One of the best things about having an old Bible that you have carried around and written in and underlined and marked-up over the years is that you end up with a record of passages that have been especially meaningful to you at different times during your life.
A passage that has been important to me at different times over the years is from Psalm 126:
The one who goes forth weeping
bearing seeds for sowing
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing the sheaves with him.
This passage holds a wonderful and comforting truth for anyone who is experiencing difficult times when the future looks dark and uncertain.
Psalm 126 is about endurance in the face of suffering and confusion. It’s about how hope grows out of suffering -- about how to cope with difficult and troubling times -- and about the mysterious mix of suffering and joy in human life.
Life seems a little unmoored these days. The fears of the Corona virus, the wait and confusion around the distribution of the vaccine, racial tensions in the society, the fragility of the economy, the bickering among the nation’s leaders -- all add fuel to the anxieties that any of us might be feeling in our personal lives, and none of it is helped by the dreary winter weather.
Anyone who is having trouble ‘breathing in’ the peace of Christ and calmly trusting in God’s will might find this psalm to be an encouragement.
Psalm 126 was written during a time when the people of God had been living in exile as prisoners-of-war in Babylon. After 70 long miserable years, living as slaves in a foreign land, God restored them to their homeland. The Psalm writer, David, just bubbles over with joy when he writes that “we have been restored to our right relationship with God -- we have been brought back home. We’ve come back to where we belong.”
He expresses his joy and his faith in this lovely agricultural image that has been a comfort to me many times. The image is of planting and then harvesting. It is an image of productive suffering. In the process of this long-term suffering, the person continues to work. While weeping he plants the seeds that will produce the harvest. From his own point of view, he is merely enduring. But as he plants, his tears water the ground. His suffering is a part of the process of growth.
Then, one day, seemingly out of nowhere, there is a field full of grain all ready for harvesting. He runs out into the field and gathers some of the ripe grain and runs back to his home shouting for joy. Look what has come of all the tears! Look what God has made out of the work and the tears!
Those who are enduring a difficult time of life might ask the question “what seeds are being watered by your tears -- and your endurance -- and your faithfulness?”
Bishop Desmond Tutu, certainly a man who has known much suffering, has said, “… nothing beautiful in the end comes without a measure of some pain, some frustration, some suffering. This is the nature of things. This is how the universe has been made up.” [The Book of Joy. P.45]
Given to God in trust, even our suffering becomes a part of the pattern of God’s will for our lives. The harvest requires only that we keep going -- that we not lose ourselves in the weeping -- that we keep our eyes on the harvest that is to come, even when we cannot yet see what form it will take.
It is a complicated and mysterious thing the way that joy and suffering work together in our lives. Somehow the tears of sorrow water the seeds of joy in a way that restores us to life. All of it takes place in the gentle, wonderful movement of God’s Holy Spirit.
Take some time during these days of Lent to read the psalms and reflect on God’s eternal love for each of us.
Pastor Nancy Becker