When she woke on that Sunday morning, Susan lay in bed for a while and wondered why she felt as she did. She normally spent a few moments praying, but today it was just too difficult.
Feelings of isolation
Three hours later, walking into church with the two kids, she realised they were late again but she was past caring and practically fell into a seat in the back row. For some reason, getting the kids to school and herself to work by 9am on a weekday was done with military precision, but to get to church by 11am on a Sunday seemed all but impossible and always ended up with her yelling, screaming - and then feeling guilty.
Practically comatose in her chair, she suddenly realised that she was the only one sitting. The rest of the congregation were on their feet, some with hands raised upwards, singing a song about winning battles. She struggled through two verses and then it hit her - a feeling deep in her being of utter loneliness, of isolation even, from those around and especially from God. She said under her breath, “I just don’t feel part of all this” and for a moment she had an overwhelming
desire to grab the kids and just leave.
Downcast and confused
I wonder whether the emotions that she felt that day were echoes of an experience felt by the poet who in Psalm 42 wrote, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” It seems to me that the author of those words is saying something like this: “I really don’t know why I feel as I do, but something is wrong in my very being: if you ask me to explain what it is, I won’t be able to. I feel a mixture of sadness and fear, and I’m just not sure why.”
Struggling to connect with God
I sometimes feel this way myself and the strange thing is that when it happens it’s difficult to put my finger on it. As with Susan, such periods are often connected with something of a breakdown in communication between myself and God and that’s challenging because it’s at this very time when I need Him most.
It’s as if somebody has pulled up the drawbridge and though I’d love to get into the castle, I’m left sitting on the grass outside.
So, my soul, why are you downcast within me? Have I done some great wrong that is now haunting me? Well, of course, it could be that. Or is it that I am a spiritual sissy and what I really need is a kick in the backside and to be told to just get on with it? (If you think it will work, kick me now!) Or is it that I’m just plain tired?
As I look back at those times I can see that life has often been incredibly busy. I may have been responding to the needs of others, perhaps I’ve been hurt a little along the way or experienced special pressures, but whatever has happened seems to have taken the wind out of my sails. One minute I was flying along on smooth sea under a clear blue sky and then suddenly the breeze stopped. I’m drifting and I’ve lost direction.
Busy and distracted
If I stay busy, I’m reasonably alright. The sheer activity helps in so many ways: it stops me thinking, it gives me a sense that I’m achieving something - that life is basically still on course. But when the busyness stops, when I come home to myself, when I lie in bed in the early morning darkness - the old fears and the old sadnesses come to haunt me.
The Psalm begins with such a powerful image. It is of a deer exhausted because of thirst, tongue out, panting, hoping against hope that around the next hill there will be a valley with streams of water. The mystery is that at the very time when, in so many ways, we feel distant from God - we feel the need of Him more than ever.
Well, Lord, here I am - outside the castle when the party’s going on inside, stranded in the middle of the sea with limp sails at the mercy of every current, and thirsty - desperately thirsty - for You.
There is hope in our God!
The final verses say, “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Saviour and my God,” Psalm 42:11. It is almost as if the psalmist is saying, “Don’t give up - you will come through this.”
Perhaps, like me, you are grateful to the one who wrote so long ago and yet shared his heart in a way that touches our lives today. We suddenly understand this is not just our experience but that others have been there and come through it. And the very second we realise this we find that our head lifts a little for, although we are still dry, we can somehow smell water on the wind, and even though we are feeling adrift, we can imagine again sails full of wind, power, and direction and...even the faint sounds of a drawbridge being lifted.
Rob Parsons, is the founder of Care for the Family. Contact Focus on the Family: 031 716 3300 or www.safamily.co.za