When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands
and my soul refused to be comforted.
The huge chandelier in the dining room started swinging and all the kids—we were at a youth retreat—flew out of their chairs to watch the swimming pool. Water was sloshing around as if the pool were little more than a cup of coffee. The ground shook a bit—I barely remember, really—and inside of twenty seconds or so, life returned to normal. The kids sat down and finished their dinner. It was not “the big one.”
My daughter, who was ten or so, had not moved in all the earthquake hoopla. She’d stayed at our table, eyes as big as open skies. Some high school kids had been sitting at our table, and when they came back from watching the pool, they comforted her.
“Happens all the time here,” the kids said. “It’s no big deal.” And then one of said, “You’ve got tornadoes in
Iowa. They’re much worse.” Which likely didn’t help.
That night, our daughter couldn’t sleep. I heard her quavering voice when we were in bed. “Dad?”—a single syllable pulled like taffy into sentence-length.
We were at a Bible camp, right? I was the speaker. I left our bed and walked to where she was sleeping on the floor in the front room of the cottage where we were staying. “Just pray to Jesus,” I said. “He’ll listen. We’re not in any trouble—you heard those kids. They were scared of tornadoes.” Maybe that wasn’t smart.
Ten minutes later, she called and I told her again, “Just pray, sweetheart.”
Five minutes later, the same anguished cry. I told her again, more sweetly, to remember that Jesus was her savior.
Five minutes later, the same anguished cry. Exasperated, I told her to snap on her Walkman, and she muttered not a word thereafter.
The anguish of the story embedded in Psalm 77 is deep, and I don’t want to make light of it. Picture Asaph, all night long, his hands up, awaiting a blessing that never comes—no relief, no sleep, no cessation of horror.
The story goes on, as we shall see; but because he’s got some distance on that night, he can look back on himself and his situation with some objectivity and blame himself, a soul which “refused to be comforted” even though all night long he was sitting there on crumpled sheets like some Tibetan monk.
Few psalms take the time to tell as specific a story as Psalm 77. For nine whole verses the poet stays with the narrative of a single night’s anguish, the whole psalm a particular isolated testimony.
All of us are right there with my daughter sometimes, in soul-ful pain for reasons that are varied and difficult and too complex, maybe, to explain (Asaph doesn’t either). Last night I slept well. I didn’t sit up, hands raised, expectant. But I’ve spent nights praying and praying and praying and praying. We all have. If we haven’t we will.
He may be right about me too: maybe my soul was refusing comfort, rejecting the fruits of the spirit. Maybe I needed to read a book or stick in my earphones.
Testimonies are lesson plans for our lives, templates by which we bring order to what seems chaos all around. Psalm 77 is Asaph’s testimony. Here’s what happened, he says, in every last jarring detail. But he can tell the story only because it’s over; it’s in the past. It’s what happened. Past tense. The inherent pledge of a testimony is that it can happen to us too.
And it does. Sometimes we can’t hear. Sometimes we can’t listen. Sometimes there is just too much chaos. Sometimes our souls refuse comfort.
Open me up, Lord. In my distress, unlock my soul.