It’s finals week. Our brains are about to blow.

If they do, or if you can catch yours just before it’s too late, you might patch the weak parts up with psalms. Apply liberally to affected areas.

Fleming Rutledge writes, “A Benedictine monk once said, ‘If you can’t handle the violence in the Psalms, you can’t come to terms with the violence in yourself.'” While I think this is more immediately about dealing with our violent nature – expressed or unexpressed – the quote came to mind this morning as I read Psalm 3 and considered the opposing armies gathered within me.

As I’ve sought to prove myself, prepare myself, protect myself, I’ve invited in thousands of mercenaries I thought I could count on to keep me in control. Just like I’ve overpacked my mind full of facts in fearful study sessions before an exam, hoping what is needed will stay stuffed down there somewhere, I’ve crammed my schedule with appointments I thought would keep me from feeling nonessential. I’ve overpopulated my real and virtual connections with insincere numbers in hopes that a Titanic of small talk will keep afloat a fearful soul; I’ve maxed out my hard drive, DVR, app collection and web history with insurmountable obligations to my own ego. And, no, I’m not hungry, but I could eat.

I’ve neglected the grace that these things might offer and instead, in a panic of imperious insecurity, sought to possess them rather than enjoy the life they might accessorize. The ad execs who tagged “Collect them all!” to the end of their commercials knew what would capture me.

One day when life turns on me, when the reality of Finals Week – in its many and daily forms – hits, I turn to summon my vast armies against it, and find that these disloyal hordes will not fight for me. Like the answers that won’t come no matter how hard I will them, I’ve packed my self full of something that was never on my side. The burden can spin me into self-pity, into isolation, into desperation; but it might turn me to pray with the psalmist:

1 LORD, how many are my foes!
How many rise up against me!
2 Many are saying of me,
“God will not deliver him.”

3 But you, LORD, are a shield around me,
my glory, the one who lifts my head high.
4 I call out to the LORD,
and he answers me from his holy mountain.

5 I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.
6 I will not fear though tens of thousands
assail me on every side.

7 Arise, LORD!
Deliver me, my God!
Strike all my enemies on the jaw;
break the teeth of the wicked.

8 From the LORD comes deliverance.
May your blessing be on your people.

May we find in our great longing a space that only grace can fill. May we find in our impulse to cram a desire to be filled and secured by a God who made us to love us. May we know that he is pleased more by our trust than our performance. May I learn to let God fight for me when I’m clearly outnumbered, even, and especially, by the mercenaries I’ve recruited myself.

God bless our students in finals this week. Studies show that you’ll do better if you get four hours of sleep before an exam than if you cram till the last minute. Experts and psalmists agree. Just sayin.’




2 responses to “Cramming

  1. Great thoughts Dave. Your ‘mercenaries’ reminded me of Nouwen’s ‘scaffolding’ for the compulsive ‘false self’ he describes in “The Way of the Heart.”

    “In solitude, I get rid of my scaffolding: no friends to talk with, no telephone calls to make, no meetings to attend, no music to entertain, no books to distract, just me–naked, vulnerable, weak, sinful, deprived, broken–nothing. It is this nothingness that I have to face in my solitude, a nothingness so dreadful that everything in me wants to run to my friends, my work and my distractions so that I can forget my nothingness and make myself believe that I am worth something.”

    Only in God, can our mercenaries be dispatched and our rickety scaffolding be replaced by solid stone buttresses.


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