Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Heavy Souls: Step by Step (Part 2)

I know it doesn’t look like it, but I used to be in pretty good shape, when I was a lean, mean fighting machine – though not anything like the John Candy fighting machine you see in the 1981 movie Stripes, which made that phrase popular.

At one point I lifted weights, when I was increasing my protein by eating a regular diet of canned tuna and crackers. I learned quickly, that as you push the limits lifting weights, how important it is to have a spotter – someone who is watching closely in case your strength reaches it limits and the weight begins to drop down on your chest.

I also learned that a spotter has a relatively easy job. When the weight stops half way up and you suddenly can’t give anything more to get it back on the rack, it’s amazing what a simple two fingers can do. Two fingers are usually all that’s needed to help you press the weight back in place.

The reality is that many of us are holding a lot of weight (emotional, relational, spiritual, financial), and we’ve tried to handle it on our own, but the weight is bearing down on our souls.

Much has been written about how our generation has the highest percentage of people dealing with a constant, low-grade depression; people live with a constant heaviness of soul, and many don’t even know why. The heaviness is like getting the weight stuck at half-way, and for many your arms are beginning to shake, and your strength is waning.

The reality is that many of us are facing the weight of the world without a spotter. 

We feel the weight of hurts from the past. The weight of present troubles that remind us of what Jesus said, “Each day has enough trouble of its own.” We often feel the weight of anxiety, the weight of uncertainty, and the weight of the unknown about what lies ahead (or behind).

In Psalm 42 we find a companion, a friend whose own experience reminds us that a heavy soul is not a new phenomenon. It contains the music of a singer experiencing the weight of a heavy soul. He longs for God, but feels unable to come into his presence. He’s experiencing intense grief to such a degree that he says, “My tears have been my food.” The foundations of his faith are under attack. His soul is downcast and disturbed. Here is one who is dealing with depression, discouragement, and anxiety that verges on the edge of fear and despair.

He is familiar with the experience of worship, which is important because it says to us that he is no stranger to God – which reminds us that our faith in Jesus and our determined desire to follow his ways doesn’t provide a magic barrier to a heavy soul (or anything else for that matter).

Though a heavy soul is a part of living – even for the living faith of Jesus’ followers – a heavy soul doesn't have to define our lives. 

The question is how do we respond?

For some of us, medication will be the added variable that helps us cross into a new sense of ourselves. But for many of us – and actually even those who need such doctor’s care – there is a way of responding that is like utilizing the weightlifter’s spotter at that moment when your arms are about to give way.

Practically speaking, we can respond by giving expression to how we feel. Isn’t this the very thing the psalmist is doing here for us? Speaking out – getting his deep sadness, his doubt, outside of himself so that it no longer has the power to move him in ways he does not understand. This psalm would have been a regular liturgical offering for a community in worship, and so it also helps us give expression to how we feel.

Have we ever really resolved a thing by bottling it up and capping it with a cork? We are bound to blow. What good do masks serve among the gathering of God’s people? So speak what is in your heart – what the psalmist means, I think, by “putting your hope in God” - even as we trust one another.

I say to God my Rock,
    “Why have you forgotten me?

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?

More than anything, this clear intimacy with God – where the guide for relationship is simply authenticity, transparency and vulnerability – is what begins to bring things into perspective. This unfiltered expression to God of how he feels becomes the antidote for the singer’s heavy soul.

In the middle of this psalm and then again at the end, amidst his deep sadness, look what is also finding a place, see what else finds room within himself:

Put your hope in God.
    Once again I will have reason to praise him.
    He is my Savior and my God.

My spirit is very sad deep down inside me.
    So I will remember you here where the Jordan River begins.

I have a friend who stops by my office. We share the troubles we experience, the stories of our lives that are bearing down on our heavy souls. Sometimes it’s me straining under the weight of a life I cannot lift back into place. Sometimes he is doing the heavy lifting of how hard things have been. He often says as he is leaving my office in a long Texas drawl: “Step by step; one foot in front of the other, right?” And I respond like a member at worship, “That’s right. Step by step; one foot in front of the other.”

I guess it sounds a little corny, but he is my spotter, and I am his. With two fingers he helps me push through the weak moments of a heavy soul, and he says I do as much for him.

We are for each other what the psalmist is for himself.

It’s almost like he’s telling himself that what he knows he needs to do - even though it’s perhaps the last thing he wants to do – is going to be what he simply will do.

Put your hope in God
(Step by step…)
Put your hope in God
(One foot in front of the other…)