By Reverend Corenna Hoyt
Lectionary reading for 4/8/2022: Psalm 31:9-16; Isaiah 54:9-10; Hebrews 2:10-18
Selected passage for reflection: Psalm 31:9-16
Psalm 31:9-16 (NRSV)
9 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
my eye wastes away from grief,
my soul and body also.
10 For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery,[b]
and my bones waste away.
11 I am the scorn of all my adversaries,
a horror[c] to my neighbors,
an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me.
12 I have passed out of mind like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.
13 For I hear the whispering of many—
terror all around!—
as they scheme together against me,
as they plot to take my life.
14 But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”
15 My times are in your hand;
deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
16 Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your steadfast love.
Imagine with me for a moment that in a time of distress someone asks, “How are you?” and you answer like the Psalmist does here. I can envision the stunned silence as you tell them, “My life is spent with sorrow; my strength fails; I am a horror to my neighbors…” David laid his heart bare! He poured out his deepest pain. Perhaps we hold back from this kind of raw honesty because we believe it would make us “an object of dread to our acquaintances.” So often we are afraid of or embarrassed by our emotions, or we think these difficult feelings are simply something to be overcome. Yet David stays with them. For five verses he presents his complaints, sorrow, fear, brokenness and rejection to the Lord.
Then comes this little word, “but.” This word, which doesn’t even appear as such in the original Hebrew, can sometimes lead us to misunderstanding. We tend to think it means these feelings are in contrast with God; that either verses 9-13 OR verses 14-16 are true at any given moment. We start to believe that somehow after verse 13, David had an “ah-ha” moment and now feels all better. We put a similar expectation on ourselves when we say things like, “This is hard but God is good,” “The diagnosis is devastating but God works all things together for good…” We use the word ‘but’ to minimize and distance ourselves from the uncomfortable. A better word (and the word used in Young’s Literal Translation of this verse) is “and.” I can be grieved AND grateful, hurt AND hopeful, sinful AND sorry. There are times I cannot see hope AND God is good.
If we do not make room for the honest cries of our hearts AND for vulnerable confession, both with God and each other, we will miss the deep transformation God has for us. Our grief, anger, hurt, fear, anxieties and sin will be pushed aside and shoved down until they leak in unpredictable ways. We need to learn to hold the ‘&s,’ AND we need to learn to make room for these in community, as we invite the ‘&s’ of others.
What ‘&s’ are you holding this season?
What adversaries scheme against you? Perhaps not enemy armies, rather enemies of your heart and soul: comparison, being minimized, shame, lies told to you or lies you’ve told, hopelessness, anxiety etc. Write them down then pour out your heart to God in writing or out loud AND move toward his steadfast love. Relieve yourself of the need to get past the uncomfortable. There is nothing you can say to surprise him or scare him off.
Now re-read today’s passage as a prayer. Highlight or underline the phrases that resonate with your heart.
Healer and Sustainer God, so often we are carrying guilt, shame, anxiety, fear and doubts while putting on a brave face to move through our days. Be gracious to us, O Lord, as we learn to hold the ‘&s,’ moving into and out of the pain. Give us courage to create safe places where we can invite the pain of others and confess our shortcomings; for we know that you, out of your unfathomable love, have given us a spirit of power, love and right thinking. Amen.
About the Author
Corenna has a lifetime passion for ministries of reconciliation and healing. She enjoys speaking and preaching for various ministries. Corenna is an Evangelical Covenant Church pastor, sent as a missionary to Young Life in Rhode Island, where she lives with her two sons who enjoy church, martial arts, music and outdoor activities together. corenna.hoyt at gmail.com