I spend the summers with Eugene Peterson. Not face-to-face, but face-to-page. Eugene is my spiritual mentor whose life and personality and spiritual giftedness are perhaps more starkly different from mine than any of my other mentors. He sees the world through an entirely different lens than I, and, therefore, his mentorship is invaluable to me. Upside-downing. Tearing me up. Soul-rewiring.
I cannot explain how it is that I look so forward to and also simultaneously dread so vomitously my time with Eugene each summer. I am beginning to think it is neither my fault, nor Eugene’s. I have a hunch that that is just what the Gospel does in my heart and life when it is at its greatest Power.
Anyway, I recently finished Eugene’s Answering God: Using the Psalms as Tools for Prayer. A short volume, just 10 relatively short chapters.
The main narrative from Answering God that is still washing over my mind and heart and prayers is the permission to pray unedited prayers, as the psalmists model for us over and over again. Apparently, God can take it. (More on that later.)
Also, Eugene just told me to start praying the Psalms. Just practice, he said. So I started practicing. Just reading them as prayers to God. Just one at a time, almost every day.
And then. In the week after I finished Answering God, the unexpected death of a late teenager in my extended circle of friends and spiritual family dropped a tragic grenade of emotion, pain, empathy, tears… into all of our hearts.
But I was already practicing praying the psalms. And what had occasionally felt dull became absolutely necessary and absolutely relevant and carried me through in a way that felt other-worldly. It wasn’t that I was pain-free. In fact, I am sure that the psalms deepened the pain for me. But He was, and is, and is to come. And so I can be.
Here are a few excerpts from a few of the psalms I read during those precious weeks. Weeks I will never forget.
Psalm 80: 5, 19
You have fed [your people] with the bread of tears
and given them tears to drink in full measure.
Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, that we may be saved!
Steadfast love and faithfulness meet;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Psalm 90:9-10, 12, 14-17
For all our days pass away under your wrath;
we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands!
Much love and psalm-prayers for you, my brothers and sisters who may be in special need of them today,