Recently I’ve been reading a book titled ‘Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Someone Who’s Been There’ by Cheryl Strayed. It’s based on a series of advice given in response to anonymous letters sent to an online advice column (yes I am essentially binge reading an advice column on steroids – please don’t judge me!).
Why am I enjoying it so much (and sharing this fact with you lot)? The reason I’m enjoying it is not so much the advice given (though it is surprisingly insightful and delightfully punchy!), but the honesty and rawness of letters sent. They are letters from people who afraid to love again; letters from people doubting their purpose and ability; people who are grieving; people who are scarred from abuse; people who are unsure what path is right; others who don’t know who to trust or how to move forward.
All the stories and struggles are unique, but so far (I am still reading), there would be one word which unites them all. What is the word? Disorientation.
They are up in the air, they are round-a-bout, they are upside-down, they are waiting to land. And they write in to Cherly Strayed (known by them under the pseudonym of ‘Sugar’), hoping that she can help them land. Hoping that she might be able to help them reorientate. To find a new norm – a better norm. A norm which sees them moving forward without their ex-lover. A norm freed from the grip of their abusive father. A norm which sees them motivated rather than stuck. A norm where they can function in a world beyond depression. A norm that leaves them a stronger, more mature person than before, because of course, most are aware that they can never go back.
Why am I enjoying it? The topics are not light topics. They are, however, real topics. They are authentic topics. They are topics which capture the depth, the weirdness, the discomfort, the confusion, the hope, the uncertainty, the pain of the human experience.
It is this same raw humanness that I see in ‘Tiny Little Things’ that I see with even greater magnitude in the book of Psalms. In the Psalms – as Walter Brueggemann puts it – we see a movement of human experience from the place of orientation to disorientation, to reorientation. It is a movement from a place of relative stability in the world, where things are experienced as they are to be…
‘LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory in the heavens.’ (Ps. 8:1).
… to one of grief, loss, trauma, anger, confusion, despair:
‘How long, LORD? Will you high yourself forever?
How long will your wrath burn like fire?
Remember how fleeting is my life.
For what futility you have created all humanity!’ (Ps. 89.46–47)
Spectacularly in the Psalms, the human experience of disorientation at its most painful depths is laid before us, no edges smoothed out. It is jagged, sharp, and unwieldy. The Psalmists question God’s plan, question his promise, question his love, question his wisdom. In the Psalms we see the unhinged person.
But that’s not the end of the story. In the Psalms there is a movement not only from orientation to disorientation, but finally – and crucially – to reorientation. This is the place where the pain – and perhaps more accurately, its learnings – has left its legacy. Having gone to the depths there is a re-emergence to a stronger, deeper, more mature trust than the orientation state. It is trust which is only shaped through suffering, but most especially, a suffering which has been met with the salvation of God, giving rise to thanksgiving and praise:
‘I will exalt you, LORD, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me.
LORD my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me. (Ps. 30:1–2)
‘You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
LORD my God. I will praise you forever.’ (vv. 11–12).
The difference, of course, between a book of advice and the experience of the Psalmists, is that the Psalmists are met by the One who not only understands, who not only has wisdom to offer, but who has the power to enact salvation, and the love to follow it through. It is the LORD who welcomes us in our disorientated state, but who does not leave us there. It is the LORD, in his power, his love, and his covenant faithfulness – especially as enacted and assured in his chosen King and Son – who makes this cry of disorientation so meaningful. It is a cry towards something better.
Stephanie serves as Director of Ministry at City on a Hill Melbourne and is committed to helping people to find life and joy in Jesus and to live courageously for him. In addition to her role at City on a Hill, Stephanie preaches and teaches regularly at various events at conferences and is a writer for The Gospel Coalition Australia. Stephanie is married to Andrew. Together they have driven and deep-thinking son named Joshua, and dramatic and colourful girl called Chloe.