I slipped and fell on my way to work today. It was early morning and I was walking from the subway to my office. Unnoticed black ice was the culprit, and in a blink, I was down and struggling to find my footing.
It’s not a big deal – except that it felt like a big deal. It felt like a massive, defeating event and I suddenly realize how fragile I am and how fragile I feel.
Security and safety cannot be guaranteed. We don’t live foolishly, we recognize the laws of the land and the laws of gravity, but we can still fall and hurt ourselves. We can still get in car accidents and end up in hospitals. We can still be victims to unscrupulous people who wish us harm.
We are all just one fall away – one fall away from tragedy; one fall away from illness; one fall away from a life changing event. No one goes to work on a Monday morning expecting to fall, or to die, or to hear that someone else died. Yet, every single day people go through events that change their lives.
Last week I went to a service of interment for my Uncle Jim. He died in February, but was buried at a the same veteran’s cemetery as my father, just an hour and a half away from Boston. My cousin Jayna is my youngest cousin in that family and had flown from Texas to carry out the arrangements.
My cousin knows what it is to wake up one day and have your life change. Her husband died unexpectedly in late summer, leaving her a young widow with two small daughters. When she woke up on the day of her husband’s death, she could never have dreamt of what she would go through.
God gives us grace for our falls, not our imagined falls. God gives us grace for reality, not grace for what we imagine. And he has given her grace, so much grace. She walks steady and takes care of her girls. With the support of friends and a church community, she is dealing with the unimaginable.
The Psalms offer up a model for responding to suffering, surprise, and tragedy. We are never told in the Psalms to pull up our bootstraps. We are never told to minimize suffering. Instead, we are offered up a blueprint for offering our suffering to God, for openly acknowledging pain, for openly asking God why our souls are disturbed and why our enemies are winning.
Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God*
I feel undone by a fall on slippery ice, and I know why – because it represents those much bigger falls that could be around the corner, those falls that are irreversible and cause more damage than a few bruises.
Today as I struggled to get up from the ground, a man came out of nowhere, helping me to my feet and asking me if I was okay. I gratefully accepted his help, acknowledged my own frailty.
It reminds me that even as we are only one fall away from disaster, we are also only one person away from help.
“The Psalm begins in pain: Help God – the bottom has fallen out of my life!….By setting the anguish out into the open and voicing it as a prayer, the psalm gives dignity to our suffering. It does not look on suffering as something slightly embarrassing that must be hushed up and locked in a closet (where it finally becomes a skeleton) because this sort of thing shouldn’t happen to a real person of faith. And it doesn’t treat it as a puzzle that must be explained, and therefore turn it over to theologians or philosophers to work out an answer. Suffering is set squarely, openly, passionately before God. It is acknowledged and expressed. It is described and lived” – p. 138 of A Long Obedience in the Same Direction