March On, My Soul

As I review my journal of the past year and a half it could only be described as bleak. Since my husband died last May, I’ve taken to processing thoughts in a diary. Well thoughts might not be the right word. It’s more like passing emotional kidney stones or violent hairballs. Help me, I write. Save me. Heal me. Why, Lord, why? I moan. I rage. I plead all over the page. Never much of a journeler in the past, I am surprised that I looked forward to these daily outbursts, this catharsis of distress. Some days words flow like blood from a wound. Other days an involuntary scab seems to prevent exploring much below the surface as if there is a knowledge that probing here or now will cause irreparable harm. This is when I am certain of the Spirit’s interceding groans.

A friend read some entries and worried that I was far too depressed. This is just truth, I assured her, but she didn’t understand. I could dispel her worry but not her loving, well-intentioned confusion. It’s much worse than she imagines. “Well then, you don’t look like you feel,” she observed. Thank goodness, I think, but just don’t scratch the surface.

Having been in slimy pits before, I know my Savior saves. I know he can lift me out of the mud and mire. I also know that I have to fall at his feet and listen. This time the cacophony is so overwhelming I have to listen intently. I’m afraid not to. This one is too big and threatens to destroy. So, for every journal entry I try to find some corresponding Scripture that describes, clarifies or sometimes even quells the storm. I hang out a lot in Lamentations and the Psalms. For example, one day I was writing about sorrow. I observed that it comes later, much later after the trauma of tragic death. It’s the aftershock of deep distress and creates a grudging heaviness of pain. After trudging through these past months, I wrote, it’s like I’m wearing a heavy coat. It’s huge and weighty; too heavy to take off. It wears me down before I’m even out of bed in the morning. Please, Lord, help. And then I found Psalm 31:9: “Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief.” I’m not alone! I shout. This is a well-worn path. You, Lord, know my heart! You see? For just a second I don’t feel so alone and alien. Others, long ago, felt the same. Yes, please please be merciful, Lord.

Similarly, Psalm 69:2, I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters, ministered to my distress. Clearly, I wrote, I am beyond help from this world – physical or human. It is deep out here. How could anyone know this muddy bog? And yet, your servant, David, wrote these words thousands of years ago…He swam in these waters!

There are many comforting references to not being alone in suffering. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. Isaiah 43:2-3   The journal entry that day reads, there’s no ‘if’ here…only ‘when’. It’s just the avoidance of annihilation that’s guaranteed. I still have to pass through raging rivers and walk through fire, but I’m in good company. Way back in Isaiah’s day, he knew despair. I too will walk through flames, but they won’t poison my soul or harden my heart. I love the ‘I will be with you’ part. Thank you, Lord Jesus. Today it’s enough that you are with me.

Not every entry is dismal. To the short little verse in Mark 1:14, And angels attended him, I wrote, Ah the sweet, sweet ministry of friends. They appear at just the right time, obedient to our Lord’s instruction, with just the right word or outing or casserole. As if on call, they organize walks, suggest books, offer coffee, prepare dinner, email thoughts, even weed my garden! Obviously members of a holy angel network, they get the memo for exactly what is needed and go about attending to their task and I am simply the recipient of their obedience. Their gentle smiles and prayers, sacraments of their worship, somehow see me through the day. Today I see faintly how they are holding me together, but perhaps someday I will see their actual stitches in my brokenness.

The community at Immanuel is part of that angel network. I got the kindest email from Holly who apologized for not asking how I am.  She’d had a dream about not knowing whether to talk to me or not. She said she was so sorry and wanted to let me know that I was on her heart. “I see you,” she wrote, “and what happened and I want to be here for you.” Sweet, sweet ministering angels.

And so, like the day I found Judges 5:21, March on, my soul; be strong! I know I just have to march on. The painful past, the uncertain future remain simply distressing and unclear. So, one foot in front of the other, one day at a time my soul treads onward. How easy it would be to just stop! But if I try, I am still in motion going somewhere, on my way somewhere. Stopping is an illusion. My heart still beats whether asleep or awake, running 5 miles or wallowing in bed. I can certainly distract myself from thinking about marching on, but it doesn’t stop the march. And then there is this phrase “be strong!” Be– it’s a command. Be strong, soul. So, Lord, you obviously think this is possible. You don’t say, “So, maybe you could just get a little stronger…?” No, you speak it into reality. BE STRONG on this soul march.  OK. OK.

The Lord longs to be gracious to me; therefore he will rise up to show me compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed I am as I wait for him!