My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from my cry and from the words of my distress? – Psalm 22:1
Every November, I’m struck by the abrupt transition from Thanksgiving Thursday to Black Friday. The two days could not be more dissonant. One celebrates gratitude, the other glorifies greed. Is it too late to insert just a little distance between them? After giving thanks for all we have, must we rise full-bellied from our tables only to focus on all we don’t have by plunging into the melee of materialism?
The proximity of Psalm 22 and Psalm 23 is also jarring. Psalm 22 is the raw lament of the wounded. In Psalm 23, everything’s coming up roses. We jump from “Why have you forsaken me?” to “Surely I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” on the very next page.
Yet these unlikely bed-buddies have been spooning in the sheets of scripture for thousands of years. As for me, I’d prefer anguish and blessing to dwell in different universes, not just in different bedrooms.
But life, and scripture, often have a different message: no pain, no gain. No cross, no crown. As author Glennon Doyle puts it, “First the pain, then the rising.”
The point is not to glorify suffering or to suggest that pain is purposeful. The point is to trust that suffering is partnered with blessing. The coupling of Good Friday and Easter Sunday is our most powerful example. From the horror of the cross, Jesus screamed Psalm 22. But that was not the end of the story. Resurrection, the Psalm 23 moment, comes on the very next page.
You know grief and loss. You’ve been hurt a thousand times. As impossible as it might feel, trust that blessing is already embracing your anguish and that God will indeed turn the page.
God, although I’d like to vote suffering off the island, you obviously have other, better, ideas. Help me to trust, especially on my most difficult days.
Matt Laney is the Senior Pastor of Virginia Highland Church UCC in Atlanta, GA and the author of Pride Wars, a fantasy series publishe by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for Young Readers. The first book, The Spinner Prince available now.