"I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him." Psalm 40:1-3
The church I attend chooses a Psalm each month- we sing it weekly and reflect on it over the course of the month. It's been a rich activity for me to sit in a passage much longer than I usually do, and I am amazed at the depth of meaning that can come from a single verse or verses. This month it is Psalm 40, and as I was meditating on the first few verses I saw some important things that apply to the human condition, especially those seeking counseling.
What Does a Pit Look Like?
Many of us can relate to being in a slimy pit. Every time I read this passage, I get a clear image of being trapped at the bottom of a well, sitting in sludge. This is a helpless position. When you are in a pit, there's nothing you can do to get out. This is where many of us go astray- we continue to pretend we are either not in a pit or that we can thrash about enough or keep devising schemes to get out. As long as we're doing any of this, we aren't getting out. If you read any of my other entries, you'll see that I regularly harp on the dangers of denial and defensiveness, because I see those behaviors as incredibly damaging to a person's ability to grow and receive help. So it is in this Psalm. We must acknowledge we are in the pit and be willing to be lifted out.
Second, I think this language of slime and mud is important. There's something about being in the pit that causes us to feel shamed and dirty about it- this is especially true if it relates to sexual behavior, but it also applies to depression, anxiety, or any other ongoing struggle we wish we could just shake off. Sexual sin and abuse can cause us to feel slimed unlike anything else, even when we intellectually know that the abuse wasn't our fault or that we've been forgiven. It leaves an emotional experience of being dirty. We feel that we can never confess or be forgiven, and nothing can quiet the voice of self contempt that runs through our minds all day long each day. This Psalm understands the human condition, how we all feel that we are stuck in the mud if we stop and are honest about who we are and what's happened to us. This is what being willing to be helpless uncovers, and I understand why many don't want to look at it.
How Do We Get Out?
So what is our responsibility? Verse 1 tells us to wait, and it also tells us to keep talking to God and crying out for help. It's important to note here that you could be waiting a long time. Suffering is often mysterious and goes on much longer than we would want it to, then at other times it is lifted quickly. If you haven't acknowledged the reality of the pit, and you aren't waiting for help, you likely will be so busy devising plans and struggling that you will not be calling out to God. You will be stuck in a fruitless loop of self defeating behavior. Start by being honest with those close to you about where you are mentally and emotionally. Ask for prayer and don't try to come up with immediate solutions. This Psalm, like many others, tells us that God turns toward us when we cry out to him. He is then the one who accomplishes the lifting out as well as supplying us with a new song to sing once we are on solid ground again.
Once you have been lifted out, it can be easy to end up back in the sludge. In some ways that is our default mode, to climb back down into the pit and return to the old addiction, the old behavior pattern, the old negative thoughts. We avoid this by singing a new song- this means many things, more than I can unpack here, but for starters it means to be grateful and to continue talking about and focusing on God's amazing work of bringing you out of the pit. When you lose gratitude, you are already starting to climb into the pit and sing your old song of resentment, hopelessness, bitterness, denial, and false trust in yourself. When you're grateful, you remain aware of the pit and your dependence on God to stay out of it.
This is very good news, and I love how clear and practical the bible presents itself to be when we slow down and read it verse by verse to see what it is telling us! We know that God is in the business of pulling people out of pits, because that is what Jesus' life, death, and resurrection was all about. He descended into the pit for us so that we could have a solid rock to stand on. This is our fundamental state when we accept Christ- He is our rock and our salvation. It is because of this that Jesus is committed to continuing to climb down and lift us out each time we crawl back in.
If you're in the pit right now, please keep waiting patiently, and keep crying out and acknowledging the desperateness of your condition. Be willing to feel the pain of your situation, whether you caused it or it was done to you. Be willing to wait longer than you would choose to if you were the one in control. Help has come. We've seen it on the cross and we know it will come again. Now we are grateful whether we are in the pit or out of it. This is the victory of the Christian life.