Five weeks ago, my family entered a time of intense struggle. (I wrote about it here.)
My mother-in-law in Romania received a terminal diagnosis, and just days later, Corina left to go be with her. The time of separation was difficult for us all. I had to shift gears into “single parent” mode as we closed out the school year and began the summer days. Corina was there for her mother in a Romanian hospital and then back home in her apartment.
The stress was compounded by the uncertainty and expense of every decision that involves overseas travel and medical decisions. We needed wisdom more than anything else.
After 29 days Corina returned home, knowing that in the near future it is likely that she or both of us will need to return.
Out of the Depths
On the day Corina’s mother heard from the doctor that there was no point in undergoing chemotherapy, she asked the Lord to give her a psalm to memorize. The first place she turned was Psalm 130.
Out of the depths I call to you, Lord! Lord, listen to my voice; let your ears be attentive to my cry for help. Lord, if you kept an account of iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that you may be revered. I wait for the Lord; I wait and put my hope in his word. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning—more than watchmen for the morning. Israel, put your hope in the Lord. For there is faithful love with the Lord, and with him is redemption in abundance. And he will redeem Israel from all its iniquities. (CSB)
I’ve been reading this psalm daily.
There’s something so powerful about that image of the psalmist drowning in the depths of suffering and sinfulness. Grief is often described as a flood. That’s because it can be overwhelming. Sin and suffering cast us into the depths of affliction, and from there, we cry out for help.
What do we do in that moment? The world says to look inside for deliverance. The psalmist says to look outside. Don’t look in. Look up—to God, for salvation from sin, and for deliverance from suffering.
The psalmist trusts in the character of the God who sees his tears. It’s the God who heard the Israelites groaning in slavery, the God who counts the quickening heartbeat of the person in distress, the God who will not overlook injustice and suffering, the God who will not despise a broken and humbled heart.
The one good thing about being in the depths, whether it’s the depth of suffering or the depth of sin, is that desperation can smash all of the idols you’d normally cling to and point you to the only hope you truly have: the Living God. Thomas Watson wrote:
Faith can make use of the waters of affliction, to swim faster to Christ.
Waiting with Hope
Of course, knowing that these times of suffering work to our good doesn’t make them any easier. The psalmist talks about waiting, and I think that was the aspect that was hardest for me. I was waiting. Always waiting. For wisdom, for deliverance, for relief.
The image shifts to that of the watchman who is waiting for the first signs of the morning to arrive. I know the feeling. There was one night, after 11 p.m., when I was particularly discouraged and depressed. Corina and I were able to talk for a few moments on FaceTime. Because it was already 7 a.m. in the morning in Romania, I said, Go to the window and show me the view. Corina put the phone up to the window where I saw a bright, cloudless morning with the sun spilling its rays all over the apartment buildings and cars and trees outside. There was something hope-filled in knowing that, in spite of the darkness and the length of the night, joy will come in the morning.
We wait. But waiting is active, not passive. Charles Spurgeon said:
Deep places beget deep devotion. Depths of earnestness are stirred by depths of tribulation. Diamonds sparkle most amid the darkness.
I asked God at the beginning of this trial to help me grow in faith, hope, and love. I don’t want to waste “the depths.” I love what Beth Moore says:
I hate hard long trials but I will admit blinking tears while reading Scripture is like wipers on a filthy windshield. Suddenly you can see.
If we don’t hope in God’s Word, waiting will be nothing more than pessimistic paralysis. We won’t do anything; we won’t hope anything; we won’t believe anything. Hope carries us forward.
Prepare to Be Filled
The last time I was at the beach with our kids, our youngest son asked me to build a sand pool. The key is to find a place on the shore where the water only comes occasionally and then start digging. When the little pool would dry out, we’d get busy—digging, digging, and digging—preparing for the next time a wave would flood that little pool. The deeper you dug in the dry times, the deeper the pool of water when the waves would come in.
Life is hard right now. We feel like we’re in the depths. But we’re not going to waste this period of time. We’re going to keep digging. Because we know, the deeper we dig, the fuller our joy will be when God sends the rains of relief.