Rev. Drew Stockstill
How Do You Mend a Broken Heart
“How is your pain today?”
The question is posed by a sign taped to a whiteboard hanging on the wall of a hospital room. The name of the doctor is scribbled there, and the nurse on duty, and a row of faces: green, yellow, orange, and red. The first face is smiling and bright green; the next, lighter green, still smiling; then yellow with the mouth as a straight line; then orange, with a bit of a frown; and finally, dark red, with a deep frown and sometimes a tear. It’s called the Pain Scale Chart. The green smiley face is 0 and it means no pain, then discomfort, distress, intense pain, and at the very end, the red crying face, 10 is the worst pain possible; utterly unspeakable pain. The doctor comes in the room, looking herself to be perhaps a two on the pain scale, with her kind, concerned yet wincing smile. “How are you feeling today?” “How’s your pain today?”
“Where are you on the pain scale?”
The Psalms are the Bible’s pain scale.
Wherever you are on the pain scale, there’s a psalm for that. Joyful? There’s a psalm for that. How are things between you and God today? Good? Feeling cared for? There’s a psalm for that. Not so great? God not showing up? Feel like somebody is just throwing every kind of struggle your way? There’s a psalm for that.
I’ve heard folks, good folks, who were trying to help somebody out, somebody who’s having a hard time, say things like, “You need to just have faith.” “Don’t be so negative.” “Don’t put that kind of energy out there.” “Think positive.” They’re trying to help, but imagine you’re in the hospital and in severe pain, and the doctor came in and said, “How’s your pain today? Bad? Well, don’t say that. Don’t be so negative. Think positive. Cheer up.” That would be no help at all. You’re in the hospital for help, to be made well, to feel better, to take care of the pain. If you’re not honest about your pain, well, you’re probably not going to get what you need. You’ve got to tell the truth about what you’re feeling. It’s the same with God. We’ve got to be honest about how we’re feeling. How’s your pain; your heart? What worries you? What are you celebrating? What’s bringing you joy and life? What do you need? We’ve got to be honest, if not before each other, or a trusted friend, then at least before God. The Psalms are there to help, to give us permission to describe how it feels today. Honest is the beginning of healing. Truth, even when it is about hurt, puts us on the road to hope.
Honesty is the beginning of healing.
Jesus was honest about his pain. The psalms were deep in Jesus’ heart, and on his lips at just the right time. When he was dying on the cross, the last words that came from his mouth, according to Mark, were from Psalm 22. Psalm 22 is definitely a 10 on the pain scale. Mark says, “When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land…Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani,” which is the beginning of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” “Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.” His last words, a cry of despair, of being abandoned, a declaration of the extent of his physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering. Shouldn’t he have had more faith? Shouldn’t he have said something that would inspire his followers long after his death, something that would tell us that he trusted God even to the end? But he knew his psalms and he told the truth. And I am so grateful, because it means he cared enough for us, loved us enough, to be honest with us. We can trust a man like that. Honesty, even about what hurts us, is the beginning of healing. It is an act of trust, which is a sign of hope. The thing about the pain scale chart, is that we move up and down it. And the same for the psalms. We might start out the day feeling rough, but, you know, a few glasses of water, a chat with a loved one, a healthy meal and some sunshine – things can feel a bit better. Psalm 22 begins with one of the deepest, truest cries of pain we know, and coming from Jesus on the cross it becomes a holy testament. But while Jesus used his last breath, his last moment of life, to tell God and all the world how he felt, he also knew his cry of suffering was only the beginning of Psalm 22, just as Jesus’ death was only the beginning of our greatest hope. Here is more of Psalm 22. Notice how it moves down and up, down and up and what it might mean that Jesus drew this psalm to mind.
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? 2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest. 3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. 4 In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. 5 To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame. 6 But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people. 7 All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads; 8 “Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver— let him rescue the one in whom he delights!” … .11 Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. … 14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; 15 my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. 16 For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled; 17 I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me; 18 they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots. 19 But you, O Lord, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid! 20 Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog! 21 Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me. 22 I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: … 24 For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him. 25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him. 26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever! 27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; … and I shall live for him. … future generations will be told about the Lord, 31 and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.
If we ask the poet, “How’s your pain today?” “Well, all who see me mock me, they tell me I should pray for deliverance if I claim to have faith. How’s my pain? I’m empty inside, my bones are out of joint, my mouth is dry, my hands and feet have shriveled and I can count all my bones. So not great.”
We see Jesus all over this psalm: the abandonment, the evildoers encircling him, the life pouring out, those soldiers who cast lots and divided his clothes. He’s honest as the psalmist is honest. And Jesus knew the journey of this psalm, the turn it takes in the end. You heard the intimacy between the psalmist and God. It is a relationship close and trusting enough that the psalmist not only begs but argues and demands from God, “Save me!” And God does. God rescues.
We can be off the charts in our suffering but we will not always remain there. Psalm 22 teaches us that if we can trust one who is honest about pain and suffering, we can trust them about the hope. The psalmist promises God to tell his story of pain and also hope, redemption, salvation, to us, the congregation. What began in a place of suffering and loneliness ends with praise in the company of God’s beloved community. With us the psalmist shares his testimony telling us that healing is possible, keep hope, don’t give up. He says, “God did not hide his face from me, but he heard me when I cried.” And God hears you, cares about where you are on that pain scale today. And God is here.
Jesus planted this seed in our own hearts, for indeed a people yet unborn are gathered today, proclaiming our hope in his deliverance, our commitment to the poor, and our faith, “saying that [indeed] God has done it.”