I cry while watching game shows.
I don’t always weep, thank goodness. But give me a good victory story and the tears will flow. It can be a game show, a sporting event, a viral video, or even a commercial. When an underdog comes back for the victory, when someone’s face is beaming with surprised joy, or when a crowd erupts in support of a former wallflower, I am undone.
Have you ever seen the video of Heather Dorniden’s college track race? I have forwarded it along, and watched it several times. Yet still, I am choked up when I see it.
When I watch that video, I’m not surprised that she gets up. But then, when she starts to run again, my attention is peaked. I cheer for the girl who refuses to give up. Then, as she runs faster, my heart sings and my eyes swell for the woman who overcomes obstacles and soars past defeat.
Somehow, even though I’ve never met Heather, I feel this victory with her.
David felt stuck for a long time, but now, in Psalm 40 has risen victorious. God has lifted him from the mire, and David sings with thanksgiving.
I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord.
I have told all your people about your justice. I have not been afraid to speak out, as you, O Lord, well know. I have not kept the good news of your justice hidden in my heart; I have talked about your faithfulness and saving power. I have told everyone in the great assembly of your unfailing love and faithfulness. – Psalm 40:1-3, 9-10
David bursts with the news of God’s faithful rescue.
How do you respond when you hear stories of God’s victory in someone’s life?
I want to react the way I do to an underdog sports victory: with cheesy and generous tears of joy. But sometimes, I am cynical instead. I wonder if God really did that, or if it was coincidence. I question why that person received an answer, while someone else is drowning in the questions.
That tendency towards cynicism becomes even stronger if someone's story is spoken with any tone of crisp reasoning or life perfection. Statements of "God saved me when I did this, so He will save you, too" or "God rescued me, and now my life is always wonderful" are sure to make my skin itch with irritation.
Something interesting happens in this Psalm, though, that helps me listen to David with an open heart: it shares of victory and struggle at the same time.
The last of the Psalm is
As for me, since I am poor and needy, let the Lord keep me in his thoughts. You are my helper and my savior. O my God, do not delay. – Psalm 40:17
My first instinct is to be annoyed when a Psalm doesn’t stick with a theme. I want a thanksgiving song to stay happy and joyful. But that’s not real life is it? Life is filled with juxtaposition and tension. We can simultaneously be filled with joy over something God has done and be annoyed over something God is not doing.
And that doesn’t make the thanksgiving any less sincere. In fact, it makes it easier for me to feel the joy of its splendor.
Overcoming one thing does not mean overcoming all things. Pretending that it does subtracts from the beauty of the victory.
What if I told you that the video I linked above is not the final race Heather runs that day, but only one heat? What if I told you that even though she has this amazing triumph in this run, she does not win the final race? Does that make what she accomplished any less remarkable?
I don’t think so.
We can rejoice in each victory on it’s own. We do not need to extrapolate it into a formula for what to expect in the future.
Let us sing a new song for each victory the Lord gives us, and lament a new prayer for each time we need help. Both are beautiful melodies.
Walk through the Psalms is a series working its way through the book of Psalms, one Psalm a week, one post a week, in order. It is grounded in the belief that as Psalms swirl through prayers of pain and praise, they paint a portrait of a life of faith. And, as with any walk, it is better with company; all are welcome to join. To learn more, read this.
I gave up sweets this year for Lent. I am overly dependent on sugary indulgences. When I have a meal, dessert makes it feel complete. When I feel grouchy, chocolate makes me feel better. When my kids take a nap, a treat makes me smile into my aloneness.
I look to sweets for my happiness. Often.
Sweets aren’t bad in and of themselves. But, I am not meant to be dependent upon them for my contentment.
Being one who always looks to solutions for problems, I thought a perfect remedy would be giving them up for Lent.
No chocolate. No candy. No fruit snacks. (Yup, I’ll admit to eating from my kids’ stash of those.) I did, however allow myself to keep putting cream and sugar in my coffee. I don’t understand how people drink it black.
Being one who is an achiever I thought I would have no problem making it to the finish line.
I wanted this denial so that I would pause. Remember. Understand. Sugar may satisfy my sweet tooth, but the only lasting satisfaction comes from Christ alone. He is my source, my contentment, my life.
Thankfully, He is also my wellspring of grace.
Because I failed. In this last week before Easter, I have broken my fast.
I could hold on through giving my kids snacks. I could even hold on through a family trip to the ice cream parlor. But, it turns out what I couldn’t do, was hold on through baking.
It started innocently. I baked a cake for a friend’s birthday. The cake and the frosting, all formed from scratch. I labored over its creation. And so, I could not resist a piece in celebration- of the birthday and the cake itself.
This was, perhaps, an understandable slip. But then, just six days later, I baked cookies with my son. It is an activity we enjoy together, and we wanted to share a batch with his grandpa.
I licked my fingers after mixing, and I was through. Didn’t it make sense to test them when they came out of the oven? And, did it really matter if I had just one with everyone else later? And then, well, it didn’t seem worth resisting anymore.
I decided to give up.
I failed to make it to the finish line. I failed in my Lenten fast.
And I began to wonder, is there God in this? In the failing?
Because here is the risk of my fast: that I make it to Easter Sunday and celebrate me. Celebrate my victory. The strength I had to go without for so many days.
How might the success have clouded my vision of the ultimate victory? How might my eyes have been tempted to look at myself instead of Christ?
And before Sunday is Friday. How will my view of Good Friday be opened now? I realize oh so deeply that I need a Savior. I see that even in the little sacrifices of life, I am weak. I could not have borne the burden that Christ took on my behalf. He has always known I couldn’t do it.
Perhaps now I know it to.
So about this crash, this fast broken, I am not sure how to feel. I confess my failure to God, but also thank Him for it.
For today, I find grace in my failure. And I am grateful.