I’m not happy. I’m strung out. Thats’s not me. As one associate put it, “You’re always so disgustingly UP.”
I usually am happy—an undeserved, precious blessing. But I’m not now. It’s not that my neurotransmitters are out of whack. It’s existential stuff related to moving out of one job and community and into another. I’ll spare you the details. But chocolate isn’t fixing this one.
It’s September as I write this. I’m supposed to highlight Thanksgiving (editors must live into the future). Contemplating thanks-giving without feeling thankful is unexplored (holy) ground for me.
Mind you, I know my unhappiness is temporary. Margo and I made the right choice and eagerly anticipate life in our new charge. It’s just this miserable transition. It will pass. I can’t imagine what it’s like for those whose present darkness remains a life sentence. I’ll be much less glib from now on preaching to them about giving thanks.
I might be cynical about this thanks-giving assignment if I hadn’t tripped across Walter Brueggemann’s fine insight into how the psalms are structured into a coherent collection with an overarching message:
- The collection begins with Psalm 1 confessing that God loves and blesses the righteous and frustrates the schemes of the wicked.
- But subsequent psalms demonstrate that such ultimate truth doesn’t seem to touch everyday life. Usually the wicked flourish while the God-fearing get the short end. So the psalmists cry out in lament, “God why don’t you help us?”
- In the middle of the Psalter stands Psalm 73, in which this apparent breach of God’s promises brings the psalmist to despair: “But as for me, my feet had almost slipped . . . I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (v. 2). It’s only when the psalmist enters God’s sanctuary that he understands—the stuff that makes the wicked “happy” won’t last, and they’ll be “swept away.” It’s only our relationship with God himself that endures forever and keeps us on our feet (vv. 27-28).
- This revelation moves the psalmists from chasing happiness to seeking God. The Songs of Ascents were sung by pilgrims taking on the arduous journey to the temple. Their hardships pale in the genuine, lasting joy of meeting with the Lord. Then in Psalm 150 the collection reaches its climax as it offers exuberant, unrestrained glory to God. Even in their unhappy mess God’s people find true joy, comfort, and meaning in him. God’s wise purpose all along in our lives is not to keep us comfy but to draw us closer.
- Jesus Christ, foreshadowed in the psalms, emphasized that message: we must take up our cross daily and follow him (Luke 9:23). He didn’t come down to make us happy. He came to bring us back to our Father.
How does this help me write about Thanksgiving? Simple. I don’t have to be happy. I don’t have to pretend I am. I can snivel even on Thanksgiving. Why? Because I do have something I’m intensely thankful for. My present unhappiness has thrown me on God in ways I’ve rarely experienced. It’s not fun but it’s good.Thanks, God . . . for YOU!