By Ann Hostetler, professor of English at Goshen College
Reprinted from Lenten Devotions
“When you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is put down the shovel.”
A friend shared this saying a few years ago, and it has stayed with me as a reminder to stop, when I find myself in difficult circumstances, and take stock of the situation. How often we blame others for our troubles. How often we get in our own way when we take matters into our own hands, forgetting to ask for divine guidance.
Sometimes we find ourselves in a pit not of our own making—as Joseph found himself in a pit as a result of his brothers’ jealousy, or religious martyrs found themselves thrust into an oubliette—an underground prison cell shaped like a burial pit, its only opening at the very top, out of the prisoner’s reach. But in Psalm 130 it’s pretty clear that the writer has created his own troubles. The pit of our own making burns deep in the belly with shame. Asking for help makes us vulnerable.
Thus the cry from the depths in this Psalm is also a cry of hope, because the speaker has already reached the turning point, in his state of despair, when he realizes that he can call upon a God who forgives.
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you . . .
No matter how low we sink, once we turn to God for help, we are no longer alone. Instead, the dark places and moments in our lives offer us an opportunity to enter into a conversation with a living God of forgiveness.
The attitude of the Psalmist is one of vigilance. He waits for God more eagerly “than those who watch for the morning,” and he repeats the line for emphasis. Perhaps he waits so earnestly because he needs to feel God’s forgiveness in order to forgive himself.
In the Northern Hemisphere, Lent takes place during late winter, a time of transition and waiting. We have all experienced the depths of winter. Just when we think it’s over, the snow returns. We venture out into spring-like weather one day, only to be thrust back indoors by the chill of the next. But through it all we know, deeply, that spring will eventually arrive, just as we trust in God’s forgiveness to patiently transform our lives.