“How long?” is the most frequently asked question of God in the Psalter. In the last week alone, I can think of over a dozen pastoral encounters where the underlying question asked of God is “How long?” Taking cue from the Psalmist, I have learned that there aren’t easy answers to explain why suffering happens or easy solutions to make it go away. Sometimes the most faithful thing we can do when we encounter hardship is to ask God, “How long?”
Psalm 13, our appointed Psalm for Sunday, is a paragon of lament psalms. Lament psalms compose one-third of the Psalter, with the next largest category being psalms of thanksgiving and praise, followed by hymns, royal psalms often celebrating David and historic psalms that re-tell significant events in the Hebrew people’s journey with God. Given today’s Old Testament reading of Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son Isaac, I can imagine these words being uttered by Abraham on this way up the mountain to kill Isaac.
But this could also be the psalm of a mother estranged from her adult children; or a woman diagnosed with cancer in the middle of her life; or a partner praying for his spouse’s deliverance from the grip of addiction; or a mid-level executive whose performance is being unfairly evaluated. The Psalm draws us into deeper realms of authentic prayer with God by modeling the faithfulness of acknowledging our lived experience of God’s absence, even in the midst of big-picture assurances of God’s presence and providence for us and all God’s creatures.
In the weeks to come, I invite you to pray Psalm 13 or another lament Psalm each day. You might pray it for yourself, or you might pray it on someone else’s behalf. And if you can’t think of whom you might pray for, simply look at the news. Praying our laments makes our experience of thanksgiving even deeper. For one day, the most authentic prayer any of us will have to offer will be of joy to the God who “deals bountifully” with us.
— The Reverend Joslyn Ogden Schaefer, Associate Rector