“Spiritual Dehydration: Finding Faith in a Psalmist’s Lament”

Psalm 42:1-5

It has been a difficult couple of months for my wife, Anna, and I. Back in June, she started to have some major digestive problems, which eventually landed her in the hospital for eight days. After multiple visits to the ER, many, many tests, procedures, and multiple medications, they still don’t seem to be 100 percent sure what is going on, though all of her doctors agree that it is some form of colitis. As you can imagine, this was quite a shock for an otherwise very healthy 28-year-old and her husband of only four months!

Though this has been a challenging time for us, I am grateful for the support that the church has provided us in prayers, well-wishes, visits, cards, text messages, phone calls, and emails. I am also grateful for the faith that Anna and I have relied on during this journey. We have certainly seen God at work in how our church family has cared for us. We know that God is walking beside us, and that when we’re in pain, God also feels that pain. Back in July, whenever Anna would have to go back to the emergency room after another episode, I would turn to the Psalms, or the “Hebrew songbook,” as one of my mentors describes it. One night, I was reading a familiar passage in Psalm 42, and God spoke to me through this scripture in a way that I had not noticed before.

The familiar passage that you’ve probably sung before is in verses 1 and 2: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” Usually, I stop there and then sing the familiar hymn, “As the Deer,” but this time, I kept reading. In my Bible, I noticed the heading for Psalm 42, which told me that this psalm is actually a lament, and that it was written by “the sons of Korah,” whoever they were… Intrigued, I kept reading:

“When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’”

Wow. That took a turn I wasn’t expecting. Usually, I like to focus on the beautiful image of the deer thirsting for water in the same way that I thirst for God’s presence, and how just like a deer drinking from a clear, flowing stream, I can drink from the waters of the Holy Spirit through prayer, worship, etc. But that’s not what this psalmist is talking about. If my research is correct, the “sons of Korah” were descended from Moses’s cousin, Korah, who led a failed revolt against Moses. Years later, Korah’s descendants were looked down upon in Israelite society and they probably lived a hard life. It seems like the writer of Psalm 42 needed to express their grief and frustration at the oppression that they felt, and on those dark nights in the hospital, sitting next to my wife and praying that she would be able to at least drink a single drop of water, it was comforting to read a passage that put words to how I was feeling. Anna could go days without food, but just like the deer, she needed water every single day. And just like Anna, my spiritually dehydrated soul needed to feel the presence of God.

On my second reading of Psalm 42, I decided not to focus on verses 1 and 2. I also tried not to focus on the following two verses, where the psalmist laments their many woes. Instead, I turned to verse 5: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Even in the darkest of times, the psalmist still lifts praises to God. Even though they don’t know what the future holds, they still put their hope, their faith, in the living God. And even though I didn’t know (and still don’t know) what path God will lead Anna and I on in the future, we will continue to put our trust in the One who has cared for us so far, and the One who will continue to carry us through these difficult times. On that night in the hospital, this downtrodden psalmist, writing thousands of years ago, inspired me in their approach to their struggles, and I pray that by sharing the difficult couple of months that we have had, I might inspire someone to put their hope in God as well.

By the way, Anna is doing much better! She walked all the way to the end of our block and back last week, which was the first time that she has walked that far for several weeks. One the way back, she noticed the beautiful sunset, so of course, I had to take a picture – I think that might have been a little “God-wink,” reminding us that God is there, always watching over us.

By: Steven Thomason, Minister of Traditional Worship

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