avoid times of prayer; it always spoiled my day and left me puffy-eyed and ragged.*
Every time I tried to read the Bible, memories of long-gone ICOC days would surface. There wasn’t a book in the Bible that didn’t produce this effect, as I’d either taught lessons or heard lessons from every page of the Scriptures. (It’s true. Even now I can flip through its pages and recall classes, Bible Talk outlines, staff meeting lessons, sermons and workshops from virtually every page of the Bible. Even Leviticus.)
The stirred memories would be intrusive, as even ‘neutral’ or ‘happy’ memories would quickly morph into painful losses, and other passages brought back uncomfortable reminders of how often the Bible was used by leaders to admonish, rebuke and ‘challenge’, rather than inspire, comfort and encourage. Either way, these memories would cloud my mind from receiving any fresh insight. Even reading from different translations didn’t help, as my well-instructed brain could –and would – reconstruct many passages right back into the New International Version, and there I’d be again, stuck in a crushing memory loop and unable to read or pray myself to even a little perch of faith.
I know I’m not the only one who’s experienced this. Being lost in a spiritual wasteland without our strongest spiritual weapons breeds deep insecurity, anguish, and remorse. And like this quote says,
“Remorse sleeps while fate is kind, but grows sharp in adversity.” **
Remorse is a poison that robs us of peace and self-esteem. I wasn’t sure what I regretted, but whatever I’d had with God seemed lost forever.
Fortunately, I had (and have) some faithful friends who prayed fervently and often for me and my family. Simply knowing that these prayer warriors still loved us and believed in us brought me no small measure of comfort. My mother-in-law is one of them. I know she prays for us every single day. Two dear friends in Vancouver, Cynthia and Louise, are the others. Their prayers literally kept me alive, and carried us through our long tsunami of adversity. For them, I wrote this poem a few years ago.
Pray me through another year
understand it’s not I don’t believe:
I do believe, I do —
are angels rising as I speak?
Just pray me through this barrier,
and understand it’s not that I don’t care:
I care – I truly care
but it’s so hard to shape a prayer
when lips won’t speak
the frozen language of the heart.
So pray me through the layers
that have swallowed up excuses,
all these layers that have snowed upon my soul:
I do believe, I only question –
was it Grace gave me direction,
or did I get lost in weather of my own?
So pray me through confusion,
through the struggles that consume me,
through the blizzards that have snow-blinded my soul,
and take me to the moment
when the snow was falling lightly —
every path an invitation to explore.
So, in lifelong gratitude to my known prayer warriors, and to others who’ve prayed for us over the years, and for everyone who needs the cover of others’ prayers, I extend this poem.
“Extension” originally meant I was asking for another year of prayers to cover me as I struggled to pray faithfully, Now that I’m stronger (in His grace), I want to extend this poem to you in hopes that it will inspire the weak to take heart and the strong to pray with renewed zeal for those who have fallen, drifted, or broken away from the God of all comfort. Praying faithfully for others is the kindest, strongest, most wonderful thing we can do for anyone. Especially those who are struggling to pray at all.
Because God listens, He rescues, and He will turn our weeping into laughter and joy. It just might take a little – or a lot — longer than we think it should.
*I was able to send up short prayers-on-the-go, like “Help! — which were better than nothing. But I missed being able to pour my heart out to God and feel His arms around me as I prayed.
**Words from Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau was a brilliant thinker, musician and philosopher, both a Calvinist and a Roman Catholic during his life, although he disagreed with major tenets of both faiths (original sin and the ‘total depravity of man’) and was lambasted for his beliefs. Anyone who writes a book called “The Reveries of a Solitary Walker” earns automatic approval points in my book, though I must confess I haven’t read his enticingly titled book – yet.
Categories: My Story: Turn, Turn, Turn