This semester, I have had the opportunity to take a course at Johnson University that delves into the Psalms. During this course, we have discussed many different things, ranging from the structure of Hebrew poetry to the implementation of the Psalms in modern worship.
One thing that we focused on heavily was a paradigm proposed by Walter Bruggeman. Bruggeman claims that Psalms can be classified into three groups: Psalms of Orientation, Psalms of Disorientation, and Psalms of New Orientation.
-Psalms of Orientation are prayed when things are God and we are able to reflect on God’s goodness and His nature.
-Psalms of Disorientation are prayed when life is hard and we are angry/upset with God. These prayers are cries from the deepest parts of our hearts to a God who feels distant.
-Psalms of New Orientation are prayed on the heels of the events that cause distress. After God has delivered us from times of despair, we cry out in thanksgiving to a God who was never absent or distant. These prayers are full of thanks and gratitude for deliverance.
As part of this course, we were to write one of each of these psalms. The goal was to incorporate the things that we had learned and discover a new way to connect and pray to God. This was a really cool thing to take part in. I sat down to write my psalms, not expecting to engage very deeply with the hurts in my past. Dr. Owens encouraged us to deal with these tough issues and allow this to be a formative experience.
Man. It sure was.
The psalm of orientation was easy to write, but when I came to the psalm of disorientation, I felt a lump form in the back of my throat.
I thought of my brother, Titus.
For those of you that do not know, several years ago, my family began the process of adoption. We had discussed it as a family and decided that if there was a child that needed a home, we would be willing to take them in and love on them. As we moved forward with the process, we got connected with a mother who was debating whether to get an abortion or give her son up for adoption. The clinic that she went to was designed to show mothers in these situations that their child was “meant to be” and that God had a plan for them.
In the end, the mother decided to let us adopt her son. I was stoked. I have always loved being an older brother and the thought of getting to watch another brother grow up excited me. He was supposed to be born in October of 2013 and my family had decided to name him Titus. I was excited to welcome my brother, Titus, into the world and “show him the ropes.” I was excited to have a new addition to my growing family. I was excited to provide a home to a child who needed one. I was excited.
In July of 2013, we got a phone call that was hard to hear. Some tough stuff went down and Titus had died. I won’t go into specifics out of respect for the mother, but it was a brutal situation in every aspect. She felt trapped. She felt alone and ostracized. In the end, my family was left broken hearted at the death of this family member that we had never even met.
I spent days and weeks in a funk. I was angry at God. I was angry at Titus’s mother. I was angry at life in general.
Why God? Why did you allow this to happen to me?
The feelings that I had were painful, but it wasn’t until this week that I realized how deeply they had ingrained themselves in my heart. As I prepared to read my psalm of disorientation (written out of the pain of losing Titus), I didn’t expect to get emotional. As I began to give a little backstory to my classmates, I felt the lump sneak up into the back of my throat. I had to pause for a moment. I continued to read and continued to pause to keep from tearing up. At one point, I gave in and started to read the psalm between tears and bated breath.
My God, where have you gone?
Why have you deserted me?
O God, if you are good, hear my cry!
Do not turn your face from me,
Do not let my petition fall on deaf ears.
I find myself with my back against the wall
My allies and enemies are approaching, swords drawn.
I have nowhere to turn,
Surely this is the end.
Were you not present when the Israelites cried out to you?
You delivered them and provided for them!
You carried them out of Egypt and back from exile.
I know that, despite the hurt and loneliness I feel,
That you are with me,
That you will never forsake me.
But how long, Lord, am I to wait for deliverance?
I know that you are good and faithful,
I know your providence full well.
Restore and rescue me, Lord
I am weak and hurting, in desperate need of you!
I made my way slowly through this agony-filled prayer. After I finished, I sat motionless with tears trickling down my face. This event was still fresh and painful. In that moment, I felt as if I had been transported back into the moment I found out that Titus had died. On top of that, I was embarrassed that I had cried in front of a classroom of people (which wasn’t a big deal. People were awesome and supportive). Through my pain and agony, I could see others connect with the feelings of hurt and desperation that I had felt.
I believe that it is important to pray these prayers. I believe that it is important that we pray these prayers individually, but also corporately. By engaging in these prayers as one body of believers, the prayers of one person become the prayers of the entire church. There is, I believe, no stronger remedy for disunion and division in the church than this.
But the prayers don’t end with disorientation. And neither does life.
Just a few short months after Titus passed away, my family got a call about a young boy that was born just a few towns over. His home situation was less than ideal and was going to enter into the foster care system if someone did not adopt him. My family said that we would adopt him.
That phone call took place on September 27th. Titus was supposed to be born in early October.
My family had everything ready to adopt, so we were able to move quickly. Max was born on September 27th, 2013. On October 1st, 2013, he was home. Safe and sound. God had provided in ways that I cannot fully articulate and continues to use Max as a blessing.
Since Max joined my family, I have gained stronger relationships with an amazing step-brother and step-sister. I have gotten to see Andrew become a great older brother. I have gotten to see my mom and Tony raise a child together (of which Tony is a fantastic father). I have gotten to experience joy in the life of my brother. I have seen him overcome obstacle after obstacle and be able to live a life free from any setbacks. I have gotten to watch him grow from a baby into a young kid who runs around, screaming about dinosaurs, tractors, and Daniel & the lion’s den. Max is a tremendous blessing. Max is the answer to a prayer. Out of heartache for Titus, God prepared me and my family for what remained ahead with Max.
As I moved from disorientation to new orientation, a new sense of peace flooded over my body:
Praise the Lord!
Where were you in my time of trouble?
You were ever-present with me.
You have never left my side.
O God, I was lost and hurting.
I was broken and bleeding.
I was heartbroken at the death of Titus,
but you made my heart rejoice in you once more!
I spent my days in anguish, I spent my nights crying out to you in despair
And you answered! Lo and behold, you answered.
Oh Lord, you have rescued me from the depths.
You put a new song on my lips,
You set a fire ablaze on my heart.
Each day, I am more amazed by your love and constancy.
Never once have you deserted me.
Never once have you turned your ears from me.
Like a rushing wind or a mighty wave
Is your love for me.
Like a gentle whisper or a soft breeze
Is your faithfulness.
Your scandalous grace overwhelms my soul,
Your rich mercy surrounds my heart.
I will praise the Lord all the days of my life!
Life is more than the good times or the bad times. It is important that we understand that there is constant movement. We are to worship God and praise Him for who He is in spite of all that has gone on. Very few times has worship or prayer affected me so deeply as this experience. Sometimes, we don’t even realize the weight of the things that we are carrying around. So sit down. Reflect. Talk to God about the hurts and pains that are deep within you. Maybe you’ve experienced a broken home. Maybe you feel betrayed by friends or family. Maybe you don’t feel God moving and seek desperately to hear Him again.
Wherever you are at, the psalms provide us with an opportunity. We are able to speak to God from a place of vulnerability that is unrivaled. We are able to speak to Him out of frustration and anger and remain confident that He will never desert us. God did not desert me when Titus died. God has never left me and He never will.