A friend was going through the worst season of his life. His wife had left him for a coworker, and his college-aged daughter had recently been diagnosed with long COVID and had to drop out of a promising career track. There were other reasons for him to feel singled out, but relationships are most important, and his had suffered greatly.
When he spoke, he had a distinct rhythm. He would talk about pain that took his breath away. He might veer off into future fears of being alone. He would be sure to stop on his regrets. He occasionally mentioned he had moments when he was angry with God, or at least perplexed by God’s ways. Interspersed were fears that his daughter would have brain fog and body fatigue for years to come. Then he talked about God’s faithfulness, how important Scripture had become to him, and his confidence in the Lord’s presence with him.
After he followed this pattern three times in ten minutes, I was captivated. No matter where he began, he ended with rest in Jesus.
But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works. (Ps 73:28)
For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth! (Ps 57:10–11)
He didn’t exactly quote these verses, but he came close. I was listening to a psalmist.
If you had heard isolated excerpts, you might have corrected those words that fell below the bar of theological orthodoxy. But psalmists are invited to speak their unorthodox thoughts to the Lord. For example, we certainly would be tempted to correct, “Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Ps 10:1). Yet God taught us to say such things.
The middle of a psalm is often filled with uncensored words that most of us have never spoken to the Lord because they seem out-of-bounds. But the rule in these sections is that your words have to be the words of your heart. They have to come from the real you.
Then you come to the end of the psalm, where the Lord seems to be especially interested in helping you with your closing words. Here, orthodoxy reigns. You spoke words from your heart? Well done. Now, end with words about God—what he has promised, what he has done for you, and what he is doing in the world.
Today your mind may be a jumble of conflicting emotions and dark thoughts. They might fall short of being the middle of your own personal psalm because you are not saying them to the Lord. Perhaps your first step could be to occasionally interrupt those thoughts by opening to the psalms and reading just about any final verse. Then try it again later. Tomorrow, speak some of those jumbled words to the Lord. He is honored to hear what is on your heart, and then—practice saying your own closing words.