Reflection on Psalm 143

Mornings with chronic illness are hard. I rise slowly, no less tired than I was when I climbed into bed nine hours ago, taking a moment here to flex ankles and elbows, another there to try to work the kinks out of my neck, all the while assessing which muscles are most sore, which joints most stiff and painful this day. Depression sits on the edge of the mattress beside me, observing that I have a progressive disease – one that won’t be cured but will, in fact, worsen the longer I live with it.

But there is a husband, a teenager, a grandchild who requires my attention, so I push myself up and face the day, thankful that at least the heat of Texas summer is finally ending and it will be pleasant to sit on the patio for a while.

Psalms. Coffee. Porch swing time. Somehow, breathing outside in the relative quiet, reading the well-worn words, nourishes me enough to go on with a small modicum of grace.

I’ve been reading the Psalms for nearly fifty years now, never dwelling long on the ones about battles and vengeance; they seem far removed from my modern, mostly suburban American life.

But as I read Psalm 143 this morning, my foggy brain gradually came to realize that David was not necessarily talking about a human foe here: “For the enemy has pursued my soul;” “he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead;” “my spirit faints within me.” These sentiments feel true in my own despondency. Is the man after God’s own heart, perhaps, praying these words in his own time of overwhelming weariness and sadness?

He goes on to declare, “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done.” And I do. I know that God has acted on my behalf in the past, that he has previously rescued me not only from physical dangers, but from blinding black sorrows and feelings of despair. I know, but I can’t feel it right now. “Answer me quickly, O Lord! My spirit fails!”

“Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,” please, just a wisp of hope somewhere in the breeze, a reminder of joy in the chickadees’ chatter, “for in you I trust,” because it has been the pattern of my years, because I don’t know what else to do, because in spite of everything, I do still believe you hold me in your hands.

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