In March, I wrote about two of my favorite Psalms, Psalm 23 and Psalm 139. Today, I want to write about another favorite, Psalm 42. About ten years ago, I remember reading (and praying) Psalm 42 during a retreat with a group of pastor friends at Our Lady of Florida in North Palm Beach. Psalm 42 invites us into prayer and reflection.
The writer of the Psalm begins by addressing God, "As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for you, O God." Then the psalmist turns his or her attention to his or her own soul and, following that, sort of addresses the wind or to whomever is listening: "My tears have become my food day and night." There is this interesting movement from prayer to God, then, attending to one's own soul and then speaking to whomever is listening (or reading).
Psalm 42 speaks to me about how to handle discouragement or despair. It teaches me that it is always appropriate to address God about my despair or sadness. It is more than OK to speak to God about my doubts and pain. In fact, God is the best person to receive all of my laments.
Psalm 42 shows us that we can express doubt and sadness while also paradoxically expressing hope and confidence in God. The writer addresses his or her own soul: "Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise [God], For the help of [God's] presence."
The psalm also closes with the same mixture of discouragement and confidence, "Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise [God], The help of my countenance and my God."
It is possible to acknowledge our pain and doubt and also express confidence in God even though we may not feel that confidence at the moment. Sometimes people of faith get the message that its not OK to express doubts, discouragement or anger. But the Bible teaches us (especially the Psalms) to be genuine about our human emotions during prayer.
Who are we kidding if we think we need to clean up our prayers before God? God is God and God knows us better than we know ourselves. Psalm 42 tells it like it is: "I will say to God, my rock, 'Why have you forgotten me?"
If you think God has forgotten you, tell God just what you think. Be authentic. If you can't be honest with God, with whom can you be honest? Hope in God, for we will yet praise God.