The wheels came off, the way they do.
One minute, I was happily looking into the future; the next, I was breathless on the floor, and things were shattered that I couldn’t have back.
Loss creates piercing moments of isolation.
Sometimes it feels like no one can ever understand. Sometimes we really do have losses that others struggle to imagine or understand. But, somehow, ironically, we all wind up exactly there at some point.
Of course, our losses are different, and our sorrows are diverse. But there is not a woman among us who has not or will not know what it is like to feel like she has lost everything.
That may feel like cold comfort when you’re crying on the kitchen floor or crouched hiding behind your closed office door. Because, let’s be honest, that’s what many of us do. We hide.
We know to turn to Jesus, but sometimes our lips cannot form prayers.
We know to go to church, but the sounds are just a ringing in our ears.
We know to plunge into Scripture, but the letters barely seem to form legible words.
So then what are we supposed to do when we find ourselves knocked breathless and can’t go on?
In my moments of great loss, I have often turned, alone and in hiding, to the Psalms of Ascent. They’re short. They cut straight through to my soul. They give me permission to cry out, forlorn, toward God—to show my hopelessness and my trust, my hunger for rescue, my angry energy at injustice, and also, finally, the exhausted peace of having been heard and finally being safe:
for we have had more than enough of contempt.” Psalm 123:3
When times are hard, I know those verses like the lines on my palms. They are grooved into my very being, and when everything else is too big to carry, I pick up these bits of truth, and I let God place them in my heart.
But I’ve often missed a key part of them.
These Psalms of Ascent? They were written for the community. Not in a theoretical way, but in a very real one. They are songs of public worship, and they were sung together by actual people on actual trips climbing an actual mountain to go to worship gatherings at the Temple in Jerusalem, which is a mountaintop city. That’s why they are called Psalms of Ascent—There was actual geographical elevation involved.
I bet those worshippers cried them alone in their prayers, too, but that’s not where they learned them. They learned them on the road, singing off-key and out of rhythm, because that’s how outdoor congregational singing always goes, while they begged their parents for a snack or to be carried, and later, as they handed out dried fruit and said, “I’ll pick you up after that next tree. Don’t poke your brother.”
These aren’t just songs for behind the kitchen cabinets, so your family or roommates won’t see if they walk in unexpectedly (although they do work well there).
These are songs for the people of God to share together.
Times of heart-rending loneliness ask heavy questions: Is God with me? And is anyone else?
These psalms say, unequivocally: Yes. Both.
It may take time. And you may have to try a lot of relationships before you can find safe people with whom you can share your journey of ascent toward worshipping God. I wish every Christian answered to that description, but they don’t. We don’t. We are all still growing, and we are all still journeying, and some of us haven’t even truly met sorrow yet.
But we are made to do it together.
Excerpts from one more Psalm of Ascent for you:
When I am willing to open my vulnerable loss to people of God who engage with me in truly grappling with life and faith, I am met by the Body of Christ. It may be just one friend whose eyes carry both light and shadow, too, or it may be a community of people who are knitting together imperfectly but beautifully in the face of suffering.
When we suffer, we are not made to do it alone. We are also not made to do it white-knuckling through people who say that everything is okay when it isn’t. Scripture calls us into deep relationships for the journey. We need to walk together up our ascents; We need to let one another sing and cry.
When we are blessed in our moments of sorrow and isolation, in this bitterly divisive world, with these moments and these friends, we are compelled to realize that they are no coincidence. They are a gift of God, and when we speak and pray Jesus to one another with hope and understanding, with our faltering presence we usher one another into the perfect presence of the Holy Spirit.
About the Author
Alyse Fulton is a wife, mom, and ordained minister in the Anglican Church of North America. She has a lasting passion for the ways we experience the Triune God and one another, especially in times of change, conflict, and suffering. Her houseplants are slowly being replaced by cleverly disguised fakes, and her car keys are probably lost, but there are probably freshly baked cookies and a hot cup of tea nearby.