The Key to Patience
Sunday July 23, 2017
When I was in seminary I used to read a lot of books that I called, “Waiting books”. A waiting book was a book that I could pick up and put down at a moment’s notice because I was doing a lot of waiting. In my first two years as a student in New York City, I would have to ride the subway 45 minutes to an hour to get to my field education position or to my job as a Coffee House Coordinator. There was a lot of waiting to do in those commutes. One had to wait for the subway to come. One had to wait to see if you could find a seat or wait longer if you had bad timing on your transfer. Then you had to wait out the actual commute itself.
I usually liked small paperback books that I could slip in my back pocket. They were the best because I didn’t have to worry about leaving them on the seat of the subway car or the commuter train. Back then I came across an author by the name of John Jakes who became a prolific writer. But in the 70’s he wrote stories of the American Frontier and the Civil War. What made his books of that time so convenient as a “Waiting book” was that each chapter had a new beginning and the action came to a resolution by the end of that chapter. And even better each chapter took 15 to 20 minutes to read. So they were perfect waiting books for me.
And what I learned from all of that, was that a short wait can seem even shorter if you have a reading book to kill some time: to bad that the psalmist didn’t have that kind of a publication.
But apart from finding something to fill the time of waiting, waiting also caused emotional energy to build up in us like a pressure cooker that cannot release its steam. As a family we would often go out to lunch after church, which was a great experience. But my mom believed in getting everywhere early. So she would race me and my sister out of our church school classes and deprive us of the after worship goodies: encourage strongly that my father get his act in gear so that we could make it to the restaurant with time to spare. Once there, we all, of course, would have this hurry up energy running us, so my mom would take a deep breath and say, “now let’s not hurry through our meal.” My sister and I called it “the hurry up and wait technique”.
With the 13th Psalm, we come to the point where waiting is far beyond what a normal person would tolerate. If there are pains to be expressed in life, this psalm captures the emotional tone. We have no idea exactly what it is that has beset the psalmist. But what we do know is that in the mind of the psalmist, during this time of sorrow, the psalmist feels that the Lord’s presence is hidden. And because the Lord’s presence is hidden, the psalmist’s mind has fallen victim to wander: wandering into the “what if’s” of life. “How much longer can this go on?” “What other calamity is waiting around the corner?” “Why does life always seem to be this way?” “How long are you going to let things like this happen to me?”
There is a profound sense that for the psalmist, that when things get to the point where the psalmist now is, that God is very likely the one who is causing this situation of sorrow, and therefore God is the only one who can lift him or her out of that sorrow. You can hear it in the cry of anguish:
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
For some reason those words made me think of the parents of Lauren Spierer. You may remember her. On June 3, 2011 a young female student at IU from an affluent suburb of New York City disappeared from the streets of Bloomington. The news report said that she had been partying at a number of different locations around the IU campus and by 4:30 in the morning had wandered away from two different places where it was reported she could have found safe lodging. Six years later there is no clue as to what happened to her. The three male students who were the last to see her have all found lawyers and refused to talk to police. They have gotten on with their lives. But Laura’s parents Charlene and Rob Spierer, still live with the pain and agony of not knowing what happened to their daughter. Six year of speculation; six years of believing that there is more information out there if they could only get to it.
Remove from the equation any moral judgment about what this child might be doing.
Loosing a child is one of the greatest pains I have witnessed in ministry. It doesn’t matter how old the child is or what the circumstances may be. It doesn’t matter if the child is lost in a tragic accident, in the battle of war or from a disease that takes people in old age. If anyone has a right to cry out to God; “How long Lord? Will you forget me forever?” it continues to be Rob and Charlene Spierer.
But the writer of the Psalms isn’t trying to merely let us know how much he or she is suffering, the psalmist is tell us that no matter what we experience in life, God is there to hear us, and to receive what we have to offer. And in a spiritual sense, lifting our sorrows to God is the first step in releasing them so that we can receive something of greater value. And for the psalmist it is God who can lift them from their sorrow, and replace it with a certain amount of joy, peace and praise, for eventually the psalmist moves to a request for the peace after which the Psalmist is seeking.
Look on answer, and me Lord my God
Give light to my eyes or I will sleep in death,
And my enemies will say, “I have overcome him.”
And my foes will rejoice in my fall.
In the early fall of 2001 a young woman sat in my office. I didn’t know her real well, for she was the grown daughter of one of our members. About three weeks earlier her father had called me and asked if I would officiate at his daughter’s son and his grandson’s funeral. His daughter, Elizabeth, and her husband Kenneth had just lost their 6-month-old son named Michael to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. When I visited them at there home later that day, the silence was deafening. I am not sure that even then she was ready to cry the words of the psalmist. As we talked, some time had passsed and she was looking to God for answers, so that she could have the light come back into her life or as another translation calls it, “a sparkle in her eyes.” She had fallen from church attendance in her college years as many young people do and was now trying to let that seed that was planted in her in her youth grow stronger.
We talked for a while about God’s intention to love His children, and that when God wipes away her sorrow it will not be a sign that God didn’t love Michael, or her, or Kenneth.
A month of so later, I saw her grandfather in church and asked how Elizabeth was doing. He said, “Her smile has returned a little.”
I told him that I was glad to hear that, and that God has a way of touching lives even in the midst of great sorrow.
He said, “You know, we all marvel at what God has done with Liz. After a few months she put all of her energy into finding a way to remember Michael. So she and her husband set up a foundation and they are sponsoring a 5K run called “Michael’s Run” to raise funds for SIDS research.”
While I am not sure if Michael’s run is still in existence, it did operate for 5 years or so, and was a way of trusting in the unfailing love of God.
And finally after the pain of frustration is lifted and the plea for peace is raised, the Psalmist finds a way to praise and worship God in the goodness he has provided.
But I will trust in your unfailing love
My heart rejoices in your salvation
I will sing the Lord’s praise
For he has been good to me.
Dimitri lived in what was communist held Somalia back in the 1970’s. He was greatly concerned about his boys. They knew little about their faith and their God. The closest church was a 3 day walk from where they lived. Dimitri realized that only he could do something to help them grow in their faith as followers, so he began reading the Bible to them. That reading turned into weekly teaching that resembled a kind of Sunday school. In time they added songs and worship. Eventually because the houses were close together others heard the singing and asked if they could participate. Though not trained Dimitri did his best to lead this pop up church.
This little church grew to 25 and got the attention of communist authorities who began threatening Dimitri. When the church grew more people – Dimitri was fired from his job: his wife lost her teaching position and his boys were expelled from school When the church grew to 75 they ran out of room in his small home. One night the door burst open and soldiers rushed in, slapped Dimitri and threatened imprisonment. When attendance hit more, they arrested him and put him in prison. And for the next 17 years his family lived in poverty and misery, pain and tragedy.
During those 17 years, Dimitri would raise his hands and sing a praise song to the Lord. The other prisoners would make fun and yell at him, but he continued to sing every morning for 17 years. Dimitri would find any piece of paper and write scripture on it and put it on his jail wall. Each time the guards found it, he was beaten. He continued to do this because he had no Bible and wanted to remember scripture and each time, he was beaten. On one occasion he found an entire piece of paper with a pencil right beside it. He took it to his cell and wrote entirely on both sides. When the guards found it they beat him and told him his family was dead. They told him if he would just sign a paper saying he would not preach of Christ, he would be released. He said he had enough so bring him the paper the next day and he would sign it.
That night, Dimitri had a vision that his family was alive and well so when the guards came the next morning for him to sign the paper, he said, “You lied to me, I am not going to sign.” With those words, the guards lead him to the execution post. When the other prisoners witnessed his procession through their small windows, all of the sudden, all of the other prisoners started singing the praise song that Dmitri had sang every morning for 17 years. The guards were shaken and so scared; they asked “Who Are You?” and at that point, they released him where upon later he found his family.
We all know that sometimes the pains of life are so great that we do cry out to God: “How long? And it is the psalmist who tells us even to cry. And in that cry God hears us more clearly and more frequently then we think. But it is the cry and the plea for help that opens the doorway to the discovery that God has not hidden His face from us. It is merely that we have been looking for God in the wrong place.