If you didn’t have a chance to listen to Midday on Jan 14th, please click on my homepage and go to past programs because I begin the program with this story, and then Amy Shreve sings Psalm 131.
Because this was a pivotal moment in my grief journey, I’m going to share this excerpt from The God of All Comfort.
On what would have been our fortieth anniversary, I sobbed a good part of the day. I was packing up the house to move from a home of sweet memories that I did not want to leave. The littlest things, like finding Steve’s white surgery coat with his initials, SGB, on the pocket could cause me to crumble.
When I went to bed that night, I was fretful. When you are suffering deeply, you think the regular frustrations of life might call a truce for a while, but, of course, they don’t. The toilet still overflows, the bills still pour in, and people—yes, even Christians!—can be difficult. Though I tried to sleep, anxieties multiplied, leaping over my pillow like bleating sheep.
I turned over on my side, looking at the vacant place where Steve used to be. Oh, my darling—how could this have happened to us?
Steve and I used to call each other “co-dependent insomniacs.” If one of us awoke in the night, he (or she) would whisper to the other: “Are you awake?” When it was me, I knew that even if Steve was asleep, he would rouse to keep me company. If I was worried about something, he would listen to me pour out my heart, stroking my back, empathizing with his deep masculine voice, his calming ways.
Sometimes he would help me laugh about a trouble. Other times, when he knew there was no humor in a situation, he’d simply pray over me and hold me. If sleep still eluded me, he’d start quoting our favorite nursery rhyme:
Winkin’, Blinkin’, and Nod, one night sailed off in a wooden shoe;
sailed off on a river of crystal light into a sea of dew…
Safe in Steve’s arms, our bed became a wooden shoe sailing off into a sea of dew—and I was lulled to sleep.
But Steve was not there. His side of the bed was achingly empty.
All of us have times of feeling alone, misunderstood, or betrayed. So often David felt that way and cried out: “How long, O Lord, how long?…All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.”
My cry that sleepless night was not nearly as eloquent as David’s. I simply sobbed: Help me, help me, help me, God! I knew I needed God to be my Comforter, my Counselor, and my Husband—but that understanding exploded into a question: “But how do I connect with Someone who is not flesh and blood?” When I couldn’t immediately sense God’s presence, I curled up in the middle of our king-sized bed and wept.
Without even realizing it, I had prayed a prayer of lamentation. While I was sobbing, curled in a fetal position, a scene from my past came to my mind: I was twenty-one, trying to calm our firstborn in the middle of the night. He would awaken, hungry and howling. Though I would run to him and lift him from his crib, unbuttoning my nightgown as we settled in the rocker, he was too fretful to latch onto my breast. He would root about, but if he didn’t find me in two seconds, he would rear back, his little face red and contorted, his fists flailing. If I stroked his cheek, like the nurse in the hospital had told me to do, trying to coax him to turn toward me, he would erupt in anger, bursting into a horrific wail, one that I knew carried through our thin apartment walls. A mother’s breasts respond to her baby’s cry and my milk let down, ready for my baby—but his fretful state kept him from connecting with me. I kept thinking, I’m right here, I’m right here! A very long ten minutes later, he’d finally find me and nurse greedily. His perspiring little face would relax, his eyes closing at half-mast in contentment. I would think, “Oh my, Pumpkin—what was all that about? I was right here.”
Suddenly, I identified. I was that baby, concentrating more on my distress than on the One who was right there. I sensed the Lord saying: Dee, I am right here. I am right here.
I stopped my fretting and fussing and was still. The chorus from an old hymn came to me, one I’d been listening to in a contemporary version, and I began to sing it softly, over and over again. In essence, it is the repeated cry of the psalms of lamentation:
I need Thee, O I need Thee…
Every hour I need Thee,
Gradually, my soul began to calm, my body began to relax, and my eyes went to half-mast…
When I woke the next morning, much more rested, I opened my Bible to pray through a psalm, as was, thank God, already my habit. My psalm that morning “happened” to be Psalm 131. When I read it I knew that God was “kissing me.” (“A kiss from the King” according to Rabbinic tradition, is a living word from God.) God’s living word was confirming to me exactly what I had experienced from His Spirit the night before.
I have stilled and quieted my soul;
Like a weaned child with its mother,
Like a weaned child is my soul within me.
Psalm 131 is one I already knew by heart from listening to it as a song. It was so very clear by this point that God was entering into dialogue with me, that I slowed down to meditate on the words I’d already memorized.
Now I’m going to ask you, my contemplative sisters, to meditate and reflect on this psalm. I’m not going to have a lot of internet access in the next week, but will check in when I can. I’m going to suggest a question a day for the next week. This psalm is crucial. It’s only three verses long and would be so good for you to memorize.
1. After reading my story, comment: How does praying the psalms allow God to enter into dialogue with you, instead of having just a one way conversation? How did this happen with me? Has it yet for you?
2. This can happen for you too — and the key is in meditating on, praying through, and memorizing the psalm (perhaps with the help of music.) Read the psalm slowly, meditatively. If you have Amy’s version of it, begin to memorize it (you can hear it on that Midday Connection program by listening online– it’s in the first 15 minutes of January 14th’s program) Write down any phrases that strike you, for the Spirit may be speaking to you.
3. Meditate on verse 1. With the help of His Spirit, other translations, and cross references — why do you think the psalmist says, “My heart is not proud?” “I will not concern myself with great matters nor with things too profound for me.” (NKJV)
4. What difficulties are you going through right now that are hard to understand? What do you learn from the above? Write down your resolve, rephrasing verse 1.
5. A weaned child was actually an older child weaned from the breast to a cup (something that happened when children were three or older in biblical times — and was very traumatic to them – but one day they were content without the breast) — but we may better be able to relate to a fretful baby who finally calms. What do you learn from this metaphor — from comparing your anxious soul to a fretful baby? Memorize verse 2.
6. What instruction can you glean from verse 2 for you in your situation — or for you when you will go through future storms? Can you do this now?
7. This may not seem like a classic lament, but it is, because actually Psalm 130 and Psalm 131 should go together. Looking at these together, find:
A. The cry of lament (Psalm 130:1-2)
B. The questions, the dialogue, the remembering of God’s mercies (Psalm 130:3-6)
C. The resolve (Psalm 131)
Praying for you as you contemplate!
Finish memorizing Psalm 131 by memorizing verse 3
FINALLY — LET’S HEAR SOME WAYS GOD MINISTERED TO YOU THROUGH THIS — WOULD LOVE TO HEAR SOME SENTENCES FROM OUR SILENT SISTERS TOO!
8. How did God speak to you through this exercise? Would love to hear from silent sisters!