I have been able to spend more time in prayer these mornings than ever before. I am no longer sandwiching my devotional time between a run and breakfast before class or work. Instead, I can read and pray for as long as I want. At the same time, I’ve felt like I have fewer words than ever before.
This is new to me. When I was five years old, my dad drove me to school every morning. Eventually, he got so fed up with my incessant chattering from the backseat that one day, in an effort to get me to stop talking, he suggested that I start counting the trees rolling past my window.
Now, for what feels like the first time in my life, I am at a loss for words. I am so blown away by the grief around me and the uncertainty of it all. “What will life look like when this is over?” no longer feels like a fun and interesting question, because first, this has to be over. And in the middle of it all, I am realizing that in a year I will graduate from college and suddenly my life will no longer be planned out in neat four-year chunks.
It is a lot.
It is just a lot.
And I, who sat down to write a novel at the behemoth desktop in our family room when I was five years old? I don’t have words for it.
So I am using other people’s words. By this, I mean that I am praying through the psalms. There are 150 of them. I am not going to run out of them anytime soon, but when I do, I am confident that I will be able to go back through and read them again. The psalms call for joyful praise (and rightly so), but they also acknowledge pain, grief, joy, longing, guilt, and shame. They were written by human beings, after all: human beings who were chased by their enemies and betrayed by their children, human beings who committed and then repented of adultery and murder, human beings who appreciated beauty and experienced victory. These are not prayers only for happy people. These are prayers for people, and people have been going through variations of the same joys and tragedies for millennia. This moment is new to us, but it is not new to God. There is nothing new under the sun.
One of the psalms I have been reading and praying for a while now is Psalm 77. It begins,
I cry aloud to God,Psalm 77:1-3 ESV
aloud to God, and he will hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
When I remember God, I moan;
when I meditate, my spirit faints.
God, times are hard. I am faithfully seeking you, and yet my heart still hurts, and I am still so weary.
You hold my eyelids open;Psalm 77:4-9 ESV
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I consider the days of old,
the years long ago.
I said, “Let me remember my song in the night;
let me meditate in my heart.”
Then my spirit made a diligent search:
“Will the Lord spurn forever,
and never again be favorable?
Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?”
Did God forget about us? Is He so angry with us that He is letting us go? Did I mess this up?
Then I said, “I will appeal to this,Psalm 77:10-12 ESV
to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work,
and meditate on your mighty deeds.
No, that can’t be right. He has been faithful before. Let me remember.
Your way, O God, is holy.Psalm 77:13-20 ESV
What god is great like our God?
You are the God who works wonders;
you have made known your might among the peoples.
You with your arm redeemed your people,
the children of Jacob and Joseph.
When the waters saw you, O God,
when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
indeed, the deep trembled.
The clouds poured out water;
the skies gave forth thunder;
your arrows flashed on every side.
The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
your lightnings lighted up the world;
the earth trembled and shook.
Your way was through the sea,
your path through the great waters;
yet your footprints were unseen.
You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
He is holy. He is God. He has done great things. He will do great things again. There is nothing new under the sun.
A few days ago, I got out a pencil and a piece of paper and I remembered His wonders of old. I started with His faithfulness in my own life. That alone took up two pages, and those two pages are only the tiniest piece of the picture. God has been faithful to me at school and at home and in church, yes, but His most mighty deed of all far surpasses all of these. In His most mighty deed of all, His Son died on the cross and laid in the grave, and after three days He got up and folded the graveclothes. His most mighty deed of all was Love.
This does not negate our suffering. These days, we are stretching out our hands to God, and rightly so. All the parts of life that usually go on without us noticing are suddenly very noticeable. Grief and joy and loss and desire and anxiety and rest are hitting us all at once. “This is an unprecedented situation,” we say. “We have never seen this before.” And yes, we have not seen this exact thing before, but at the same time, there is nothing new under the sun. Our circumstances have certainly changed, but the grief and joy they bring have not, and neither has the God who reigns over them.
Thousands of years ago, the psalmist cried out, “I am so troubled that I cannot speak.” Today, so do we. Thousands of years ago, the psalmist nonetheless found himself saying, “Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God?” Today, so can we. More than that, we can remember as past what, for the psalmist, was the distant future. He remembered that God called the Israelites through the Red Sea; we can add that Jesus walked on water. We can remember that God led his people through conquest and captivity, all the way to the cross. We can remember the empty grave and Pentecost, and we can live in hope that one day He will come again.
I am so troubled that I cannot speak. But the psalms do. The prophets do. The gospels do. In this new moment, we can still meditate on the same God. He has been faithful. He is faithful. He will be faithful again.