Grief. Image from http://www.huffingtonpost.com
There are many, many reasons why I appreciate the Psalms. One reason is the honesty therein. Whoever the author may have been of each particular Psalm, it seems as if they captured exactly what I have to say. Psalm 38 is yet another example of my words said by another long before I took my first breath. We humans have a lot in common. We all experience guilt and grief.
The Psalmist writes (Ps. 38:4-6),
For my sins have flooded over my head;
they are a burden too heavy for me.
My wounds are foul and festering because of my foolishness.
I am bent over and brought low;
all day long I go around in mourning.
Ever been there?
I have. And I find myself there often. There are times when my past failures and sins play through the theater of my mind with such accuracy and clarity that I’m almost there again. I know these are tools of Satan for the purpose of stealing the joy of faith (Jn 10:10). But, that knowledge doesn’t stop the onslaught.
I remember my former pastor preaching a sermon in which he told this story. He was with his family down at the beach and one of his younger daughters was expericing the ocean for the first time. He was holding his daughter, but not so high the waves couldn’t hit her. After her first high-waved salty experience, she looked at the ocean and said, “You stop it right now!” Adorable. But, another wave soon followed.
I sometimes feel like saying that when the waves of guilt come crashing over me. “Stop it right now.” Only, it doesn’t work. The memories don’t stop. The guilt doesn’t flee. I believe there are a number of reasons.
First, I believe we need these events to remind ourselves of who we really are. Our past sins show us just how much we need a savior. We cannot escape the skeletons in our closet, but if they produce in us humility, then they are good. When St. Paul said, “In all things God works for good”, Paul delightfully proclaims that God is not hindered by the mistakes we’ve made, but supernaturally works in and through them for good. My life is a testimony to that truth. When I consider bad words spoken and bad decisions made, I’m amazed I find myself where I am physically and spiritually. I’m here because God works in our bad decisions for good. He does so precisely because I need Him to. At the core of my being, I am one who misses the mark because I so often prefer myself over everything else. My sins remind me of who I really am.
Second, my mistakes are more often than not “of my own foolishness.” The Psalmist proclaims his grief and guilt is largely the result of his own foolishness. Me too. I cannot blame anyone else or the circumstances I couldn’t change. In every instance I still made the decisions I did, said the things I said, and thought the things I thought. I am a product of my choices. And, like the paragraph above, the reality of my foolishness too helps me see Jesus more clearly. I see how easy my own foolishness can screw things up and could do so again. I see clearly how preferring my way actually makes things worse for me. I see that Jesus’ burden really is light, and his yoke is easy. I see why detachment to world is preferable to possessions that must be protected. The way of the kingdom shows itself to be so much better.
The reason “I am bent low” is because I am a man who has tried to operate as something other than I am. I am not God, yet I try to live as if I am. CS Lewis once wrote that Adam and Eve “wanted some corner of the universe which they could say to God, ‘This is our business, not yours.’ But there is not such corner. They wanted to become nouns, but they were and eternally must be, mere adjectives.” (Problem of Pain) My grief and guilt are to often because I wanted to be the main character of the world’s story. In fact, however, I am a supporting actor. And, my sins and foolishness has taught me true joy lies in being who I am and what I was made to be.
Final thought. I’m awed that the burden I carry, the burden I’ve created through my own foolishness, is willingly carried by another. I’m amazed He came, took my burden, carried up the hill to the cross, nailed it there with Himself. And, I’m eternally grateful that unlike Jesus, my burden did not walk out the grace; it remained and will so forever dead and gone.