I recently sat with a woman who felt more like lamenting than like praising, and together we pondered what it means to grieve, to mourn, to feel without joy or hope at times. We discussed Psalm 23, and the beautiful image of a shepherd caring for sheep, tending them, protecting them, helping them find green pastures and gentle waters. We laughed together at the foolishness of sheep and the tenderness and patience of shepherds, and we marveled at the sense of peace and trust the psalmist expresses in knowing that the shepherd protects and cares always.
But we admitted that we don’t always feel that peace and trust, that safety and blessing. Sometimes we feel abandoned and alone, afraid or tormented, wounded and deeply grieved.
That’s when we turned back a page to Psalm 22. This psalm is attributed to King David, as is Psalm 23. It certainly may have been written by the same psalmist in any case, whether or not David wrote it. It was attributed to one of the greatest leaders in Israel’s history. It was included in the scroll of the psalms, the hymn book of the Israelite people. It is included in the Jewish and Christian scriptures. It is a sacred and revered text. And yet, we don’t read it to comfort ourselves, or to speak aloud our faith in God at the beginning of a memorial service (when perhaps it would be far more appropriate than the oft-quoted psalm 23). We don’t necessarily consider it to be a comfortable or affirming passage to read, and yet there it is, right next to one of the most beloved scriptural passages of all time, sharing pages with a psalm people turn to in the face of grief, and here is one of the most authentic articulations of doubt and despair and need for hope and healing. It is not considered shameful or faithless; it is sacred song, no less than its sister-song, one chapter later.
Both psalms are tied to the life and witness of Jesus as well. The one who was called the Good Shepherd, spoke the opening verse of psalm 22 from the cross. Jesus is both the one who affirms our sense of trust in God to shepherd and guide us, and the one who cries out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” If David can experience both, if Jesus can embody both, are we so surprised that life is so often both, so often pain and praise, lament and elation, abandonment and trust, pressed together, chapter after chapter, page after page?
Today, our house was flooded with family and friends to celebrate our impending new arrival (six more weeks!) with showers of love. We delighted in one another’s company, we laughed and played, and hugged each other tightly when we parted. We were blessed.
There was another family invited to the shower, but they could not come. Crystal and Jim and their daughters have been like family to my sister and I since before we were born. When we spent holidays together, my sister and I would call Jim “rent-a-dad,” since we were there without our dad, and so he filled in for all four girls. Jim was a witty, funny, brave and strong man. He fought a war, he battled addiction, he built a house, he worked with inner-city youth, he raised a family and then some. But cancer doesn’t care about any of that.
Two hundred miles away, my rent-a-dad Jim passed away this afternoon at about 2 o’clock. His wife, daughters, son-in-law, and granddaughter were all at his bedside.
Another song, another part of life, pressed together, page after page, chapter after chapter.