How Psalm 86 changed a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day

Are we in lockdown? Are we not? Can we have visitors to our home? Are we in the classroom, or are we teaching and learning remotely? Are we worshipping in person or on Zoom? How many people from my house can go to the grocery store today? When the news says ‘Melbourne’, does it include regional Victoria? Can my daughter come home for her sister’s birthday? Can my husband go to his office? If we’re allowed to gather in a group, can we sing?

I don’t know about you, but I find all this switching and flipping exhausting. We’ve pivoted so many times over the last few months, it feels like we’re practically spinning. I understand the reasons for it, and I fully support the government health requirements – but I’m feeling frazzled beyond belief. And so I keep seeking the still centre: and this means engaging in reflective Bible reading and centering prayer.

On a recent grey day, when the rain swept in sheets through the city and I felt a temper tantrum of epic proportions brewing inside me, I took my furious scatty self and sat for a while in Psalm 86.

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you;
save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; be gracious to me, O Lord,
for to you do I cry all day long.
Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; listen to my cry of supplication.
In the day of my trouble I call on you, for you will answer me. (Ps. 86:1-7, NRSV)

As I read, it struck me that too often I will not take my own concerns to God. I am well aware of how lightly I have been affected by the pandemic. I have not been sick, nor has anyone I love; I am not doing back-to-back funerals. I still have my job, and I’ve always worked from home: I’m well set up and used to it. My house is comfortable and safe. I’m due for my second vaccine next week. In other words, I have the troubles of a privileged person: How dare I feel poor and needy? Others are so much worse off! And so I don’t always bother God over the ways this pandemic has affected me, but try to focus on other people, and other things, instead.

And yet I have faith that God has grace in abundance, not just for people living in extremity or crisis, but for ordinary people having ordinary bad days. There is no scarcity in God’s goodness or God’s love. Praying for myself does not use up God; nor does it preclude praying for others. In fact, if I spent less time trying to suppress the grief, pain and isolation of this period, and more time taking it to God in prayer, then I might be of more use to more people!

So on this grey and rainy day, I sat there in Psalm 86 and with foul and grumpy heart snarled at God, “In the day of my trouble I call on you, for you will answer me!” (v 8). Suddenly I was immersed in memories of another rainy day. My sister and I spent the afternoon sailing leaves down a gutter, drinking from the downpipes, building dams with sticks and stones, and stomping puddles in our gumboots – and being perfectly, perfectly happy.

I remembered the sound of rain gurgling through those gutters, and the swish of passing cars. I recalled how cold my fingers were; the smell of wet eucalyptus; the mottled colour and texture of our driveway; the heavier drips from overhanging trees; the absorption of childhood. As the memories flooded through me, they washed my filthy mood away and left behind a clean and shining joy. Then verse 4 of the Psalm popped out: “You will gladden the heart of your servant.” Indeed, it seems God did.

Shalom,
Alison

Reflect: How has God ministered to you through scripture and prayer? Why not write a story about it.

Emailed to Sanctuary 11 August 2021 © Sanctuary, 2021. Photo by Xavi Cabrera on Unsplash.

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