Anthony Costello on Surviving Suffering: In the Morning When I Rise (Part 2)

In the first post of this series I addressed suffering in the Christian life, and how what we surround ourselves with matters to our overall spiritual wellbeing. Here, I want to consider the phenomena of time in light of our experience of deep pain. I am not talking about how long particular sufferings will last – which is often impossible to predict – but about times of day and how they are experienced in the life of the co-sufferer with Christ (see Phil 1:29, 3:7-11). Specifically, I want to talk about the morning hours. It is notable, for instance, that in several Psalms the suffering Psalmist is explicit about his feelings at a certain time of day, especially morning time, “In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my request before you and wait expectantly.” (Psalm 5:3)

The NIV translates the Hebrew here as “morning,” but other translations, like my well-worn HCSB Soldiers Bible, translate it as “daybreak.” Daybreak – that in-between time when night is subsiding and the sun is just about to penetrate the now morning sky – a spiritually and emotionally sensitive time. Monastic traditions called this time matins, or “belonging to the dawn.” It is a time for prayer. Normally it is a time to rejoice over the end of the long night vigil, a moment to praise the newborn day. Usually this twilight period would be a time to greet a new day in cheerful rejoicing; to gather our thoughts; to thank God for the breath in our lungs; and to prepare for a day of fruitful labor, or joyful play. A short prayer, a quick run, a good coffee, and then off to do what God has called us to rightly do.

Courtesy of Anthony Costello

However, for the one suffering, the prospect of a new day can be daunting. Purpose and meaning can seem faint, if not absent. The world is uninteresting and another day in it feels useless. Indeed, for the one grappling with heavy emotional pain, as the dawn breaks, melancholy can flood into a mind still half asleep. Questions like “What’s the point?” “To what end?” and most dreadfully, “And why does any of it matter anyway?” overwhelm the soul. It is in this early morning hour, the right brain still dominating the left, when dreams and abstraction are not clearly distinguishable from concrete realities and practical reason, that the sense of wrongness, the brokenness of creation, the knowledge of things being the way they should not be, flood the heart; a sort of existential waterboarding. It can be hard to breathe, and the chest can feel heavy. Crushingly heavy. Those who have suffered know how hard morning is, making simply getting out of bed a heroic feat in itself.

How can we worship at such a time? How might we pray when the morning does not bring us joy, but fear? Our Psalmist is not unaware of this reality however, and the pain that has gripped him through the night remains fresh before him. He relates to us, and we to him, when he writes and we read, “I am worn out from my groaning. With my tears I dampen my pillow and drench my bed every night. My eyes are swollen from grief; they grow old because of all my enemies.” (Psalm 6:6-7)

But, all is not lost, for as our Psalmist also knows, this is a time that God Himself has ordained to come to us, to us who love Him. This is the time when, at the threat of daybreak, we meet our God in faith, “But I will sing of Your strength and will joyfully proclaim Your faithful love in the morning. For you have been a stronghold for me, a refuge in my day of trouble.” (Psalm 59:16) To rise from a bed of sorrow, from your bed of sorrow, and to begin another day, your day, is itself to act in the faith of the Risen Christ, and to stand in His strength. To face exactly that hopelessness, your hopelessness, and to do so with even a very modest degree of hope — this is the simple act of faith that we see in the life of our Lord Jesus and in the lives of His holy people.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Anthony Costello