It has long been a practice among those who want to learn how to pray to pray a psalm each day – preferably by starting at the front and working through them in order. When you do this, you find that some days the psalm speaks to you and some days you are praying someone else’s prayer. Which is as it should be. The point of the discipline isn’t to find your day’s prayer; it’s to absorb how to pray. Pretty quickly you start seeing the difference between how the psalmists speak to God and how you have been praying. For me, I was struck by how often the psalmist would remind God of promises made and of the psalmist’s faithfulness. I tend to be too undemanding and don’t give myself credit for anything, so these passages stuck out to me and praying them felt unnatural. Which is part of what the psalms do for us: they encourage us to be honest with God and ourselves in ways that we usually avoid.
And then there are the cursing psalms. In her memoir, Phyllis Pickle, who writes devotionals to help people “pray the hours” talks about the revelation that discovering these psalms was for her. These are not the ones, she points out, that are read much during church services. They aren’t very uplifting or edifying. When they are talked about, it is usually under the heading of “difficult scripture verses” and the conversation is about how to understand how their often violent language and desires can be reconciled with a loving God. But as Ms. Pickle and so many others have found, these psalms are a great gift to us. They can be prayed directly during times of great duress or betrayal which is how Ms. Pickle talks about using them. The inclusion of these expressions of hurt and anger, despair and betrayal let us know that God is a safe place to take our raw hurt and disappointment and anger. We don’t have to whitewash ourselves before coming to God and we don’t have to work everything through to an acceptable place before we can go before God.
This summer was my summer to write my own cursing psalm. As I wrote about here, this summer was an awful one. Devastating was the word that kept coming to mind, but it never seemed strong enough. I felt down to the depths of my soul that I had been mistreated, judged unfairly and betrayed. And I was angry like I have never been before. Not only was my family and marriage broken apart, it was done in such a way that even wishful thinking couldn’t come up with a way to put it back together. Hiroshima after the bomb went off felt like a good illustration of what was left on a lot of days. So, I asked God to hit my husband with a bus. Really hard. It seemed a fair price to pay for destroying a family. And it would be merciful – just think of all the future sin this man would be prevented from heaping on his own head. (Please keep in mind here that I am speaking of my own feelings. Whether they were justified or appropriate to what was actually happening is a separate issue.)
I know we’re not supposed to think, much less admit to thinking such things. But that was sincerely how I felt. So I went to God and basically said, “I know that this isn’t mine to decide. And I know that it’s probably very wrong for me to say this and if it is I hope you will forgive me and help me work through it, but I really want you to have a bus run my husband over. Like really slam into him so he dies instantly. I don’t want him to suffer – life’s been too hard already. But it is an affront to me that he’s walking around sucking air telling himself terrible lies about me and our family and marriage. All hope of my life ever being right is gone. So, could you please hit him with a bus?”
I wish I could say it was hyperbole, but it wasn’t. A couple of times when he wasn’t where he was supposed to be and I couldn’t get a hold of him, I wondered if maybe something had happened to him. And I still didn’t feel bad for praying for his death. But that sort of anger can only stay in your heart for so long before it starts to turn on you. So more and more my prayers were tempered with, “I know that you probably have other plans for him, so if he can’t be hit by a bus, please take this angry desire from my heart.” Shortly after that God pointed out that if he did arrange for an untimely demise, my sons would be afraid of God. It would send the message to them that if they screwed up badly enough, God might arrange for their untimely demise as well. Which is true and certainly not desirable. So, my desire for my husband’s death started to loosen its grip on my heart.
As I have struggled through these last few months, I have had to give myself over to just trusting in God. Because nothing makes any sense to me and I can’t fix anything or get anything to work so all I can do in order to keep from losing all hope is trust God. All other doors and hopes keep being closed off. As time passed and it became clear that God was not granting or going to grant my request, I started using that same trust to trust that God really does have a better idea about how to handle the situation than I do. One that I will be even happier with. So my angry desire has continued to loose its grip on me. Most days it still doesn’t seem like a bad idea to me. I do ask God’s forgiveness every time I wish my husband would disappear from the face of this earth. But it’s not what God wants which means that in the long run it wouldn’t be what I want either. It just takes time and a willingness to let God work in order to get from the place of our deepest hurts and anger to the place where we our souls are satisfied.
The thing I think people who are walking with God need to remember is that God will only touch what we allow him to touch. Like Jesus says, he stands at the door and knocks, but we have to open the door. He’s not going to barge in and fix you uninvited. But if you can embrace and own your deepest hurts and darkest anger and what comes up out of them and bring them to God, he will walk you through them. But when we deny or hide or embrace those deep, dark places separate from God, that is when they can damage us and those around us. Which is not what God wants for any of us. And that is why the cursing psalms are there.