I will exalt you, Lord, for you rescued me.
You refused to let my enemies triumph over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
and you restored my health.
You brought me up from the grave, O Lord.
You kept me from falling into the pit of death.
Sing to the Lord, all you godly ones!
Praise his holy name.
For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime!
Weeping may last through the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
When I was prosperous, I said,
“Nothing can stop me now!”
Your favor, O Lord, made me as secure as a mountain.
Then you turned away from me, and I was shattered.
I cried out to you, O Lord.
I begged the Lord for mercy, saying,
“What will you gain if I die,
if I sink into the grave?
Can my dust praise you?
Can it tell of your faithfulness?
Hear me, Lord, and have mercy on me.
Help me, O Lord.”
You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.
You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,
that I might sing praises to you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever! (New Living Translation)
Life is not only full of the tears which give way to joy; a great deal of life is learning to move through our grief and transform the pain into something beautiful.
Hard circumstances make us either better or bitter.
The psalmist, King David, had his share of adversity, difficulty, and distress. The youngest of seven sons, David was something like the runt of the litter. He was given the grunt work that nobody else wanted to do, since he was the lowest person in the household.
So, off to the fields he went, shepherding the sheep, dealing with hot days and cold nights, fighting off predators, and keeping the sheep healthy and safe. Yet out there where no one was looking, God was watching. And the Lord was developing within David the very qualities needed to one day rule over all Israel and Judah.
Even in-between becoming a member of the king’s court and becoming king himself, David’s life was mostly characterized by misunderstanding and being victimized. In other words, David had intimate first-hand experience of terrible sorrow, buckets of tears, and stress-filled anxiety. Through it all, he did not become bitter. Instead, David learned to transform his mourning to joy.
Many persons, having experienced the sort of things David of old did, come through their difficulties and adversity with a hard heart. They end up hurting people, just like they were hurt. Their verbal and physical acts of violence betray their inability to turn pain into something useful.
So, what makes the difference between those who experience the same sorts of painful events, yet go in the different directions of caring or harming?
I believe the twentieth-century Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, understood the true source of violence and non-violence…
“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander
Merton rightly discerned that the false self (the self we project to others and try to maintain as real) is in fact the source of violence – specifically, the false self’s need to gratify impulses for power and control, affection and esteem, security and safety, at all costs.
However, we do not find ourselves in those ways. The cultivation of solitude, silence, and contemplation are non-violent practices which organically produce non-violent ways of being in the world. Those were the very practices which characterized David’s early life as a shepherd.
It’s what we do when no one is watching, and nobody is around, that makes the difference. Our way of being in the world is determined by the way we are with ourselves when we are alone.
How you are, matters.
We need to be present to our pain, to pay attention to it. Our hurts don’t simply vanish if we ignore them, try to go around them, or seek quick fixes to them. The pain is still there, and over time, becomes gangrene of the soul.
Instead, we must dare to go to the unexplored territory of the inner person, to confront and contend with our inner turmoil and be open to hearing from it.
Today, like every day, we have the opportunity and even responsibility to bring our whole selves, pain included, to the relationships we have, the work we do, and everywhere we go. The world not only needs our skills and abilities; it needs us.
The path to joy isn’t through perfect circumstances and having all our wants satisfied; joy comes after a season of darkness with all it’s sobbing, tears, and wondering. As we become more comfortable with the shadowy places of our lives, the more open we become to transforming our pain to a beauty which blesses the world.
O God, you are my God, and I will praise you, whether at night’s inky blackness, or in the day’s bright sunshine of happiness. As I endure each difficult situation, help me to see it’s transformative power and it’s potential to make me a better and more godly person, through Jesus Christ my Lord, in the enablement of the Holy Spirit. Amen.