Learning to Pray the Psalms: Quarantine Edition

I was chugging along in 2020 like the rest of us; excited about the things God might be doing in the earth and with me; excited for signing up my baby for kindergarten and not really looking back; excited for moving into some kind of new phase where I might feel like a Really Useful Engine Person. Okay, so maybe I didn't have any solid plans yet, but I had lots of ideas!
Now it appears that whatever plans I had for 2020, they've been cancelled. Opportunities I wanted to have come to me...and even the ones I may have been planning to go and grab...seem to have vanished. We're all suddenly in a different world.

I've heard from many sources the idea that this all just goes to show us how little control we actually have over anything--except--as I keep insisting to my teen...our own attitudes! She finds this insistence truly bothersome, but I see providing friendly true commentary that she will one day have to reflect back on as correct as my job :).

But actually. Keeping my attitude in check can be difficult. Fear is there, waiting. Anxiety lurks, calling out. Difficult interactions at home abound.  Uncertainty about the future suddenly is in sharp focus.

Everybody I know has spoken of having a day in the last 6 weeks that just really got them down. Mine was the day school got cancelled for the rest of the year. The tears were right at the surface for me that day, all day long. Since then, there have been good days and less good days, and bad days. It changes.

This is okay, I think. This situation has its real difficulties and is calling upon us to respond to things we're not accustomed to. Whatever difficulty or even plain old sin issues we faced in our families or in our own hearts before, now there's no distraction and less chance to take a break from dealing with them before God or with one another. To my mind, that pressure is a grace and an opportunity--but it's still difficult.

Our pastor has been pushing in on the Psalms in his sermons regularly for many months now. The general flow of these has been that in the Psalms we can see how God's people can take every opportunity to pray honestly and faithfully, and how God's faithfulness, mercy, and love reaches out to them in, through, and beyond anything that life can bring.

So when I do remember to open up my Bible lately, I've been opening up there. But when we start talking about "Praying the Psalms," I have traditionally kind of dried up.

Now, here's a psalm that I've seen before and found a little baffling, especially as it comes to "praying it."
Psalm 131 (NIV)
My heart is not proud, Lord,
    my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
    or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
    I am like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child I am content.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord
    both now and forevermore.

Maybe I just wasn't reading with enough imagination, but I've always wondered...how am I supposed to pray that? Am I just supposed to just read it out loud to God and stick "me" in there for the "I" of the Psalmist? I'd then sort of get stuck worrying about whether my heart actually was proud, and knowing it probably was, and how this person could actually be so bold as to claim his wasn't.
Then, I mean, I liked to think my eyes weren't haughty, because that's a cardinal value in my family of origin: don't be a snob. And then the next part---in earlier years I considered very few matters to be too wonderful for me, and frankly I wanted the world's great matters to be my matters. And that next section that I'd hear the commentators say is so lovely--well, my experience with weaned children suggested someone pulling and demanding things, climbing on top of me, and making me have to sit still even if my arm had gone numb. And what any of this had to do with Israel putting hope in the LORD I couldn't say.

But happily I have grown slowly over the years, and this psalm came more alive to me the other day. The first hook for me to climb in was here as a gift from God from the new COVID-19 reality: a renewed sense of great matters being too wonderful for me. The government's plan for me to stop, fix, or pause the spread of coronavirus is to keep my family on my property and put on my Spiderman face mask when I go out alone for groceries as infrequently as possible. That's not particularly wonderful, but the problem sure is a great matter above my pay grade.

That brought me back around to "my heart is not proud." Let me open up space in my heart to believe that God's definition of what is good for me may not match what I thought was good for me, but that if He says it's good...it's me that needs to adjust. Maybe this is part of 'my heart is not proud'.

So I can pray:
God, please change my heart to be humble, to have a strong trust in you and your plans. I know that you are not asleep and that you are fully at the helm to steer us according to your purpose. Let my eyes not be haughty, God. Let me look at the things You're directing me to, with Your right perspective.

But GOD's plan for me right now appears to be involves praying for him to intervene because of his Great Mercy and do what I have no capacity to do. I can check in and show care and concern for the people in my neighborhood, church community, or city--and act on whatever needs I might stumble on. I can do what I can to pray my kids and family through this unique situation, and to pray them through the struggles they were already having anyway!

So I can pray:
God, please intervene in our situation and stop COVID-19 from further spread. Please provide relief and comfort to the suffering, make our hearts soft to you, and empower me to do what I can to help others. Help me to do well with the things you have put in front of me: help me remain physically and mentally healthy, help me to love and care for my family well; protect us, God.

Now, onto the weaned child part. My delightful 5-year-old has been helping me with this one. Her dad was reading Ramona the Pest to her the other day as she protested. "This book is boring!" (No, child, this book is hilarious because it's about YOU!) A few more minutes went by...and it became clear that she had fallen asleep in her dad's lap as he read. We called her for dinner. She woke up and cheered, and came to the table. "I don't like this dinner!" she said as she shoved her plate away...and abruptly put her head down on the table--asleep again. She stayed there until after dishes were done, when I transferred her to bed ("Oh yay!" she said through closed eyes). This girl has no doubt whatsoever that she is loved, provided for, and safe in her parents' care, even when she needs discipline, even when she makes a mess of things, even when she can't go play with friends because of coronavirus.

So I can pray:
Thank you, Lord, for a picture of resting in your love that I can see with my own eyes. God, help me to rest in You like such a child. Thank you that your word says I'm loved, chosen, and delighted in. Increase my faith, please. I know you are caring for us, God, and I thank you. 

And then what used to strike me as a weird ending--Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore...It's an encouragement to us. Let us as God's people take this opportunity to rejoice in God's faithfulness throughout history and our own personal timelines, to trust in his goodness, and to expect with confidence that he will continue to keep his good promises.

So I can pray:
 Jesus, please move through your Spirit in the hearts of your people, that we would find our HOPE in YOU, forever. Thank you that you've allowed us such an opportunity; comfort us in our difficulty, grief, and fear. We know you are Emmanuel, 'God-with-us,' Jesus--thank you, and open our eyes to your words, your movement, and your calling to us even in this time. Help us be faithful.

I'd love to hear about any scriptures that have been meaningful to YOU in this season, and maybe we can encourage one another--if you'd please leave a comment for that purpose, I'd be grateful.





5 comments

  1. Thank you for this, Katie! I think the hardest day for me was also when our little one’s preschool wrote that there would be no more class. I’m not sure I’ve recovered yet, still.

    This has been a verse I coming back to: (from 1Peter 5)

    “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

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    1. (This is Nattida btw, hah)

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    2. Thanks for sharing that verse, Nattida! The school closure was a blow, for sure. R keeps saying "when I go to preschool, I'm going to..." and it breaks my heart.

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  2. Thanks Katie!! Great thoughts! I enjoyed the many different ways of praying through that one psalm!

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