Lenten Healing in the Psalms

mountain photoHeather Walker Peterson began ESN’s 2018 Lenten devotionals with Lent: Public and Private Healing. For Heather’s earlier contributions to ESN, i.e., Giving Thanks, Releasing the Helm, Time Management, Writing as a Spiritual Discipline, click here. Follow this link to explore ESN’s previous Lenten devotionals.

Lord, who can dwell in your tent?
Who can live on your holy mountain?
The one who lives blamelessly, practices righteousness,
and acknowledges the truth in his heart — Psalm 15:1-2, CSB

“But I cannot live blamelessly,” my eight-year-old daughter flatly stated. “No one can.” For our preparation for Lent and for Lent itself, our family is reading psalms. As I wrote in my last blog, Lent is a time of healing for our hearts’ tendencies toward sin. Dwelling in the Psalms is one way, along with a fast, that we are “making room” for the Spirit’s healing.

John Coe writes that by the time we are adults, we are experts at hiding our hearts, especially the inclination toward sin, from everyone, including ourselves. But the Psalms prayed sincerely have the capacity to undo us.

Growing up, I tried, at least outside of my family, to be what a counselor would later call “a good girl.” I was ashamed of many of my feelings that didn’t seem Christian: anger, bitterness, and jealousy. Some guilt may have been warranted, but I was so avoidant of these feelings that I didn’t talk about them, sometimes not even to God. This hiding may have led to troubles elsewhere—evasion of any strong feeling.

But the Psalms give us words to express our emotions. They shape our imagination—one that views security in God as a rock, faithfulness as being a flourishing tree, and despair and bitterness as brittle bones. Praying the Psalms, we can agree with N. T. Wright in The Case for the Psalms that we learn to accept the paradoxes of this world better—injustice not resolved, the hungry not fed, and yet a good God with a desire to do those things.

Some psalms seem inappropriate to pray: psalms calling for revenge or psalms asserting innocence. As my daughter noted, living blamelessly is impossible, but these psalms and all the Psalms are an opportunity.  We end each psalm in our family with a question: “How does this psalm point to Jesus, or how is our need for Jesus shown?” Messianic psalms, such as Psalm 22 and 31, are easy to answer for the first part, but others psalms help us recognize our own need.

In my Christian college setting, I pray psalms with my students, and I remind them when encountering imprecatory psalms, that God is big enough to handle their longings for justice and vindication. He may not grant the brutality that some of these psalms call for, but he claims both justice and vindication for himself, and we can trust him to work out ultimately how they should be meted. For that kind of psalm and ones that claim one’s integrity as perfect, we can respond with what I told my daughter: “This is a reminder we need Jesus. Let’s ask for his help.” Healing occurs because we are directed to dependence on Christ.

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Heather Walker Peterson

Heather Walker Peterson has taught in the Department of English and Literature at University of Northwestern—St. Paul, contributes to the blog humanepursuits.com, and tweets @languageNfaith.

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