The problem with restoration is having to go through the desperation that calls it forth. If you restore the roof of your house, it is because you have been leaked on. If you restore a friendship, it is because it was once broken. If you restore a painting, it is because layers of grim have collected upon its surface for decades, muddying the bright colors and the intricate details.
In our Psalm for today, the psalmist stands with one foot in the past and one in the present, both of which are center on restoration. The psalmist begins by remembering the past, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion.” And right there, immediately we should say to ourselves, “Oh, these are people who know desperation.” Their fortune has been restored, because it once was missing. It is likely that this text is referring to the Israelites who were freed from the Babylonian exile and returned to their homeland. These people, Israel, were freed, but because they were once enslaved. These are people who have cried out, “Come to us, O Lord, and restore our freedom.” The problem with restoration is having to go through the desperation that calls it forth.
But the psalmist continues, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.” They were like Jacob, who, though he had no place else to lay his head but a stone, dreamed of angels of God and heard the promise, “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.” Bursting into spontaneous and uncontrollable joy, Jacob woke up from the dream and built an alter, right there in that place where God was. These Israelites, returning to their land, were like those who dream, bursting with uncontainable joy. There mouths were overflowing with laughter and their tongues were shouting for joy. What God had done for them was so great that even their enemies praised God.
Did you catch that in the text? It reads, “Then it was said among the nations ’The Lord has done great things for them,” the nations referring to those who worship other gods and often threatened Israel. What God had done for Israel was so great that even their enemies praised God.
I wonder what that would be like for the nations, a collection of people who do not believe in the same god, and who often battled each other for power and control, to say the same thing to one another, “The Lord has done great things.” I imagine it is something like last year when the whole world was crowded around computer screens and televisions just to see that first Chilean miner brought to the surface of the earth. The moment that blue, white, and red vessel peeks its head out of that small tunnel, the whole world sighs, saying, “Thank God.”
The Lord has done great things for them, the nations say. The Lord has done great things for us, the Israelites respond.
But then the psalmist makes a turn. A turn that says, “Yes the Lord has done great things for us, but we are not out of the woods yet.” All the psalmist’s verbs begin to shift from past to present. “The Lord restored our fortunes” now becomes, “Restore our fortunes, O Lord.” Gratitude for what was done in the past has turned to a desperate plea that it may be done again. Desperation is the scene now. Though the Israelites have returned to their homeland, they fear for their harvest. “Come to us, O Lord,” they pray, “and restore our land.” Their fear is that the rain will wash away any seeds because the land is so dry and the seeds cannot take root. The farmers sow with tears and gather while weeping out of panic that no harvest will have sprung forth. Now there is hope in this plea. Hope that the harvest will abound and that the farmers will reap with shouts of joy, but the desperation is clear. The Israelites were restored out of Babylon and back to their homeland, but now they were in need of restoration yet again.
So often, I think that is the life of faith, being restored but than needing restoration once again. And it is what I think can be so frustrating about God and Faith. It so often feels fleeting. Just when you think you are beginning to feel God’s presence in your life, just when you think you have enough faith you can cling to, just when you think you have some answer you can offer to people’s questions about God, some one or something comes along and tears a hole in your sail. And you can feel the air gush out, deflating you. A friend of mine recently said to me, “Doesn’t it seem like just when we start to feel a little bit better after one death, another sneaks up on us?”
Now, don’t get me wrong, much in life brings joy and laughter. We live in a time and a place, when something like harvesting food rarely causes any of us to shout for joy. Instead, often we have to look elsewhere for moments of laughter and pure joy. Personally, I find these restorative moments when I am with my nieces.
If you have ever watch a young child discover his or her own sense of humor, than you know the profound sense of joy it can bring. Last year, my wife, Lauren, and I celebrated Halloween with my sister-in-law, her husband, and their two daughters. One of our traditions is bobbing for apples. Now, my niece Lilly, who was 3 years old at the time, was unwilling to do any activity that seemed messy or dirty….such as shoving your face into a bucket of water filled with apples. So she simply stood by and watched. It was Lauren’s turn, and my brother-in-law and I decided to play a little joke. While she was getting her blindfold on, we slowly removed all of the apples from the pail. In their place, we put floating chocolate candy bars, plastic spiders, etc. We all start laughing and giggling while Lauren slowly figures out what is going on as she giggles and aimlessly bobs in this vat of water. Throughout all of this, Lilly is watching intently and laughing. And I swear, you could almost see her start to realize, “Oh, we are putting silly things in the water for Auntie Lauren!” Suddenly, Lilly rushes her little body into the living room and rushes back, giggling her heart out as she struggles to hold up her contribution to the water…..a shoe. Lilly had found her own sense of humor and none of us stopped laughing until our stomachs were good and sore. It was a moment for all of us that was restorative and filled with joy.
There are moments in life that feel profoundly like divine restoration. Those moments when the whole world is invested in the lives of 33 miners and those moments when a little 3 year old girl discovers that she can be funny too. But even those moments are fleeting. Because it isn’t long before you are walking a friend through an early divorce or cooking for the family of one suffering from a brain tumor. Suddenly, we are sighing, “Come to us, O Lord, we are in need of restoration once again.” It seems to me that the life of faith is one of being restored but than needing restoration yet again.
I will continue to look for moments of divine restoration happening around us, though they are fleeting. But I hope for a divine restoration that is sustaining. One that causes, once and for all, our mouths to be filled with laughter and our tongues to over flow with shouts of joy. One in which all the nations might proclaim, “The Lord has done great things for us.” I wonder what that will look like?
Will you pray with me?
O God, yesterday, you restored us and we shouted for joy. Restore us today. Come to us as you have before so that we might be filled with laughter and joy yet again. Come to us, O God so that we might be filled with a laughter and joy that is sustaining. What this will look like?