1 To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
2 O my God, in you I trust;
let me not be put to shame;
let not my enemies exult over me.
3 Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame;
they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
4 Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
5 Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long.
6 Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
7 Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!
8 Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
9 He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
10 All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
We come to this reading the day after Ash Wednesday, which is certainly a solemn day on the Christian calendar. Many Christians across the world yesterday received ashes on their foreheads and heard the refrain, “from dust you were made, and to dust you shall return.” You might think this sounds a bit grim, and if you’ve never actually experienced it, it might seem completely foreign. If that’s you, take a look at Genesis 3:19. It’s taken almost exactly from that passage, which is the curse of Adam after the fall of man. It’s intended to be grim, its origins are embedded in a curse for all humanity and that curse has become one of the defining characteristics of what it means to be human, namely death. The point of the refrain is to force us to grapple with our sinfulness, our brokenness, and ultimately our death. While those realities are intended to be reflected upon, they aren’t intended to be the final conclusion and that brings us to Psalm 25.
This passage is to be contrasted with the paragraph you just read and the entire point of Ash Wednesday. It offers hope even in the midst of doubt and worry. The psalmist expresses confidence in the covenants of God but also shows moments of vulnerability and worry.
Is humanity broken? That’s a simple question and most people who work from a Christian framework would say yes. It’s really hard for me to dispute that when death and suffering is so evidently in our faces. There was a school shooting yesterday in Florida that left 17 people dead. I imagine if you ask anyone in that community or even remotely related to that event how they feel, “broken,” wouldn’t be too far off the mark. They should feel broken, and it could be argued that maybe they need to feel broken in order to heal.
I struggle with things like this because the tendency for so many of us Christians is to immediately jump to the future. We want to skip the suffering and go right to the good stuff. We say things like, “God has a plan” or “everything will be okay in the end.” We want to skip the pain and skip the hurt, but skipping the suffering can’t do anything but devalue those in pain and those hurting. It’s not even biblical. The very existence of sin, of death, of the cross stands counter to the notion that we should skip the hard parts and go right to the easy. We weren’t given cheat codes to jump to the last level. We were given a quest, which is called life and in it there will be both joys and hardships. I guess I can’t say with 100% absolute certainty, but I’m pretty sure no one has ever lived that hasn’t experienced some level of hardship.
A couple of days ago, on the recommendation of my sister-in-law, I listened to a Fresh Air interview with a Duke Divinity School professor named Kate Bowler who has incurable cancer. Since being diagnosed, she has developed a significant distaste for platitudes like those mentioned earlier and gained a new appreciation for struggle. Bowler believes that because of her struggle she has become more empathetic towards others who are in pain and seems to have a better perception of beauty. She now finds it in places she didn’t before. She also mentions that she immediately became more appreciative of Lent and highlights the desire to skip to right to Easter, but explains that life just isn’t like that.
This passage in Psalms should help those who want to offer those trite remarks see that it’s both possible to live in pain, to feel broken, and to still trust in God. Yesterday, I mentioned that we should embrace our brokenness, but maybe “accept” is a better word to use here. We accept that nervousness, fear, doubt, and worry exist. We can feel them and still, at the same time, love God. Verse 2 is a great example where the psalmist says, “O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame.” In other words, “God I trust you, but please don’t let me down!” There’s a confidence in God, but a slight tinge of uncertainty or worry. This should be all too familiar to most of us.
Or look at verse 7, “remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness.” In other words, “don’t remember me at my most broken. Don’t remember me at my worst. Don’t define me by the worst moment of my life. Instead, mark me with you love.”
Pain is real, brokenness is real, and loving God doesn’t make those things go away. Not here, not yet. But one of the gifts of God is community. He’s given us other people to lift us when we fall, to enter the pain with us, to hold our hands when we’re scared, and to love us when we hurt. Verse 3 promises that those who wait on God will not be put to shame but waiting can be hard. It can even take an entire life, but the good news is that he’s given us people to wait alongside us. You aren’t alone.