How are you feeling today? If you said, “I’m fine,” would you be telling the truth?
One day, in court, a trucking company’s fancy lawyer was questioning their opponent, a farmer named Joe.
“Didn’t you say, at the scene of the accident,’ I’m fine’?” said the lawyer.
Farmer Joe responded, “Well, I’ll tell you what happened. I had just loaded my favorite mule Bessie into the…….”
“I didn’t ask for any details,” the lawyer interrupted, “just answer the question. Did you not say, at the scene of the accident,’ I’m fine!'”
Farmer Joe said, “Well, I had just got Bessie into the trailer and I was driving down the road…”
The lawyer interrupted again and said, “Judge, I am trying to establish the fact that, at the scene of the accident, this man told the Highway Patrolman that he was just fine. Now several weeks after the accident he is trying to sue my client. I believe he is a fraud. Please tell him to simply answer the question.”
But the Judge said to the lawyer, “I’d like to hear what he has to say about his favorite mule Bessie.”
Joe thanked the Judge and proceeded, “Well, as I was saying, I had just loaded Bessie, my favorite mule, into the trailer and was driving her down the highway when this huge semi-truck and trailer ran the stop sign and smacked my truck right in the side. I was thrown into one ditch and Bessie was thrown into the other. I was hurting real bad and didn’t want to move. However, I could hear ole Bessie moaning and groaning. I knew she was in terrible shape just by her groans. Shortly after the accident a Highway Patrolman came on the scene. He could hear Bessie moaning and groaning so he went over to her. After he looked at her he took out his gun and shot her between the eyes. Then the Patrolman came across the road with his gun in his hand and looked at me.
He said, “Your mule was in such bad shape I had to shoot her – so…how are you feeling?”
So, let me ask you again, how are you feeling today?
Sometimes it’s tricky to know when it’s ok to be entirely honest about our feelings. I hope that this church is a place where you can be comfortable with being real. No one should be considered any less for being sad or out of sorts.
Sometimes the only person we can be fully honest with is God. And sometimes, even that is hard, because that also means being honest with ourselves. When we are struggling to know how to express ourselves, it can be helpful to find a psalm that resonates. And sometimes the psalm that resonates with me is the one we are reading today – Psalm 77.
We can tell right away that this is a lament. “I cry out to God…” (v1)  The Message version says, “I yell at the top of my lungs.”
As if yelling loud enough will make God hear us. We don’t have to yell for God to hear, because God is right here with us, and the Holy Spirit knows our thoughts and feelings, but sometimes it helps us to yell anyway because our feelings need to be expressed, to be let out.
Creativity is a great way to let things out. The psalmist is working out their feelings in the writing of this psalm. When we do something creative, the calming and focusing effects on our brains can be similar to prayer and meditation. Actions like sewing or gardening, playing games, running, shopping, release the chemical dopamine which has a calming effect on our brains.
We don’t all deal with things the same way. We need to do what works for us to express rather than suppress our feelings. Part of our process of emotional and spiritual growth is learning when and how to do this. One of the hard parts of this for me has been finding new kinds of expression when the old ones aren’t working. And giving myself grace for the days when nothing works.
As you might guess, writing has been one of my main forms of expression, but in a depression, I’ve found that writing doesn’t work as well. Drawing fits my frame of mind better during those times, but I don’t draw well, so I’ve had to learn to be less critical of myself and draw anyway. Nobody is going to see it except me, so it doesn’t matter so much whether it’s good. What matters is that it helps me process and express my thoughts.
Sometimes music helps, but there again I have to let go of my self-criticism and do it anyway. The writer of today’s psalm has also turned to music. In verse 5, the psalmist seems to be awake in the middle of the night singing. The Message version says, “I strum my lute all through the night, wondering how to get my life together.”
My husband Rob also turns to music and writing for his expression. If you follow him on Facebook, you know that he’s a prolific poet. As he and I were discussing this psalm last week, he was inspired to write this poem:
Cry Out, Not In
A Poem by Rob Krabbe
Cry out, not in.
Love hard and bold
pandering not about sin.
Give grace and mercy,
not blind judgement.
“Living Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.”
God won’t fancy fix and fast forage;
Tickle hearts, flap wings, fly away,
off into the heavens of grandeur, nay.
The souls to feed, and welcome home,
Our nature now, to hate,
Judge, oppress, berate,
Comfortable and cool,
all y’all in the pool,
Darkness and drool, tolling bells,
Heaven on earth, a tool, oblivious of hell?
Not truly true and test, for
We are aliens here, in this land,
We’re so far from our homeland.
We learn and live, to seek, we live, and roam.
Yet the nub, the easiest flight of wisdom.
To float upon the seas of sorrow,
Within the boat of joy at sail,
Rest child, comfort and play
things are not going to be OK,
Wailing, we can’t see, the true colors, the grays.
The blues and dimly, dimly lit.
This life is not to die, and lay,
Upon the fields of warring, splay.
This life to live and love
in the hardest of times
Twixt copper and tin,
a sip of fine wine.
But loving the unloved,
Salvage the salvageable;
Unravel the unravelable.
Matters but who they are?
and yes, saving the tears
in an alabaster jar,
To irrigate the wounds,
Wherever they are,
To breath deep the air
No matter how thin,
But don’t give up!
cry out, not in!
© 06.24.2022 by Rob Krabbe and NoonAtNight Publications
The hymn we’re going to sing at the end of today’s worship is written by someone who also expressed themselves through poetry and song, William Cowper. Cowper struggled with depression. The words of the hymn were written after Cowper had attempted suicide. The original title was “Light Shining Out of Darkness.” Cowper’s pastor was John Newton, the slave trader who was most famous for writing the hymn Amazing Grace. Newton published Cowper’s poem in a collection of writings, and later included it in a collection of hymns that he and Cowper had written. In that hymnal, this hymn is accompanied by a verse from the gospel of John – 13:7 in which Jesus said, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”
How many times have you heard someone say, “the Lord works in mysterious ways”? The origin of that phrase is said to be Cowper’s poem.
The hymn, like psalm 77, leaves us with unanswered questions. In the center of the psalm, verses 7-9 ask:
Has the Lord rejected me forever?
Will he never again be kind to me?
8 Is his unfailing love gone forever?
Have his promises permanently failed?
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he slammed the door on his compassion?
The psalmist doesn’t give us answers, but I like that their thinking process includes asking questions. Sometimes this is what helps me as well. Sometimes I put my questions into a Google search and find answers. Sometimes that doesn’t help, but often getting deeper into a subject at least helps me get off the downward spiral because it takes my thinking out of the realm of just emotion and brings in some logic and reason.
For example, the news this week is full of provocative headlines and sound bytes about the latest big Supreme Court decision. We’re hearing so many different opinions and interpretations but I wanted to know what the decision actually said, so I found the text written by Justice Alito, so that I can decide for myself whether it says what the commentators are saying it says.
If we only listen to the headlines and opinions and don’t get to the sources, it’s like reading Bible commentary without ever reading the Bible itself. Even the original languages can be subject to interpretation, and that’s one reason we have so many different versions of the Bible. It’s helpful to compare them.
When I did that with Psalm 77, I found that one verse is a particular challenge. In verse 10, the psalmist has reached a turning point, but the nature of that turning point is a bit different depending on which version we read.
And I said, “This is my fate; the Most High has turned his hand against me.” (NLT)
So I said, “I am grieved that the right hand of the Most High has changed.” (NASB)
And I said, “This is my anguish; But I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High.” (NKJV)
The various translations of this verse are so different because the Hebrew meaning is unclear, and the teams of translators likely spent quite a bit of time on this verse.
- In the NLT, the psalmist laments that God has turned against them. I don’t want to believe that God turns against us, but sometimes it can feel that way. That’s what seems to happen at some points in the Old Testament, but it is always temporary.
- In the NASB, as to whether God has changed, we might immediately say no, God doesn’t change, but there are several stories in the Old Testament in which people argue with God and it does seem to change the outcome of the situation.
- I like the third one, the NKJV, the best. “I will remember…”
In the training for my summer as a hospital chaplain, this is how we were taught to help people in crisis, to ask them to remember how they had gotten through hard times before. Often they would remember how God had helped them in the past, just like the psalmist in our scripture for today remembers how God brought the people of Israel out of captivity in Egypt and through the waters of the Red Sea. The psalmist is encouraged from seeing God’s work in history.
Psalm 77 reminds us that we don’t live in this world all alone. Some scholars think that this psalm was used in worship gatherings, because the memories recounted are memories that the whole community shares. When we gather for worship today, we encourage one another with our group memories. We remember that God sent us Jesus to show us the depth of God’s love for us and the breadth of God’s mercy and grace. We now share the experience of living through a pandemic and we can remind each other to give thanks to God for bringing us through thus far.
We are surrounded by people and we help each other with the process of remembering, of finding answers, of seeing our situation differently. I am thankful for friends and family, our church family, colleagues and scholars, doctors and therapists, all of whom contribute to our wellbeing and ability to keep going.
I saw people helping each other in one of the discussions on Facebook this week. This post is from a comment thread. This lady says, “I’ve lost all hope. At 65 is it ok to just give up and wait quietly to die and move on from this place to something better[?] I have no fight left in me.”
Someone else resonated with this and said, “I’m teetering in this space, too.” In essence saying, “You’re not alone in how you’re feeling.” That helps.
And the following response said this:
“I am 45 and [I’ve] got fight left. You rest all you need. Thank you for fighting so hard.”
This is a great example of why we are stronger when we let new people into our circles, and why it helps to have people of all ages involved.
Some of us are tired of fighting but some of us still have fight left. We need each other and I am thankful for all of you.
To borrow from Ecclesiastes 3, for everything there is a season, a time to fight and a time to rest, a time to ask questions and a time to remember how things were answered before, a time to cry out to God, and a time to find creative ways to process our feelings and take action.
One of the reasons this psalm resonates with me is that it doesn’t fully resolve. Some of the lament psalms end with praise, but this one doesn’t. It ends rather abruptly. I like that it doesn’t tie things up in a neat little bow at the end. I think that makes it feel more like real life.
So let me ask you again, how are you feeling today?
No matter how you answer, it’s ok. God knows what’s on our hearts, and God loves us all.
 by Lemuel Francis Abbott, oil on canvas, 1792, NPG 2783. Used with permission http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/ National Portrait Gallery St Martin’s Place London WC2H OHE, accessed June 25, 2022, at https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/person/mp01072/william-cowper.