There was a period of several years, where I cried every day. Every quiet time, every women’s prayer meeting, every church service, driving in the car, sitting in my office, walking across campus between classes. Suffice it to say, the subject of my sorrow was a big weepy deal. And I was the Big Weeper.
The poet of Psalm 119, likely David, was no stranger to depression. He says, “I am laid low in the dust… My soul is weary with sorrow” (Ps. 119:25, 28) and again, “I have suffered much… Look upon my suffering and deliver me” (Ps. 119:107, 153). Often, despite relentless prayers, we fail to see any response from God. How can He be so slow? At those times, we pray with David: “My soul faints with longing for your salvation… My eyes fail, looking for your promise… how long must your servant wait?” (Ps. 119:81, 82, 84).
The Apostle Peter tells us that God “is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.” (2 Pet. 3:9). What appears to be slowness is actually God’s patience; grief must do its work in our hearts. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matt. 5:4). Likewise, the sage of Ecclesiastes: “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning.” (Ecc. 7:4).
I readily admit that grief has been good for my prayer life; it forces me to seek God as my only hope. In fact, David writes this hum-dinger: “It was good for me to be afflicted, so that I might learn your decrees.” (Psalm 119:71). Good? To be afflicted? Yet, even as I shout, “No!” I can see God bending my proud heart toward his holy and mysterious will. I can feel him stretching my compassion for brothers and sisters in hurt. “I know, O Lord, that your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me.” (Psalm 119:75). Is it you, Lord? Are you behind this terrible affliction? And can it truly be a sign of your faithfulness?
At a certain point, it hit me that my severe grief must somehow end, if I was to embrace the life God has given me. To quote Ecclesiastes again, “There is a time for everything…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecc. 3:1,4). I thought of the command to “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4). And I felt… guilty.
A dear friend, a witness to my constant wailing, texted me. “Please don’t apologize for grieving. I haven’t been through this exact thing, but I definitely know that juxtaposition of having a stone in your heart, sometimes right next to a flying bird.” Her analogy was perfect. When pain drags on, part of our heart longs to fly, knows it needs to fly. But the other part sinks solidly into the mud. The tension threatens to snap our fragile faith.
In Psalm 119, David has somehow made peace with the bird and the stone. It is a very long psalm, after all: one stanza for every letter of the Hebrew alphabet. All the way down, joy interweaves with sorrow. “I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches… Your statutes are my delight… I delight in your commands because I love them… I rejoice in your promise like one who finds great spoil… Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws.” (Ps. 119:14, 24, 47, 162, 164).
In the midst of his struggles, David experiences joy, delight, and praise. What can be the source of these emotions, so incongruous with his circumstances? David tells us plainly: he rejoices in God’s statutes, promises and laws. In fact, the whole of Psalm 119 is a poetic tribute to God’s word. Affliction brings us to the word of God: our joy and our salvation.
And so we cry out to the Lord: “May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant.” (Psalm 119:76). We must marinate our raw and broken hearts in God’s word, until they soften and absorb sacred flavor. This is the place where God promises to comfort us in our afflictions, as he did for his servant David.