When It’s Hard to Pray

Today, like so many other days over the past year, I opened my Bible to Psalm 40. In the margins, written in pencil, is the date 9/13/18, and I pray I always remember what that date means. It’s the day I got my Bible from the security staff at Lakeside. I had to specifically request it because they don’t give you anything but essentials from your belongings unless you ask and only if it passes the safety test (I guess they figured I wasn’t going to try and whack myself or anyone over the head with my Bible). When I was admitted to Lakeside on September 11, 2018, I was unprepared to have to relinquish all of the stuff I packed, and it wasn’t until 2 days later that I realized I could ask to have my Bible. Being without my Bible or any way to read it on my phone (since Lakeside took that away also) felt jarring. I have gone more than 2 days without reading the Bible before, but I felt the loss very acutely being in an unfamiliar, scary setting with unfamiliar people. When I finally did get my beloved Bible, I opened to Psalm 40 first because Stephen had sent that Psalm to me in an email, and I loved everything it said and related so much to its words. I was in a pit and saw no way out, but I hoped and prayed that the Lord would deliver me and set my feet on a rock. I wanted to know that His steadfast love and faithfulness would preserve me and that He does not withhold mercy from me. 

On September 13 I had a hard time believing these things to be true (and sometimes still do, if I’m being honest), but I read the words over and over again nevertheless, underlining them with my stub of a pencil (the only writing implement Lakeside allowed, although I don’t know why because you can totally do some damage with a sharp pencil). I prayed weak but desperate prayers, begging God to help me and be near me and rescue me. I couldn’t believe I was actually in a place like Lakeside. I couldn’t believe that I had come so close to ending my life. And I couldn’t believe–yet–that there was end to the despair that was eating me up from the inside out. But I clung to the words of Psalm 40 and have continued to read them almost every day since September 13.

There have been days when the pain was too deep, when the darkness clouded all rational thought, when I could barely form the words of a prayer. On days like that, I turned to words already written, words expressing better than I could how deep the pit of depression was but also how strong the grip of God is. Praying God’s Word back to Him has been the lifeline I have needed when I feel my grip weakening, when I can’t imagine how to hold on a minute longer. It is in those moments of desperation that He showed me that He always does the work of holding on to me and keeping me under the shadow of His wings while the storm rages. 

One day during my depression found me in the office of my pastor, who has been a  source of counsel and comfort to me. He listened to me tell of my continued despair and doubts in God’s goodness, and he met me with compassion and love. He encouraged me to keep clinging to the Scriptures and to be honest with God about my doubt. He assured me I was not alone. And then he opened his Bible and encouraged me to read Psalm 88 aloud as a prayer to God. I only read two or three verses before I started crying. The words in that Psalm–some of the most depressing words in the whole Bible–mirrored my own feelings so closely that I could not ignore them. I was overcome with the kindness of God, the kindness that led Him to move the writers of the Bible to include such gut-wrenching words. That very same kindness of God led me to my church, to my pastor, to my friends, to my therapist, to my husband–to all of the people who have helped see me through this long darkness. Reading those words back to God as a prayer felt not just like a desperate plea but a holy moment, one on which I can look back and recall the nearness of God at a time when I questioned His very existence. 

On days like today, when hope seems far and troubles so very near, how glad I am to have the Word of God to give voice to the prayers I can’t pray on my own. I can pray Psalm 40 and believe that one day God will put a new song in my mouth, that others will see and put their trust in the Lord. And when that day comes, I will not restrain my lips but will tell of His deliverance.