Something strange happened to me this spring—my heart grew hard like stone. When I first noticed, I thought maybe I was standing on the edge of a depression, but it didn’t feel like depression. It was just that my heart was cold—I lacked the warmth necessary to cry over hard things in my life or to laugh deep belly laughs. I tried ignoring it, hoping it would go away; surely it was simply a season. Maybe I was tired or overdoing life. Maybe it was a sensory overload and if I took a break from social media, my heart would thaw. Maybe I needed to get away.
Time passed, and my heart remained cold.
We ran to our favorite mountain spot for a week, and while it was delightful, the mountain air and quiet time didn’t provide the magical cure I hoped for. I read in-depth articles about victims of violence, Syrian children who had lost everything, martyrs in the Middle East. I thought that if I encountered something sad enough, horrifying enough, tragic enough, then maybe the dam would break, forcing the sobs—a river of hot tears to melt my heart.
My heart was still hard, and it seemed to be getting worse—there was a pressure building up that made it difficult to interact with others on an emotional level of any kind. I felt apathetic except that I was bothered by my own apathy. When my babies were angry or upset about something, I felt robotic in my responses to them. When friends shared happy news with us, I had to tell myself to smile and congratulate them. When we would pray for our hurting families and community at church, the compassionate voice of our assistant pastor shaking with emotion, I bowed my head in duty and forced agreement.
What had happened to me?
I became obsessed with diagnosing myself, anxiety uncharacteristically creeping into my mind. I considered seeing a counselor. I asked Aaron what he thought was wrong. I tried writing a blog post about it to ask your advice—no words came. I sent prayers to God like automated emails. Please help me. Something is wrong. I don’t want to be this person.
I finally confided to Caitlin that I was unable to engage my own emotion anymore—that I wasn’t sure I even had them. She listened quietly and prayed for me and offered this sweet simplicity: Pray. Keep praying. Tell God exactly how you feel. Don’t hold back. Journal. Dig into the Psalms.
Over the course of our conversations, hope took root; perhaps I wasn’t a lost cause after all. Perhaps I hadn’t gone so far on the side of apathy that I couldn’t go back to sympathy or even empathy.
I asked Aaron for 20 minutes after dinner one night alone in our room. I pulled out my Bible and my trusty journal. Since my prayers didn’t seem to be connecting my heart to my mind, I started with Psalm 1, reading it a few times until I was able to put words to it regarding my own heart. It felt mechanical at first. I jotted my prayer down, distracted by my stiffness and the strange fact that I could feel awkward when it was only me and Jesus. But I did start to relax a bit. Focusing on God’s Word made me pause and take my eyes off myself. Reading the Psalmist’s thoughts freed me from having to form my own. I could spiritually rest and not worry about the temperature of my heart. I could simply engage the heart of the Psalms.
I was hooked.
I didn’t have some epiphany or powerful moment in which I cried and cried and then everything was fine. But I did have 20 minutes in which my heart was able to relax. Every day, I stole away for those sweet moments, glanced at the next few Psalms, and picked one to pray and journal about. And you know what? God met me there. God met me in my weakness, in my frustration, in my doubt. He met me in my anger and started to slowly soften the rock that had replaced my heart. He reminded me of his faithfulness to his children, that he is our refuge, that there is no condemnation in him. At all.
And then he revealed the big secret: my heart was cold because I was scared.
After grieving Kara for a year, I had found my new normal. I was starting to understand what life without Kara’s physical presence would be like, and I felt the fog of grief lifting. Yet as that fog lifted, I was slammed with images of other crises. Far-off crises, horrific, unimaginable crises. And it scared me. I didn’t know how to grieve these tragedies or engage the fear and sadness that overwhelmed me.
Walking the long goodbye with Kara taught me how to lament—how to grieve with hope. There was never a day—never a moment!—that I didn’t live out of the hope of Kara’s restoration in Christ and seeing her again someday. There was never a day that my pain overshadowed my hope.
But what about these terrible things that happen all around us? These things that have terrible endings and no foreseeable redemption? What do we do with them?
As I plow through the Psalms, I am coming to understand that we have a choice: we can grieve as those who don’t have hope, or we can mourn brokenness with the hope of Christ. We can lament. What does that mean? That means understanding and trusting that what God promises will come true—he will make sadness and brokenness come undone. It means that we fight to have faith in a God who is good, even when things don’t look good. That we choose joy because we know that God is in the redemption business and that the story he is telling will have a tremendously wonderful ending, an ending beyond our greatest imaginings.
Many of us find companionship in the Psalms and the way the Psalmist articulates the aches of his soul—they resonate with our own souls’ cries, but then they go a step further. After the exclamation of anguish, the Psalmist’s focus turns from his pain to his God; the tone changes from grieving to celebrating as the writer transitions from expressing distress to choosing joy. Again and again, the Psalmist reminds himself (and us) that God is bigger than our pain, that God is our refuge, that God is our source of steadfast love.
As I process the tragedies in our world and attempt to engage our hurting neighbors and face our own challenges, I don’t have to wait for a solution or for healing to find joy. I don’t have to sit around and wonder if God will show up before I can hope. I—we—can hope right now, today. It’s not a magic fix that makes me feel all better, but it’s a seed that I pray will take root and eventually grow to overwhelm my fears and anxieties, and that will spill over into my conversations and interactions with others. And it starts today, simply with my choosing joy and trusting Jesus. Redemption is coming; our pain will become undone; our hearts can venture to hope.
What struggles are you wrestling with today? What pains and hurts and tragedies are preventing you from choosing hope? What Psalm encourages you in how you can relate to it? Are you willing to pray a simple prayer today asking God to help you believe in his coming redemption?