So many thoughts bounce around in my head in response to these readings—there is so much suffering in the world. How must Job have felt at the loss of his children, his livelihood, his possessions? How must the oppressed in the Middle East feel, fleeing evil over neighboring borders into refugee camps and hospitals? How must our brothers and sisters there be feeling, whose homes have been flattened and whose religious sites have been desecrated? And—perhaps most heartbreakingly—how must those mothers there feel who have lost children to beheadings in the name of holy war? Can they say with confidence, “I believe I will see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living”? Can I?
I have a vivid memory of one wild, horrible night when I was 24 years old, lying “face down in the kitchen, a hundred hot tears running down between the tiles.”* My parents’ marriage was on the rocks and I could never have imagined how deeply that would cut me . . . I had heard about divorce, of course, but never had I known it—even as a young adult, it was crippling. I knew that all marriages waxed and waned in terms of passion and romance, but I had honestly never had room in my head for the thought that maybe my parents’ marriage could end. I figured that at the very least they’d end up old and grumpy and living in the same house. But that was not to be—and I was devastated by it.
There was a real darkness hanging over me in those days—I remember my house looking different to me, the shadows deepened and the bright spots dulled. I was suddenly re-examining all previously foregone conclusions in my life, including my religion, my faith, my relationship to God. I had always placed so much stock in the relationship between my parents—if that could end, what else could end? Or, even more frighteningly, if I could have had such a naive illusion of the marital relationship, what else could I have been imagining? A God who was know-able, and Whom I knew and who knew me?
Psalm 23 had never been much of a comfort to me as a child. I heard it a million times, of course, and could rattle it off when requested to. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil—for You are with me . . . surely goodness and mercy will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Suddenly, when I found myself face down on that cold kitchen floor, Psalm 23 hit home. For the first time in my life, I really needed it to be true. Today’s Psalm reminds me of that. It reminds me of a prayer one would actually pray while deep in the valley of the shadow of death, clutching hope close and desperately waiting for deliverance.
Jesus says in this Gospel that one must become like a little child to enter the kingdom of heaven. I am no scholar but I interpret that to mean that I have to know that I need Him. Is there anyone more willing to say “I need” than a little child? Suffering accomplishes that in us like nothing else—it casts a sudden, brash, unwelcome light on the depths of our need. There is nothing enjoyable about that—but I think we must know our need if we wish to know deliverance.
I wish I could wrap up a piece like this neatly, but I cannot. I still grieve the loss of my parents’ marriage, though time has marched on, and our relationships have recovered. And I still go through regular cycles of doubt that I can know God and that He can know me. But I can say this: Psalms like today’s are there for me when I need hope in the darkness. If you are suffering today, join me in praying those words; “I believe I will see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.”
*a lyric from an unreleased song of mine. Perhaps someday I shall set it free.
Audrey Assad is a wife, mother and musician. You can find out more about her here.