As part of our Fall series on Dordt’s campus, we are exploring ideas of Meaning Making. What brings meaning in our world? How do we contribute in meaningful ways? Where and how do we recognize God at work? In response to these prompts, this article explores the need to make space for emotions. Thanks for joining us in these meaningful reflections.
In Psalm 84, there is a valley called Weeping. And right now, it feels as if the entire world is in it.
The nights following the earthquake, Haitians sleep outside. They pull mats or beds or blankets onto the ground and sleep in the open because they are worried that aftershocks will raze their homes. They sleep outside because they have just watched concrete houses like theirs turn into rubble.
I lived in Haiti when I was 12 for the better part of a year. About eight years ago, my parents began working with Haitian leaders we met while living there. Ticarme was our translator. Antoine was a pastor. For the past eight years we have raised money to support Ticarme and Antoine’s work with vulnerable populations. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. It is infamously unstable politically and survival is difficult in the best of times. Right now, it is not the best of times.
The earthquake a couple of weeks ago struck the southern peninsula a few dozen miles from Ticarme and Antoine. They felt tremors that “seemed to last forever,” but their houses didn’t fall. Still, they sleep outside in the open to feel safe.
But the earthquake in Haiti seems like old news, doesn’t it? We’re already onto the third round of terrible news from Afghanistan. The Delta variant, and fires burning in Minnesota and California…all of this is just the national news. The bad news moves so fast. We can’t mourn quickly enough.
Within minutes of waking up, we get a digital download of the world’s brokenness. I scroll through a story about how many were shot in Chicago this weekend; I see images out of Afghanistan; I receive a video from a friend of a woman being pulled bloody from the rubble in Haiti; I read about fires consuming swathes of Minnesota. Then I put my phone down and brush my teeth. I drink my coffee. I walk to the crib, pick up my son and start the day.
Maybe you don’t. Maybe you choose not to see, hear, and know about the world’s pain today. I don’t blame you. Sometimes I don’t either.
“There’s a valley called weeping in Psalm 84. You are either in it or you live on its edge.”
Are we morally, emotionally, or spiritually equipped to live in a world where those are our two choices? Expose yourself to all of the world’s pain or choose not to. It’s an unbearable question to begin each day with. It’s exhausting. I have not even mentioned the most felt burdens of our days. The mental health struggles, the in-fighting between spouses and families, the diagnosis that ruins a summer, the chronic pain that won’t, won’t, won’t leave. It’s too much.
There’s a valley called weeping in Psalm 84. You are either in it or you live on its edge.
Verse six of that Psalm says this: “As they go through the valley of weeping, they make it a place of springs.”
In the morning, Ticarme and Antoine wake with the sun because they’ve slept outside. They begin gathering things from their homes. They fill a truck with food, tarps, blankets, and water and drive to help their neighbors who are mourning the loss of over 2,000 people. They send us photos of collapsed buildings and a video so gruesome it would never make the news. It reminds me that though broadcasts often prioritize the bad news, even they give us a sanitized version of catastrophe.
Isn’t it too much, Ticarme? Don’t you want to give up? Shouldn’t you keep food for yourself so you know when you will eat next? Ticarme and Antoine choose not to keep the food they need. They empty the shelves. There will be no stockpiling for emergencies. In the face of overwhelming circumstances, Ticarme and Antoine have the stubborn faith of those who have gone through the valley of weeping and know that even in that valley, it is better to give than to receive. They go through the valley of weeping; they make it a place of springs.
On Friday, I talked to William, our Ugandan friend. William oversees a school and orphanage in Uganda. He began our conversation with a line that has become a common refrain of his, “We would like to praise God, because we are all alive here.” He says it whimsically, but not facetiously. It isn’t a throwaway cliché for him. To be alive is a gift from God. In the valley of weeping, this is foundational. Is there anything more fundamental than your present suffering? Is there anything beyond the pain and exhaustion of this present moment?
William knows the valley of weeping. He’s lived there. He’s learned the lesson Paul articulates in Philippians 4: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”
I don’t know anyone who isn’t tired. We’re over our heads and in the midst of crises we have no solution for. We’re all, in one way or another, in the valley of weeping. William, like Paul, has learned how to live there. He knows the valley of weeping, but begins by thanking God for life in that valley. William reminds me that even in the valley of weeping, there is a reality more fundamental than our present circumstances. He knows there can be springs there, too.
“… even here, in this exhaustion, the Lord is King and there can be springs of new life.”
Ticarme and Antoine wake up in the valley of weeping. But like the Psalmist in Psalm 84, they take their pain with them on a pilgrimage. They load up the truck with things they will sorely miss. They join the Psalmist and Christ on the road through suffering. Antoine and Ticarme rise up in the morning and walk the road through the valley of weeping because they have the stubborn faith of those who have suffered. Their circumstances tell them to think only of their own survival, to lose hope that things could ever be made right. But they still believe that the Lord is King; they long for the courts of the Lord. Even in the valley of weeping, they believe that Jesus’ lordship is more fundamental than their circumstances, more fundamental even than their need for food.
I need the witness of William, Ticarme and Antoine to help me walk through a valley they are much more familiar with. They remind me that even here, in this exhaustion, The Lord is King and there can be springs of new life.