David. Now there was a man who knew the mountain top (“I have seen you in your sanctuary and gazed upon your power and glory…your unfailing love is better to me than life itself…you satisfy me more than the richest of foods…I think how much you have helped me…your strong right hand holds me securely.” Psalm 63). God called him a man after his own heart. Can you just imagine the intimacy he shared with God?
But when I’m in the psalms, drinking in the emotion, the heartache, the accusations of abandonment by God, I jump back to the start of the one that has touched a nerve and my heart tightens a little with excitement, with relief at four little words: A psalm of David. Because David, he knew the valley.
I find myself imagining a date with David. David would have been my friend; raw, emotional, real. We sit and I tell him of my valley experiences, and he nods and rolls his eyes or squeezes my arm to comfort me at just the right moments – because he gets the valley.
“That thing where you feel God has forgotten about you? That!”
“That thing where you feel he doesn’t see, doesn’t hear what you’re going through? That!”
“That thing where he feels so far from you but so close to everyone around you? That!”
“That thing where you just don’t know what you did wrong? Why he left? That!”
And, on our imaginary date, David takes hold of my bible, picks up a highlighter pen – it’s green, fluorescent – and turns to the psalms in which he poured out his heart to our father: on his knees, in the cave, in the cold, blinded by his tears. He scrawls fast, urgent lines through his agonised, confused and hurt words.
“How long, O Lord, until you restore me?…I am worn out from sobbing, every night tears drench my bed.” Psalm 6
“O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way?” Psalm 13
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why do you remain so distant? Why do you ignore my cries for help? Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer…do not stay so far from me.” Psalm 22
“Please help me; don’t refuse to answer me, for if you are silent, I might as well give up and die.” Psalm 28
“When can I come and stand before him? Day and night I have only tears for food, while my enemies continually taunt me, saying, ‘Where is this God of yours?’…Why am I so discouraged? Why so sad…O God my rock, I cry, ‘Why have you forsaken me? Why must I wander in darkness?’”
“O God…don’t be silent and aloof.” Psalm 109
I was driving the day after my imaginary date with David, up the long, steep hill of Stockingstone Road and the sun, bright and blinding and welcome on that cold November afternoon, burst into my car as I veered to the left. It was hard to see, I was squinting and fiddling with the shade above my head: pulling it down, back up a little, down again, up an inch. Still the sun pierced through my window, through and around the hand I held in front of my eyes, at the side of my face, against the glass; there was no escape. No matter how I tried to block it out, the light came in.
And I found myself imagining a second date with David, only this time he holds a red highlighter pen, sits beside me and flips open my bible to Psalm 139, his, and in thick, determined strokes shows me what he, the man after God’s own heart, had learned from his times in the valley.
“I can never escape from your spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven you are there;
If I go down to the place of the dead, you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, EVEN THERE your hand will guide me and your strength will support me.
I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night, but even in the darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
Darkness and light are both alike to you.”
He takes my hand, extends my index finger, jabs it at two words, over and over, smiling: EVEN THERE.
In the valley: EVEN THERE
In the darkness: EVEN THERE
In the despair: EVEN THERE
In the loneliness: EVEN THERE
In the depression: EVEN THERE
In the fear you’ll never get up to the mountain top again (you will): EVEN THERE
Written by Karen, a member of Hope Church Luton