“Resilience: The Waiting Game”
The Reverend Phillip Blackburn
November 26, 2017
Have you ever scrolled through one of those websites that advertises vacation homes? You know, you type in your destination and what type of place you want, how many bedrooms, whatever, and a bunch of options appear on your screen. One of the preeminent features of most of those places, depending on where you are looking, is the view. Properties love to talk about the view they offer. But interestingly enough, you never find any properties advertising the view they lack. Nobody says, “great guesthouse in my backyard for rent. Dug a hole and stuck it in there,” or “sinkhole opened nearby, built 3 cabins inside, available for rent.” In short, nobody wants to stay, much less live, in the depths.
We are wired for the heights. Scientists have shown that it is our primitive mind that is attracted to a view. When we have a commanding view of the area around us, we feel safer. So we feel safer up on the 20th floor of a building than we do in the basement of that same building. We humans learned a long time ago that it is best to be able to see what is coming. But there is another reason we may not like staying in the depths. That reason is simple because we know that sooner or later, life will take us there.
As a pastor and someone who has been in the depths with quite a few people at this point, I do not have the luxury of pretending life will not deliver hardship. It will. And even if I were so inclined, any careful student of Scripture will know that life has a way of bringing us down. It brought down the Psalmist, as we clearly see here in Psalm 130. He has been laid low. “Out of the depths, I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice.” With these opening words, we know we are in for something serious. This is no whimsical song. This song doesn’t gloss over life, it was not written from the mountaintop with the great view. No, it was written from the basement, from the sinkhole, from the pit, from the depths. And its timelessness is in its honesty. We have all been in the depths before. Some of us are there today. And when we are in there, we wonder, we must, if God has anything to say to us down there; if God can hear us.
The Psalmist pleads for God’s ear. “Let your ear be attentive to the voice of my supplications,” he sings. The first thing that we must do, you see, when we are in the depths, is we must remember that God can still hear us. The depths convince us that we are alone; isolated; trapped. When life has drug us down and laid us low we can come to believe that neither God nor anyone else can hear us down where we are. And worse, we make ourselves feel as though we deserve to be down there. The Psalmist felt that way. After asking God to listen he next asked for forgiveness. There is forgiveness in you, he sings, so that you may be revered.
He asks forgiveness, but I also believe he knows that this is all not exclusively his fault. When ills befall us we often seek blame. Sometimes we blame other people, always a good option when the alternative is yourself, but eventually that is where the blame for the depths land, on ourselves. We blame ourselves. If I had done this thing differently, we think, then this would not have happened. So when we are in the depths we cry out to God, we ask for God’s attention, and we beg forgiveness. We do all these things and they are the first step.
But this sermon is not about the depths. It’s not about living in the depths or surviving in the depths, it is about release from the depth. It is about resilience and finding our way back to the light of day and, perhaps, even the heights.
I remember this time I was backpacking in the Rockies. I was with a group from seminary and we had a night where we were supposed to do a solo, so our leader took us around this clearing and left us, around dinnertime, at a campsite on our own. We were to stay there for 24 hours. Alone. In the woods. We didn’t have any books. There were no phones. We had some food, some water, our gear and a plastic tarp. Then it began to rain. I wrapped myself up in the tarp like a human burrito and then, do you know what I did, I waited. I lay there, hot as could be in the plastic but deciding it was better than being cold and wet, and I slept a little, off and on, but by and large I waited. It was dark, the rain pelted my tarp, it was the only sound. I laid there. It was a long night, but I waited, and eventually, finally dawn broke over the clearing and I could see, across the clearing, arcing into the trees, an almost perfect rainbow, suspended in the sky, welcoming me to the new day.
That’s why I love this Psalm so much. It really is one of my favorites. Long ago I memorized it and I often will repeat it’s opening words to myself or recommend it to people who are in the depths, and I love it for that duplicated line in verse 6. My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning. More than those who watch for the morning. I have watched for the morning before. So have you. And here is the thing about that comparison. The morning is not a matter of chance. It’s not like, if things go well, maybe the sun will rise. No, the morning is an inevitable gift we receive every day. Every night breaks. Every darkness gives way to light. Morning always comes.
And so when we talk about crying out to God from the depths, we don’t talk about it as if something might happen, as if maybe God will come into our lives, or maybe God’s promises will turn out to be true. No. We talk about the darkness of the pit in light of the certainty that dawn will break in our lives, that morning will come, that God will be good.
So if you are in the pit let me say this, and if you are not, please remember this when you next find yourself there over a matter large or small, this will end. You will not spend the rest of your life in the gloom of the depths. Morning will come. It always comes, and with it, each day comes the truth that God is in this world, that God loves you, that God has not abandoned you, and that we are never, ever, without hope. Amen.