When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands,
and I would not be comforted. (Psalm 77:2)
It sounds simple to just seek help from the Lord when trouble arises. The path, however, can be winding and complex. Even the most sincere seeker (stretching out untiring hands) can come up short (I would not be comforted). It’s more than just a matter of the will. We can’t force our souls to be comforted. It takes more than this. We cannot soothe ourselves by sheer effort and self-talk.
In my darkest moments, there is simply nothing that comes to me that I can do to get better. I think of my time in the hospital when I was receiving E.C.T. Actually, there is very little about this period I can precisely recall due to memory loss. But I know that I was seeking help from the Lord and from caregivers skilled at treating my illness. I was desperately reaching out and nothing helped. I was only getting worse. The E.C.T. set off a hypo-manic episode we had to medicate, and this was followed by another serious depression. My soul refused to be comforted.
Still, like the Psalmist, I would use the present tense for the verb. I seek the Lord in the day of my trouble. My hand is stretched out without wearying. Okay, maybe a little wearying.
But still it stretches out. Prayer that is effective is persistent even (perhaps especially) when it seems pitiful.
I think of all the nights my wife stayed up with our children when they were sick and suffering. She didn’t alleviate their suffering, but she cared for them. And they kept calling out for her because they knew she would hear them and respond in love. In the moment, it no doubt seemed to them she was doing nothing to comfort them, they were so lost in their struggle. But it would have been much worse had they been alone.
This is what God is like. God does not always relieve our suffering, but God does hear us when we call out and responds with comforting love. The question is – will we acknowledge and receive God’s comfort, or have things gotten so bad that “our soul refuses to be comforted”?