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Why Are You Sleeping, O Lord?

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The words of Psalm 45:23-26 ring deafeningly in my ears:

Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!
Why do you hide your face?
Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
For our soul is bowed down to the dust;
our belly clings to the ground.
Rise up; come to our help!
Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love!

This is actually in the Bible! It sounds so accusatory toward God, and it’s definitely filled with bitterness and sadness. The Sons of Korah (who wrote this song to be sung by God’s people) intentionally used language that was so strong and harsh to express the despair felt collectively by the Israelites.

When I read this psalm a few weeks ago, I felt something that surprised me – relief.

If this passage is right there in the middle of the Bible, surely there’s something I’m meant to do with it. Surely there’s a posture that I’m allowed – even encouraged – to emulate when life throws me to the ground.

Grief.

It comes in a thousand forms, and it doesn’t walk a straight line. Anyone who’s grieved a terrible loss will tell you that the “five stages” model doesn’t do it justice (although it’s a helpful tool). Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. And then some more bargaining, and then some guilt for being a little bit happy. And then a barrage of cussing and spitting directed at those we love. And then sleep that doesn’t seem to relieve us. And back to denial. It’s exhausting.

As I watch our world collectively experiencing the thousand forms of grief (whether or not there’s an awareness of it), I’m drawn to Psalm 44. I’m comforted by the fact that even though the world cannot handle my anger or my fear, my God can handle it. In fact, my God wants me to bring my questions and doubts and frustrations to His ears. That’s the difference between a perfect Father and an indifferent judge. My questions aren’t judged as irrelevant, and my doubts aren’t deemed a lack of faith or prayer. Only in the wrestle with questions of “Where are you?” and “Why is this happening?” am I able to come face to face with the God who sees. And asking the question is, in itself, an act of faith. Pouring out my grief before God means I believe that He’s actually listening. What a gift.

The answers don’t come quickly or easily. In fact, I may not get an answer. What I get is a PERSON. Someone who’s right there in the middle of it with me. Never leaving and always abiding.

This is something I love so much about my God. And as a believer, I know I am called to represent Him in the world. If I cannot hear other people, if they cannot come as they are with their questions and doubts – how will I mirror God’s character? I must be a listener first. I must believe that a person who’s screaming (just like the psalmist) has experienced something so excruciating that a scream is all they have left. And I must not be afraid of the expressions of grief that are happening all around me. Caring about people means letting them be themselves and seeking to show them the heart of God amidst terrible pain.

I’ve learned over the years that those who cannot tolerate the grief of others have not yet entered into their own grief honestly. The best way to do this is to first take it in prayer to God. Emotion is not an enemy. It’s an arrow pointing us toward redemption.

The Trauma of Racial Injustice

The past few months have brought the whole world together onto common ground. COVID-19 makes everyone nervous, no matter where we live or how much money we have or how strong our immune systems are. The sentiment I most frequently hear from people is that we’re all ready for it to be over. We’re eagerly anticipating a downturn in diagnosed cases. We’re watching the news for reports that smart people in laboratories are working tirelessly to find a vaccination and an effective treatment. We have hope that we’ll get through this, because we have history to rely upon. We’ve seen other diseases vaccinated. We’ve watched the economy turn around for the better. We’ve been encouraged as businesses increase supplies and take measures to keep people safe. Hope is a powerful force that keeps us all moving forward.

But what if we couldn’t see over the horizon into something better? What if we watched as scientists stopped believing COVID was dangerous and decided to give up trying to create a vaccine? What if ranchers and farmers stopped supplying their goods to stores so they could have more for their own families, thus emptying everyone else’s food supply? What if nobody took action to help those who lost jobs because of this pandemic? What if hope diminished and even disappeared because everyone decided just to fend for themselves and ignore the plight that others are facing?

As I’ve watched the tragedy and atrocity play out regarding the murders of George Floyd and so many others, I’ve been struck by the overwhelming juxtaposition between how many of us view the COVID-19 crisis and how we view racial injustice.

We have hope that COVID will end and all will be well again. African Americans don’t have history on their side to remind them that things will get better, that other people will use their positions of influence to support, defend and advocate for them. Instead, they look at history and see a cycle of violence that continues to roll over and over through countless generations. I’ve heard people asking why people have to protest so strongly. This statement proves that we don’t understand. We are only seeing from our white perspective.

I’m a trauma specialist. It’s what I’ve studied for 20 years. When I see what’s happening in our nation, I’m not a bit surprised at the protests and riots. I don’t advocate for violence, but I can see how it happens. A woman who lives with an abusive husband runs out of choices pretty quickly. She tries everything she knows to work within the system she’s been handed. When nothing works, she has two options: she can decide she’s the one who’s wrong and figure out how to obey his every demand (even though that doesn’t stop the violence), or she can rise up. In order to rise up, she has to have hope that something can get better. She has to believe she is worth being protected and loved. She has to have outside support from those who are not being abused. And sometimes when she rises up, she screams. Sometimes she pushes back. She senses that she has no other way to make her voice heard.

This is the same scenario I see playing out on a systemic and national scale.

I’m white, and I’m growing to realize how much privilege and power my whiteness gives me. I’m also learning that we white folks love to pat ourselves on the back about how much progress has been made in racial equality. My stomach turns as I think about the abusive men I’ve encountered who say the same thing about their marriages.

Maybe we are expecting a tall glass of iced tea and a foot massage because we mowed the backyard on a hot day (using our riding lawn mowers), when there’s a 40-acre plot just out of sight that’s overgrown with weeds and grass up to the waist. But that plot of land isn’t infringing on our afternoon pool parties, so we’ll leave it be. Not until that overgrowth and chaos comes to our doorstep will we venture to do anything about it. And even then we may just try to pass the work off to someone else.

I am not stating that all white Americans are the abusers and all African Americans are the abused. I’m simply pointing out that the trauma inflicted against African Americans is abusive, and we must advocate for their healing, hope and equality. Those of us who have stood by passively and watched as abuse has occurred are culpable as well. We have kept silent, and we have chosen to defer the work to someone else. We may care, but we feel powerless to make change. We may grieve with our black brothers and sisters, but we’re afraid to do the wrong thing. We’re way past due to advocate. To stand alongside. To create change that will last longer than just one turn of the cycle.

Seeking to understand brings hope. Safety brings healing. These are principles in trauma care. Black Americans have experienced trauma after trauma, and our job is not to control the narrative. Our job is to come near, to advocate, to use our power for helping others. Most of all, our job is to point people (including ourselves) toward the only Hope that will ever change the world. That Hope is Jesus Christ.

I long to see justice flow down. I long to see hope revived in every heart. I want to be a part of the healing.

If this post resonates with you, please share it. I’m planning to write more on the subject of trauma and racial injustice. I’d love to hear from you about this topic! Please leave a comment or complete a contact form. 

 

We Shall Not Be Moved

This morning as I was praying for my family, church and friends, a picture came into my head that I’d like to share. I saw a person standing straight up with arms full of stuff. Then the ground began to shake all around her. Some of the things in her arms began to fall, and she clutched the remaining things more tightly. The ground shook even more, and suddenly her face showed panic and she dropped everything she was holding. She reached out her arms to either side of her to grab hold of anything stable. What she found were two steady beams on either side of her, neither of which were being shaken at all. Her face grew calm as she clung to the beams. Even though the ground continued to shake, she was stable because she was holding on to the beams.

I felt enormous peace and hope as I saw this picture. Those beams on either side of all of us represent Jesus. He cannot and will not be shaken. He provides stability no matter how much the earth quakes.

I was reminded of Psalm 46:1-5:

“God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

Selah.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.”

All the things we’re holding so tightly will be shaken loose. The things that aren’t shaken loose will be dropped as we decide to cling to Jesus. Nothing sustains but Him. No one bears up under our grief and fear but Him. Never can we be forsaken by Him.

I feel great hope as I pray that the Lord will use this season of shaken ground to lead us toward dropping all the things we’re clinging to for hope and life. We will find when we cling to Jesus that we’re drinking from the river that makes glad the city of God. He is in the midst of us. We shall not be moved.

Cultivating Beauty

How do we cultivate beauty in a season with so many stressors weighing us down?

 

The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
    whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
    which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
    and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
    and its circuit to the end of them,
    and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

Psalm 19:1-6