Joy in the morning: A Thanksgiving meditation

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.  (Ps 30:5, KJV)

Not everyone is equally thankful on Thanksgiving Day.  Implicitly or explicitly, we have expectations of how life should be, norms against which we judge our success, health, and relationships.  And if things don’t turn out the way we expected, well, it’s harder to be thankful.  Not impossible.  Just harder.

Personally, I identify with those who have chronic health problems.  And realistically, my struggles with Epstein-Barr are very, very minor compared to what I know others suffer.  But it gets old: the malaise, the feeling that someone is squeezing my brain.  It’s been over two years since the virus was diagnosed, and I’ve given up waiting for it to go dormant again.  It is what it is: this is now the background noise of my life.

One hopes it never gets above a low hum.

The psalmist knows what it means to suffer deeply, to be in anguish and teetering on the edge of the grave:

Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath.  Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint; heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.  My soul is in deep anguish.  How long, Lord, how long?  Turn, Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love.  Among the dead no one proclaims your name.  Who praises you from the grave?  (Ps 6:1-5, NIV)

Have mercy on me.  Heal me.  Deliver me.  Save me.  Whatever the situation that would prompt such a prayer, it has turned to bodily suffering:

I am worn out from my groaning.  All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.  My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes.  (vss. 6-7)

And yet.  The psalmist trusts in God’s mercy and unfailing love, imagining and taking hold of a hopeful future:

Away from me, all you who do evil, for the Lord has heard my weeping.  The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer.  All my enemies will be overwhelmed with shame and anguish; they will turn back and suddenly be put to shame.  (vss. 8-10)

The psalm ends on that cliffhanger: it tutors us in the prayer of faith of one who hasn’t been rescued yet.  But if we must have the end of the story, we could read Psalm 30 in just that way:

I exalt you, Lord, because you pulled me up; you didn’t let my enemies celebrate over me.  Lord, my God, I cried out to you for help, and you healed me.  Lord, you brought me up from the grave, brought me back to life from among those going down to the pit.  You who are faithful to the Lord, sing praises to him; give thanks to his holy name!  His anger lasts for only a second, but his favor lasts a lifetime. Weeping may stay all night, but by morning, joy!  (Ps 30:1-5, CEB)

God has answered, has rescued the psalmist from the pit.  And because of this, the psalmist calls all the faithful to sing their praises to God.  The long night of tears gives way to joy, in the company of the God whose favor is forever.

Interestingly, the psalmist seems to confess how easy it is to get complacent, to take comfort as the norm, leading to panicked prayer when God seems absent:

When I was comfortable, I said, “I will never stumble.”  Because it pleased you, Lord, you made me a strong mountain.  But then you hid your presence.  I was terrified.  I cried out to you, Lord.  I begged my Lord for mercy:  “What is to be gained by my spilled blood, by my going down into the pit?  Does dust thank you?  Does it proclaim your faithfulness?  Lord, listen and have mercy on me!  Lord, be my helper!”  (vss. 6-10)

But God is still faithful.  Night becomes morning; weeping becomes joy; the funeral dirge turns into a celebration of mercy:

You changed my mourning into dancing.  You took off my funeral clothes and dressed me up in joy so that my whole being might sing praises to you and never stop.  Lord, my God, I will give thanks to you forever.  (vss. 11-12)

Maybe it’s still the middle of the night for us, and the morning has yet to dawn; in our lives at this moment, there may be more of sorrow than of joy.  It’s harder to be thankful.  Again, not impossible, just harder.

We pray for mercy, for healing, for a grand reversal in the direction our stories seem to be headed.  Rightly so.  But notice the basis on which the psalmist approaches God: Lord, if I die, who will praise you?  Who will proclaim your name?  Who will tell of your faithfulness?

It’s no surprise that we would praise God when he’s rescued us from the pit.  But that’s only confirmation of what the faithful already know: God is worthy of our praise and thanks, no matter what happens. 

We give thanks to God, because that is our vocation: to declare who he is.  We believe that he is a God who turns mourning to dancing, a God who brings joy in the morning.

But that morning may not be tomorrow morning.  Or the next day.  Or the next.  And when it’s hard to be grateful, when it’s hard to praise, we may need to call upon the whole community of the faithful to lift up their praises to God so that we can hitch a ride on their prayers.

Thanks be to God.  May your Thanksgiving Day be blessed.