Your Nothing Is Something
I’ve been meditating on the same Psalm now for two weeks. Thanks to Sandra McCracken’s music, the text of Psalm 43 plays in my head throughout the day and when I awaken in the night. This phrase caught my interest recently in light of some counsel I was given:
Send out your light and your truth, let them lead me. Bring me to your holy hill, to your dwelling place. Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy…
The counsel I had received was to praise God regardless of how I felt, in spite of the trauma I was experiencing, before I felt healed and whole again. To the mere mind, this sounds insane if not impossible, but it comes from 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Ephesians 5:20, Job 1:21, Psalm 34:1 and Hebrews 13:15 - and a host of other places. It’s not one verse taken out of context. The wisdom contained in it is that God is love and all He does is from that disposition; therefore, He is worthy of my praise regardless of my circumstances or feelings. One glance at a sunset, one moment holding an infant, one whiff of a tea olive is reason for praise. Taking a deep breath, crawling into a warm bed, or lighting a candle at the dinner table is reason for thanksgiving.
And yet, anybody who has had any kind of suffering - and that is everybody - knows that it is hard (read impossible) to do. How do I give thanks or praise elsewhere when all I can think about is not wanting to be where I am and how I can get out of it or over it? How do I make myself thank God for circumstances that I do not want?
After two weeks on this same text, I finally saw two things that were key for me. The first is what I believe about God. Do I believe that God is love and that all He does is from that disposition? It’s the first thing we learn as toddlers if we are raised to believe. God is love. Two-year-olds say it. And yet, the root of so many of my issues, is that right there: Do I really believe He loves me? God loves me?
I do. I’ve struggled half (or more) of my life to get there because I blamed God for a lot of other people’s messes and most of my own, but I have finally come to believe that all He does is motivated by love. He can be no other. I’ve returned to my two-year-old theology: God is love.
So then, how do I praise and thank him when my life doesn’t feel like the warm and fuzzy love I’d expected?
Here is the second thing I saw in Psalm 43: The psalmist asked for light and truth to lead him. He asked for… He is acknowledging his need, confessing he feels lost, in the dark, and can’t tell the truth from the lies.
And then… there is the word “THEN” -He asks to be led to the place of praise.
So that’s how it works. I’m supposed to give thanks in everything according to St. Paul.
"I don’t feel like it and I don’t want to," I say.
Enter David in the Psalms, “Ask for help."
The Message translation says, “Give me your lantern and compass. Give me a map, so I can find my way to the sacred mountain”-which is that altar where God becomes one’s exceeding joy.
The first chapter of John tells me that Jesus is the light of the world, and that that light is the life of men. In the fourteenth chapter he claims to be the way, the truth, the life. So the phrase in Psalm 43, “Send our your light and your truth” is to ask for the person of Christ, the incarnate One, the suffering God, the wounded healer, the one who can sympathize with our weakness, to come and lead me to the place of thanksgiving regardless of my circumstances.
I should have known. I should have seen it before. It always come back to the same answer. Jesus said it best himself in John 15, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”
Giving praise to God before I get the outcome I want is impossible for me. That is precisely the point.
One of my wise friends has a saying, “Your nothing is something.” I’ve started about six essays using that phrase and can’t complete them because it is so deeply profound. I know it works here. My nothing, my inability to praise in difficult circumstances is actually something; it’s a starting point, a confession, an open space, an invitation for the Light and the Compass to come in and lead me to the sacred mountain.