“How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” Psalm 137:4
I’d consider myself a fairly upbeat, glass-is-half-full type of person. I’m adept at finding silver linings, capable of seeing the good in people, and willing to give the benefit of the doubt. It’s also not hard for me to feel genuine gratitude during the Thanksgiving season—I have a lot to be thankful for.
However, your strengths can also be your weaknesses. My ability to see the good despite the bad sometimes mutes my awareness of those who, for any number of reasons, can’t just “sing and be happy today.” Further, we live in a culture that generally frowns upon public expressions of sadness. Even among Christians, there sometimes seems to be an unwritten rule against talking about difficult things like grief, failure, loss, death, as if such things could nullify our faith (as if!).
Psalm 137 speaks to Israel’s exiles following the destruction of Jerusalem and their forced deportation to Babylon. It reflects the vantage point of a former court musician of the Jerusalem temple, who is taunted while in exile, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” The musician’s response is, “How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” In other words, how could we sing songs of Zion when we’ve been torn away from our familiar surroundings, our loved ones, and our cherished religious institutions?
This Thanksgiving season, I know that among our church family are those who are asking a similar question: “How could we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” How could we sing when we’re grieving the loss of a loved one, enduring a dark season of depression, absorbing alarming medical news, or trying to make sense of a major life disruption? It’s not that these believers have never experienced the goodness of God. It’s not that they’ve ceased to believe. It’s that in their lives right now, it’s hard to see the light for the darkness.
What’s my suggestion this holiday season if you have a loved one who’s wondering how to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? Invite them to share more. Or simply sit with them in their grief. Give them the freedom to articulate whatever needs to come out. Don’t be in a hurry for them to “get over it;” grief can’t be shoehorned into a manageable timeline. Be present. Be patient. Be OK with not being able to “fix it.” There are some things, like the death of a loved one, that can’t be “fixed”. Better simply to validate the pain of loss and to express your care through tangible acts of kindness.
If you happen to be a glass-is-half-full person, give others the gift of not-having-to-be-like-you this Thanksgiving. Especially those who are struggling to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land. Instead, trust that God can powerfully use our inability to “fix it” as we help bear burdens and weep with those who weep. It will be enough.