By Joe LaGuardia
Like many who grieve the loss of a loved one over the holidays, this past Christmas was particularly difficult for me. I lost my father over two years ago as a result of a mass shooting in Pennsylvania, but the waves of grief still come at me in different intervals. Sometimes I can stand and resist; other times, grief knocks me off of my feet and makes it hard to surface.
As an introvert, it is also difficult for me to express this grief. I have a good support system, but putting my feelings into words is not always easy.
I am not alone in this challenge, and I have always told people that the book of Psalms is God’s set of prayers for us, gifted to us, that helps us find the right words to say when we need to talk to God.
No wonder there are psalms of celebration, lament, hope, grief, despair, anger, joy and blessings. No human condition or emotion has escaped the scope of the psalms in the fullest expression of our soul to God.
When I stumbled upon Psalm 55, I was able to put that advice into practice. For those grieving, I encourage you to check out this prayer, a song of praise “of David,” according to the superscript.
There are movements in the psalm that might be familiar to others who are grieving:
Verse 1: Provides words for those who feel abandoned. The poet pleads with God, “Do not hide yourself from me.” Many people think that feelings of abandonment are a sign of weak or absent faith. Quite the contrary, revealing those feelings to God is an honest affirmation that God will respond.
Verse 2: Expresses those times when the noise of the world crowds in around us. It is deafening, and we need solace.
Verse 4: Affirms that those who grieve truly have a broken heart. Our grief is real. It is not a figment of our imagination, nor is it a process we can simply “get over it.” Acknowledging that fact can be a frightening but liberating experience.
Verse 6: This verse is my favorite. In the midst of grief the other night, I told my wife that sometimes I just want to run and hide. This is normal (though, again, very frightening). This verse gives a poetic reminder that I am not alone in my feelings of running, of choosing “flight” over the “fight” instinct:
“I say, ‘O that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest; truly, I would flee.’” There is no better way to say it!
Verse 13: There are times when our friends try and help us, but only provide cliché or vacuous platitudes that make matters worse. This is not their fault, but the closest friends will know when to speak and when to listen
Historically, this verse gives us a deeper clue into the heart of the author of Psalm 55: There has been an indiscretion by a friend, and a promise had been broken. This is the source of grief.
Although the source of our grief may be different for us, we can easily understand where the author is coming from: words matter, and sometimes our friends are no friends at all in matters of heartache and loss.
Verse 16: This verse marks a turning point in the psalm. The author, once expressing all of the honest feelings that accompany grief, can turn to a posture of hope and trust in the Lord. There is an expression of hope: “The Lord will save me.” Later, in verses 19 and 23, there are expressions of trust. The psalm ends with a declarative statement, “But I will trust in you!”
Verse 22: As in many other psalms, this one includes an invitation for others to join the author in praying to God and coming to God for help. Since God is in charge (see v. 19), then anyone can come to God and be honest with God. As Christians, those of us who are in Christ, do not fear bridging that divide between our lowly positions on earth and God’s majestic presence on the heavenly throne. We should follow the call of the author: “Cast your burdon on the Lord, and God will sustain you!”
As I was praying through this psalm yesterday, I stumbled on a devotional by F. B. Meyer who quoted an anonymous (at least he didn’t give the source) poem that sums up the geography and movement of this psalm. It moved me too:
Oh, for the faith to cast our load,
E’en while we pray, upon our God,
Then rise with lightened cheer.