We have all been through valleys, storms, wildernesses, and trials. Some have been intense while others seemed like a blip. We have had our hearts broken, experienced pain, lost our joy, and questioned the goodness of God. In those times, when life seems to hurt the worse, when life seems not to be fair, when life seems to crush our lungs making it difficult to breathe, what do we do?
Growing up, when something didn’t seem to go my way, I remember my parents telling me (on more than one occasion), “Life’s not fair; suck it up.”
That statement has continued to stick in my mind even as a grown adult with three kids. In fact, I think I have used my own version on my children. While I think this statement, and even the philosophy behind it, may work in certain scenarios, it doesn’t work with the intense, severe, and damaging valleys, storms, wilderness journeys, and trials we go through. Yet, for many (if were honest), the mantra “Life’s not fair; suck it up” is how we attempt to cope with these times in our life. But is that the best, wisest, or even healthiest way to do so?
The answer is no. Before I share how we should cope and deal with these times, let me share what happens if we try to “suck it up,” chalking it up to “life’s not fair” or “life is broken.” If we try and deal with these times on our on, “sucking it up,” “licking our wounds,” or “drowning in our sorrows,” we bottle whatever the valley, storm, wilderness, or trial is within our souls. Though on the outer shell of our lives we may seem like we are coping well, inwardly a storm, a valley, a wilderness, and a trial continues. As a result, anger becomes infected and turns into resentment, resentment into bitterness; our bitterness can be directed at others, or it could be directed to the Lord. No matter where it is directed, its affects are damaging. In addition to anger becoming infected, the pain and hurt can become infected to the point of paralysis—the loss of mobility. If people do not properly deal with the hurt and pain they can lose mobility of trust, vision, true sanctification (not behavioral modification), love, and joy.
If we were honest, none of us want to experience the infection of anger or paralysis. Therefore, how should we cope and deal with the difficult times of intense stress, pressure, loneliness, pain, and hurt? The simple answer is: rather than sucking it up, we should soak Him up. But where can we learn, or to whom can we turn to learn what this looks like in practice? The Psalms. Throughout the entire book of Psalms the psalmist exemplifies how one can soak up the Lord during times of great storms, valleys, wildernesses, and trials.
When you think about the psalmist soaking up the Lord, I want you to think about a sponge. I use a sponge often, especially when I cook. After cooking eggs or soup, I take a sponge and clean the skillet or the pot. When I am done cleaning the skillet or pot, I rinse the sponge under hot water, and then squeeze it multiple times—attempting to get all the dirty, soapy water out so that it is ready to clean the next time I cook.
The psalmist, just like the sponge, pours out to the Lord in order to soak up the Lord. In so many places the psalmist pours out to the Lord, his heart, his hurt, his pain, his bitterness, his anger, his questions, his complaints, his tears, his prayers, his supplications, and his requests. In other words, he empties himself to the Lord in order to be filled by (or to soak up) the Lord. He then allows himself to be filled up by the grace, mercy, kindness, sovereignty, love, affection, closeness, power, justice, mission, and hope of God.
For an illustration, let’s look at Psalms 61 and 62. (Again you can find this pattern—the psalmist pouring out his heart and soaking up the Lord—throughout the entire book).
Psalm 61:1–8 (ESV)
1 Hear my cry, O God,
listen to my prayer;
2 from the end of the earth I call to you
when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
that is higher than I,
3 for you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the enemy.
4 Let me dwell in your tent forever!
Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! Selah
5 For you, O God, have heard my vows;
you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.
6 Prolong the life of the king;
may his years endure to all generations!
7 May he be enthroned forever before God;
appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him!
8 So will I ever sing praises to your name,
as I perform my vows day after day.
Psalm 62:1–8 (ESV)
1 For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
2 He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.
3 How long will all of you attack a man
to batter him,
like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?
4 They only plan to thrust him down from his high position.
They take pleasure in falsehood.
They bless with their mouths,
but inwardly they curse. Selah
5 For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from him.
6 He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
7 On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
8 Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us. Selah
In the first passage the psalmist describes his heart as “faint,” while in the next one he encourages people to “pour out [their] heart before him….” As he experiences a heart that is faint and one that needs to be poured out to the Lord, he also allows himself and encourages others to be filled up with the truth and hope of God. The psalmist soaks up the truth that God hears his cry and is the highest rock. In addition, he soaks up the belief that God is his strongest tower, refuge, salvation, and glory, thus in “God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.”
Does the fact that he allows himself to soak up the person and truth of the Lord make the trial, the storm, or the valley any easier to endure, to face? No. Does it lessen the pain or hurt? No. The Lord simply becomes the healthy outlet where the psalmist can unleash his emotions, his feelings, his hurt, his pain, his desire, and his requests and after having unleashed them to the Lord, can wait for the Lord to pour himself and his truth back into him. It is not easy, but it is a healthy, cleansing process.
In sum, what does the psalmist teach us about responding to the trials, storms, valleys, and wildernesses in our life? Pour out our hurt, anger, resentment, bitterness, depression, questions, struggles, and prayers to him. Do not keep them in! Tell him…spill out your heart. In addition, allow God and the truth about him to fill you. As a result, you will give him the dirt and filth that you are experiencing and dealing with from the trial, while he gives you his life, his truth, his joy, his refuge, his blessing, his salvation, and his hope in the trial. So, don’t suck it up; soak Him up!