How Long, O Lord?

Rev. Deborah Dail

Denbigh United Presbyterian Church

Psalm 13

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?

How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I bear pain in my soul,

and have sorrow in my heart all day long?

How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!

Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,

and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”;

my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.

But I trusted in your steadfast love;

my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.

I will sing to the Lord,

because he has dealt bountifully with me.

 

Sermon

Yesterday on my walk at Yorktown Beach, I saw a sign that read “Spread out and smile. This is only for a while.”

My question is: “How long is a while?”

This week, I’ve had more people voice aloud to me what we’re all wondering: “How long is this going to go on?” “Will things ever get better?” We are feeling more and more like the children in the back seat of the car asking: “Are we there yet?”

The longevity of the pandemic is wearing on everyone.   And, of course, it’s not just the pandemic. We are all dealing with other things in our lives that cause us to ask: “How long, O Lord?” “How long must we wait?” “How long is a while?” “Why aren’t we there yet?”

How long, O Lord, until I get some answers about my perplexing and painful health issues? How long, O Lord, until I get a job that pays enough and provides enough benefits so I can support and care for my family? How long, O Lord, until the doctors and therapists can help my debilitating depression? How long, O Lord, until my marriage gets better? How long until I get over the divorce? How long, O Lord, will children continue to be abused or trafficked? How long, O Lord, until there is justice for all? How long until I can beat this addiction? How long until the grief of losing my child . . . of losing my husband/wife . . . of losing my parents . . . how long until that gets easier? How long, O Lord?

Psalm 13 is a Lament Psalm. It’s the honest prayer of someone not so different from us. The writer is forthright in speaking to God directly. He expresses what we may feel at times or perhaps feel right now. “God, have you forgotten me? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?”

I suspect we’ve all felt forgotten at one time or another – forgotten by God, forgotten by family, forgotten by friends. It’s a very lonely feeling. Often, when we feel forgotten, we isolate ourselves further. “I’m not going to call my friend since she hasn’t called me.” “I’m not going to call my son because he hasn’t called me in months. Or, in the case of our relationship with God, we shut down and stop talking to God when we feel God has forgotten us. In both our human relationships and our relationship with God, to alienate and isolate is not the answer, although admittedly it is a choice that requires less vulnerability.

The writer of Psalm 13 shows us a different way. Despite his frustration with God, despite his feeling that he’s been forgotten, he still talks to God. He gets real with God. He gets honest. He shares his raw feelings with God. And so can we. A woman from my former church in Elkton used to say: “I’m never sure if my prayers get beyond the ceiling, but I keep praying.”

“How long will you forget me?” “How long must I bear pain in my soul and have sorrow in my heart?” “How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” I imagine this person screaming at God and shaking his fist at God as he asks these questions. “Look at me, God. Answer me, God.”

We don’t really know what happened next for the person praying this prayer between verses 4 and 5. One minute he’s “letting God have it,” pouring out his complaints and his deepest pain and the next verse he’s praising God. What’s up with that?

Did God answer his prayers? Did things get better? Did God reveal himself in some powerful way? We don’t know. We don’t know how much time passed between the writing of the first part of the Psalm and the last 2 verses which say: “I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”

Is it possible that in the same prayer we can both complain to God about God’s absence – his falling asleep on the job – beg for help from God, and also praise God? Can God take all that from us? Yes. God is involved in and cares about all the experiences of our lives, all the feelings we have about God, about ourselves, and about others.

Martin Luther said of this Psalm – this prayer: The stance of this prayer is the “state in which Hope despairs, and yet Despair hopes at the same time.” (Psalms, “Interpretation” series, James L. Mays, p. 80)

Friends, God is eager to hear from us . . . whatever is on our hearts and minds . . . the questions, the doubts, the accusations, the anger, the pain. I usually find that when I’m real with God, there is a shift in my heart and mind – sometimes just a tiny shift, but a shift all the same. Even when answers to my prayers don’t come, I somehow find myself remembering God’s steadfast love and salvation. I somehow remember how God has shown up and helped me in the past. Sometimes the shift is even toward seeing ways that God has been showing up in my current circumstances that I could not see before.

“Are we there yet?” No, we are not. What can we do while we wait? What can we do even as we cry out “How long, O Lord?”

Our tendency to go into either fight or flight mode. We fight God, we fight with ourselves, we fight with others. Or, we isolate from God and others. We shut down.

We are watching this play out over and over again during these very difficult times. What can we do instead of fighting or fleeing/isolating from God and others even as we cry out “How long, O Lord?”

This prayer attributed to St. Francis is perhaps the best way to use our time as we wait. “Lord, make me a channel of your peace.” Bill Martin will now sing it for us.

Make me a channel of your peace.

Where there is hatred let me bring your love.

Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord

And where there’s doubt, true faith in you.

Make me a channel of your peace

Where there’s despair in life, let me bring hope

Where there is darkness, only light

And where there’s sadness, ever joy.

 

Oh, Master grant that I may never seek

So much to be consoled as to console

To be understood as to understand

To be loved as to love with all my soul.

 

Make me a channel of your peace

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned

In giving to all men that we receive

And in dying that we’re born to eternal life.

 

Oh, Master grant that I may never seek

So much to be consoled as to console

To be understood as to understand

To be loved as to love with all my soul.

 

Make me a channel of your peace

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned

In giving to all men that we receive

And in dying that we’re born to eternal life.