We wake to gray clouds piled on the morning horizon. Before I put a single toe on the carpet, I pray for a holy wringing of that gray sky. We need rain.
But only a few sprinkles fall; the cracked farmfields groan. Under the covers, I groan, too. My stomach knots.
And the clouds evaporate.
I shower, dry my hair, wake the girls.
It’s Sunday. Soon, our country-church sanctuary will beat with the hearts of farmers, with their tanned arms and white foreheads from years of wearing seed-corn caps. We will pray in unison for God’s mercy, all faced toward that wooden cross above the altar.
And Pastor Rich will surely pray for rain to soak the fields that border our tiny church.
But I get a head-start on prayer here at home, singing Healing Rain softly. It feels like a sort of prayer, to lift up whispered words swollen with hope toward heavenly storehouses.
But no rain comes.
It can feel hopeless. It really can. When the prayers go unanswered. How many weeks did the people of Colorado pray for rain? How much more fervently did they pray as flames cartwheeled into their neighborhoods?
And the people of Indiana, whose crops are even worse than ours? Surely they prayed hard? Or our friends in Illinois whose corn doesn’t stand a chance? They emailed us two days ago with their bad news.
But there’s more: The mother at the side of her own child’s hospice bed. The husband, who is handed the divorce papers. The lonely. The sick. The betrayed.
But people really do praise anyway. In full defiance of the human condition, a hurting mortal can praise.
It’s the believer’s response: hope. That in a world reeking with pain and ash and death cracking the Earth straight through the middle, that there is this sacred knowledge of redemption coming.
That there is still a God,
and that He is still good,
And He is worthy of praise.
The broken, dry voices — shaking with grief — can worship anyway. It’s true. It can happen: When it’s all falling apart, everything cracking right up the middle, real people do lift their hands and open their mouths. For they thirst for our only Hope.
I roll the mascara brush across my eyelashes and run a blush-brush across my cheekbones. Words eek out, past the lump in my throat.
Lord, we praise you.
I don’t do this to trick Him into giving me what I want on this farm and in this life filled with its own daily hurts … but I do this because I honestly know of no other thing for a parched soul to do other than this: open wide the window with praise, and let the voice sing louder than the screech of pain.
I walk into the kitchen, pour juice into cups.
My husband, the farmer on this farm, creaks open the back door. He’s home from chores.
I ask him if the forecast shows any rain at all.
“No, not at all,” but he adds: “God’s got it.” This is my man’s three-word theology for farming … and for life in general. Why worry, he says, when worry won’t make anything grow? Worry won’t bring rain, or relief, or any real hope at all. Only God can do any of it.
We finish breakfast. I tame the girls’ hair with water, tie bows on the back of sundresses, and search for the one lost shoe before we back out of the garage.
And I just keep singing my prayers: the insistent response of a parched soul who will choose worship over worry.
I do know what happens to the corn leaves when they begin to suffer from drought. They roll. They curl right in on themselves like they’re hoarding with little they have. It looks like a self-protective measure.
I look out the window on the way to church, at these thirsty, curling fields. People are like that, I think to myself. When we hurt, what are we inclined to do? We curl right in on ourselves. We stay under the covers, behind the drawn shades. We replay old hurts, new worry and insistent fear.
Our human default is to hide, to roll into the self. It’s one of the enemy’s oldest tricks–to keep a believer to herself.
I think of the verse right then, as we’re driving along the asphalt to the church. It’s that verse in Psalm 63 that says, “… in a dry and weary land.”
What does it say next? I can’t remember for sure but …
We walk through the front door of the church, and I grab a pew Bible, flipping to Psalm 63:1. David is lamenting right there, laying out his pain before the Lord with those words: “In a dry and weary land…”
But what then? Does he curl into his own drought? I run my finger along the words, moving to the next verse.
“I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory.”
No, he doesn’t curl in at all! He remembers!
The children of God remember.We remember how we’ve seen God’s power and glory. We remind ourselves of God’s faithfulness. We remember that whatever befalls us, our God is much greater.
I keep running my finger down the verses, and this comes next:
“Your love is better than life. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.”
Corn leaves curl. But as gospel people, we unfurl — like flags of praise.
Rather than fold in on ourselves, we really can open our mouths expectantly, lifting up the shaking voice to the heavens. We can unclench our hands, and raise them higher, and whisper songs like prayers, straight through our own brokenness.
I take a seat, third row on the left, next to two girls in sundresses, and a farmer with tanned arms and a hope-filled heart.
The pastor asks us to stand for our first song. And as we face the cross, expectantly with open hands, the worship leader cues up our first song:
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