Psalm 6 and Selected Scripture
I would like to assert a proposition this morning and see if you agree with me. The proposition is this: most of life is loss, and, paradoxically, gain. When we think of loss we usually think of the loss of someone we love through death. But loss is far more encompassing than death. We lose not only through death, but also by leaving and being left, by changing and letting go and moving on. And our losses include not only our separation and departures from those we love, but our conscious and unconscious losses of romantic dreams, impossible expectations, illusions of freedom and power, illusions of safety–and the loss of our own younger self, the self that thought it always would be unwrinkled and invulnerable and immortal.
Judith Viorst catalogs what she calls “necessary losses” in her book by the same name. We confront these losses when we come face to face with the “inescapable fact,” she writes:
That our mother’s love can never be ours alone; that what hurts us cannot always be kissed and made better; that we will have to accept–in other people and ourselves–the mingling of love with hate, of the good with the bad; that there are flaws in every human connection; that our status on this planet is implacably impermanent; and that we are utterly powerless to offer ourselves or those we love protection–protection from danger and pain, protection from the inroads of time, from the coming of age, from the coming of death; protection from our necessary losses.
My proposition this morning is that loss is a part of life–universal, unavoidable, inexorable. It is the great irony of life, however, that some of our greatest growth comes by losing and leaving and letting go. We gain by giving up.
This irony is woven into the fabric of life. Jesus knew all about it. Isaiah said of the Messiah that he was a man of sorrows and well-acquainted with grief. “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies,” he said, “It remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (Jn. 12: 24) “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mk. 8:35).
The Psalmists, too, were people all too familiar with loss and grief and we are fortunate enough to have a record of their sufferings before us today. They offer us prayers when we have no words. They speak feelings we aren’t yet able to feel. They give us emotional resources when we are drained. And in them we discover the God of our losses.
Psalm 6 is one of those. This is the first of the seven so-called “penitential Psalms.” We are not certain of the historical circumstances of the Psalm, but it is set close to Psalm 3 which was written when David was on the run from his rebellious son Absalom. This is called a Psalm of penitence because David was sorry for something that he had done. If this is in fact a Psalm written while hiding from his son Absalom, there is good reason why David should feel penitent. David both spoiled and indulged this son so that there was no personal discipline in him, but he also neglected him because he was so absorbed in his career as king. When Absalom led a mutiny against his father, David saw the direct consequences of having led an undisciplined life and raising an unruly son and he was sorry.
Jesus wept for those who were not sorry. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” he cried, “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Mt. 23: 37). While it is not healthy to dwell on our sins, faults, and shortcomings, it is even unhealthier to deny they are there. Blessed are those who mourn over their lost innocence and are sorry for their failings, for they shall be comforted.
Even if we aren’t sure of the historical circumstances of this Psalm, it surely is a description of one who is grieving deeply. David lays all of his raw emotions out before God: “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eyes waste away because of grief; they grow weak because of all my foes.” Here is a man who has gone to pieces. Depression and exhaustion are his companions. Instead of rousing him to arms, his foes now crush his spirit. He can’t even pray; he just sobs.
What good advice that is for us today. Sometimes the message we get from society is to suck it up, don’t be so emotional, be strong, get over it. Yes, sometimes we do have to suck it up, but in the face of deep, deep loss we should open the tear spigots. Let it out. Soak your pillow. Tears are your body’s release valve for stress, sadness, grief, anxiety, and frustration. Also, you can have tears of joy, say when a child is born or tears of relief when a difficulty has passed. “Tear expert” Dr. William Frey says that emotional tears shed stress hormones and other toxins from the body which accumulate during stress. Additional studies also suggest that crying stimulates the production of endorphins, our body’s natural pain killer and “feel-good” hormones.” So cry. Cry because life isn’t fair. Cry because death is cruel. Cry because it doesn’t make any sense. Cry because God cries with you and can take all of your anguish, anger, and confusion.
All grief comes to us because of loss. David had lost face, his son, his health was fading, the glory days of his kingdom were gone, his self-confidence was shot, and his relationship with God was withering.
One modern author lists at least forty-two occasions when we experience loss in our lives. Not only the obvious ones like death or divorce, but also the loss of trust in a marriage or friendship, the loss of a role (parent, doctor, wife, executive), the loss that comes in moving, the loss of a breast, the loss of faith in something, whether God or democracy brings us to our knees. Leaving home for first grade is a loss for mom and dad as well as the child. Going to college, getting married, having your first child, retiring, are all great losses as well as great gains. For in each of these transitions we have to say good bye to something–a way of life, of being, or doing–that we can never have again. They are heart cries for our true home. Deep inside we know that there should be more than death, separation, loss. Khalil Gibran wisely said, “When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”
The shortest and most revealing verse in the bible refers to tears. “Jesus wept.” When he lost his good friend Lazarus, Jesus wept. Jesus wept that our common enemy death had claimed another. He wept that a worthwhile life ended too soon. He wept because this is not the way things are supposed to be. He wept because it brought him face to face with his own mortality. He wept at how much it hurt.
The Christian Story teaches us that this is a fallen world. The book of Genesis teaches us that we live in “Paradise Lost.” We are not exempt from cancer or car accidents or natural disasters. We sin and are sinned against. That’s just the way it is. But the story doesn’t end there: God in Christ died for the sins of the world. God took the judgment that was due sin into the divine heart and did not count it against us. I rejoice that no matter what I ever do or ever will do or who I am or ever will be, I am assured of God’s mercy. In the cross I see that God “so loved the world” that God will not abandon us to ourselves.
The word of hope is that we do not have a sphinx for a God who stares at us with a pitiless gaze, immune to our suffering. We have a God who in Jesus Christ has undergone human life as we undergo it; who knows what it’s like to be sick and tired, hassled and hated; who knows what it’s like to lose a father and a friend; who knows what it’s like to be misunderstood and misinterpreted; who knows what it’s like to suffer abuse and mistreatment for doing good.
This God suffered the judgment, if you will, of being finite and human. Consequently, this God is the companion of those who suffer. Jesus was victimized that there might be victims no more, for in defiance of all evil and suffering he rose from the dead, as if to say, “No! This is not my will! Your pain is my pain and I will overcome it!” As God stands with sufferers, so should we and do all we can to eliminate unnecessary suffering. “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows” (Is. 53: 4a).
As you read this Psalm you can’t help but see that its pages are stained with tears. Tears can drive us to God. In the midst of depression, the Psalmist writes, “My tears have been my food day and night.” Yet he says, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of my God?” (42: 2-3). And what do we discover when we come to God in our grief? “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your record?” (57: 8). Yes they are. And dear David is able to say with the glimmers of faith, forgiveness, and courage, “Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping. The Lord has heard my supplication; the Lord accepts my prayer.”
Here’s another word of advice take the time to work through loss and. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t let others guilt trip or shame you with lame advice. “You aren’t over that yet?” “C’mon, it’s time to move on.” “Time heals all things.” “It was his time.” “God moves in a mysterious way.” And blah, blah, blah. These folks mean well, but they sound like Job’s comforters.
There was once a boy out plowing in the field when his tractor got stuck in the mud. A farmer came by and saw his predicament. They rocked the tractor, changed gears rapidly from first to reverse while pressing on the gas trying to dislodge it, they used chains and a winch. Nothing worked. The boy was so discouraged he just sat down in the mud. The farmer came by and sat down next to him. The boy asked, “What are you doing?” The farmer said, “Well if I can’t fix it I might as well sit in the mud with you.” We can’t fix grief or loss for another. The best thing you can do is sit in the mud with them.
As you come to God this morning, come with all your losses, all your griefs, knowing that God has felt them all. Come knowing that nothing can separate you from the love of God which is ours in Christ Jesus. Come knowing that at that Great day of Resurrection there will be no more weeping or sighing.