For the past few months, I’ve been working on a wind ensemble piece – the fourth in my Psalm Series, based on Psalm 77 – and nothing about it has been easy.
Psalm 77 is one of my favorites – obviously, because I write about it a LOT. (You can read some of my previous thoughts on it here and here.) I think the reason I love it so much is that it’s just so real and honest about doubts, fears, and even anger and bitterness, yet it still shows the path to hope from such a dark place and the resolve to stay committed to God no matter what. You’d think I would be better at this after so long, but nope! I just keep coming back to it, keep learning new things, keep being reminded of things I already know but struggle with actually doing.
In the process of writing this piece, I feel like I have been living Psalm 77 on a number of levels, both in the creative process and in my life in general. Which means it’s been pretty messy. The bad news is there’s a ton of frustration and angst and totally freaking out in the psalm, but the good news is that God is bigger than all of that and it all turns out okay in the end. (Whew!)
With the vast majority of pieces I write, I go through a period of extreme frustration when I feel like giving up, like I’ve just wasted my time and energy for nothing, because I can’t see how such a mess could possibly be crafted into something worthwhile. (And let’s be real, this feeling applies to so much more than just composing!)
The thing is, I know it will turn out, even in the midst of these doubts. I know it because I’ve never had one that didn’t. I know it because I’m too invested in it and too stinking stubborn to let myself give up. I know it because God is faithful and has never let me down before. But knowing things will be okay someday doesn’t make anything better today, and that’s what’s so difficult.
Asaph, the psalmist, knew what it was like to feel this way, too. Check out Psalm 77:7-9:
Will the Lord reject forever?
Will He never show His favor again?
Has His unfailing love vanished forever?
Has His promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has He in anger withheld His compassion?
Now, I think Asaph knew that the answer to all of these questions was a big, fat “NO.” At least that’s what he’d say he believed – but in that moment, that’s not how it felt to him.
So what do we do when we feel like this, when it seems like we can’t reconcile what we know to be true with what we see going on around us? A few months ago, I would have said, as Asaph did, to “remember the deeds of the Lord.” And to some extent, that’s still what I would say, but I’m realizing that it has to go even deeper than that. Clearly, the theme of remembering is HUGE in Psalm 77, but what I’ve been noticing lately is that there are different kinds of remembering. Get this: initially, the psalmist’s despair is not caused by a lack of remembering what God has done, but rather by comparing the goodness of God in the past with the bleakness of his situation in the here and now. He wistfully remembers what God has done, but he doesn’t view the present as if God is still able or willing to do what He did before.
See, remembering can actually make you bitter if it’s not rooted in the truth that God is the same now as He was then. The thing about the past is that we know how it turned out, but it can be hard to maintain confidence in God when it looks like He isn’t showing up.
Right after Asaph finishes asking all his borderline blasphemous questions, he has what I call a “but then moment” – that instantaneous paradigm shift when he realizes that all along the biggest problem was his perspective. At this point, the purpose of his remembering shifts from “I wish…” to “I know.” He no longer compares the past with the present. He simply chooses to believe that the God who performed mighty miracles in the past hasn’t changed, and He is still all-powerful and still in control, even when there seems to be no tangible evidence of it in the world around him at the moment.
Composing this piece has been…painful…difficult…heart-wrenching. Sometimes life is all of those things, too. But I love that God is revealing Himself to me through this process. I love that He is making His Word come alive to me, even when it’s painful, because through that pain, I grow. Through that pain, I get to know God better and learn to depend on Him more.
So I’m writing this to remember. But more than that, I’m writing this to believe.
[August 24, 2015]