HOW LONG, LORD (PSALM 13)
When I first heard this psalm at our church retreat for deacons coworkers five months after my wife passed away I cried so hard I shocked those present, giving myself a bad name and a weird look from people who do not know what it was like to lose a beloved one whose life was cut short before her prime. Praise God, I have Bon and Rev Cheng on each side of me, but honestly they sat quietly and did not know what to do either. So here am I trying to make sense of the power of this psalm, which invites tears, inspires thanksgiving and implores trust. Two weeks ago (September 17, 2017), which is a year later, at our AGM I cried when the song???? I cried again, and ironically the same people sat by my side as arranged by the church. This time Bon and Cheng knew what to do, putting a hand on my shoulders and one offering a napkin, hopefully praying for me at the same time!
Have you ever bravely asked God questions of faith, in your fear, frustrations and fatigue?
Talk to the Master
1 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?
This week BBC has a story of a healthy 40 year-old Emily McDowell, who was diagnosed with cancer (Stage 3 Hodgkin's lymphoma) in 2001, when she was only 24. While she was enduring the months of treatments she noticed that friends and acquaintances often didn't know what to say – no greeting card on the market could help either, so she made it a mission to help others find the right words in times of crisis after a successful career in advertising.
The “get well soon” cards were not written or meant for those diagnosed with cancer. The religious or philosophical with the adages – “it's all in God's plan” or “everything happens for a reason” also seemed to strike the wrong note. "In the moment, it's almost insulting to hear," McDowell said. "How is this the plan? Maybe with time and perspective the person can come to that conclusion on their own - but it's just not helpful to hear in a time of crisis. A lot of the time when you are sick or grieving, people stop treating you like the friend they've had for years.”
Here are the samples:
1. The Five Stages of Grief:
Crying in Public
Crying in the Car
Crying Alone While Watching TV
Crying at Work
Crying When You’re a Little Drunk
I Love You.
2. If this is God’s Plan, He’s a Terrible Planner.
3. Please Let me Be the First to Punch the Next Person Who Tells You Everything Happens for a Reason.
I’m Sorry You’re Going Through This.
4. I Promise to Never Refer to Your Illness as a “Journey.”
Unless Someone Takes You on a Cruise.
MacDowell says, "It's totally fine to say, 'I'm shocked, I'm upset, I don't know what to say except I love you and I'm here for you. The worst thing you can do is not to say anything - even if you just don't know what to say, that person is going to interpret your silence as not caring.”
There is a category of Psalms I love very much, of which Psalms 13 is part of a genre of Psalms known as Individual Lament Psalms. Psalms 13 is one of only seven known psalms (Ps. 2, 10, 13, 15, 22, 58, 74) that begin with a question mark, ranging from “why” (Ps 2, 10, 22, 74) to “who” (Ps 15), “do you” (Ps 58) and the only psalm wit “how long” (Ps 13, 4x vv 1-2). There are numerous psalms that begin word-by-word with the tribute ‘To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David,” but only one begins with a question – Psalms 13. This is a startling psalm because it begins with a question in two words in Hebrew: “until” and “how long”- the last word is translated as where (Ruth 2:19), how long (Ex 16:28) and wherever (Ezek 21:16, NASB). The question at a beginning of a Psalm reflects the author’s frustration, feelings and feistiness, if not fury.
Many of you know I have revived my blogging since Doris passed away. A psalm is a song, a poem and a journal, and it is the safest place for people to voice their dejection or doubt over God’s apparent or alleged forgetfulness, as in other psalms:
Ps 42:9 Why hast thou forgotten me?
Ps 44:24 Wherefore hidest thou thy face, and forgettest our affliction and our oppression?