Talking to Ourselves

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
 Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
 for I will yet praise him,
 my Savior and my God.

My soul is downcast within me;
 therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
 the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
 in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
 have swept over me.

By day the Lord directs his love,
 at night his song is with me—
 a prayer to the God of my life.
Psalm 42:5-8

Prolonged days of pandemic, social distancing, isolation and uncertainty, are stirring up a lot of anxiety and fear. I like today’s psalm as it helps me to pray during these difficult days.

Notice first that the psalmist does not mince words or pull any punches. He does not hold back telling God what he is feeling. He models real prayer in which “we begin to hear the self we actually are emerging out of our shadow selves, our counterfeit selves, our pretended selves. We become aware of what is in us, the best and the worst….Scolding or excluding parts of ourselves or shutting the door will not do. We must admit what is there” (Ann and Barry Ulanov, Primary Speech: A Psychology of Prayer).

In this psalm we get to listen in as the psalmist readily and unashamedly tells God that he is feeling “downcast,” and “disturbed.” He cries out in vivid language about feeling far away from God and from His temple: “from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon – from Mount Mizor.” He feels as one stranded in the heights of Mount Hermon looking down on the rushing headwaters of the Jordan. His emotions are like that, washing over him like the “deep …waterfalls…waves…breakers.”

In this he uses water images from the Ancient Near East to symbolize powers of darkness and chaos, as “waves and breakers” crashing against him. He personifies evils calling to one another around him: “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls.”

It is important to notice that the psalmist does not stop with his emotions when he prays. Rather, he makes the decision to “remember” God. He remembers, he calls to mind, God’s presence with him, and the many times God has rescued him in trouble: “therefore I will remember you.” In the midst of all of his emotions he remembers God’s love for him and His faithfulness: “By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me.”

We are privileged to have the psalmist take us into his inner dialogue of prayer. We get to listen in as a troubled soul takes hold of himself and does important self-talk: “Why my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?”

As I read this psalm, I sense that the psalmist is like me; he has old tapes of discouragement and worry he replays. So he knows that he must talk to himself and talk truth about God. It is like he becomes two persons talking within himself. He reasons with his fear, and his faith argues with his worry.

Welsh preacher and physician Martyn Lloyd-Jones presses on our need to talk to ourselves, and to talk God’s truth:

Have you not realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment was this: instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself.

(Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure)

This is a psalm I return to again and again, as the psalmist models the need to acknowledge honestly to God what we are feeling, but we do not stop there. We remember God, and think right thoughts, speaking to ourselves about God’s love for us and His faithfulness: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God.”

I am finding this a wonderful way to pray and to hope in these days of trouble.

A fellow traveler,

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