Recently I’ve been reading a book titled Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Someone Who’s Been There by Cheryl Strayed. It’s based on a series of advice given in response to anonymous letters sent to an online advice column (yes, I am essentially binge-reading an advice column on steroids—please don’t judge me!).
Why am I enjoying it so much (and sharing this fact with you lot)? It’s not so much the advice given (though it is surprisingly insightful and delightfully punchy!), but the honesty and rawness of letters. They come from people who afraid to love again; from people doubting their purpose and ability; from grieving people; from people who are scarred from abuse; from people who are unsure what path is right; from others who don’t know who to trust or how to move forward.
All the stories and struggles are unique, but so far (I am still reading), there would be one word which unites them all. What is the word? Disorientation.
They want a life where they are motivated rather than stuck. They want a life beyond depression. They want a life that is stronger and more mature.
They are up in the air, they are round-a-bout, they are upside-down, they are waiting to land. And they write-in to Cherly Strayed (known by them under the pseudonym of ‘Sugar’), hoping that she might be able to help them land; hoping that she will be able to help them reorientate. They look to her to find a new normal—a better normal; a normal which sees them moving forward without their ex-lover; a normal freed from the grip of their abusive father. They want a life where they are motivated rather than stuck. They want a life beyond depression. They want a life that is stronger and more mature—and most are aware that they can never go back.
Why am I enjoying it? The topics are not light topics. They are, however, real topics. They are authentic topics. They are topics which capture the depth, the weirdness, the discomfort, the confusion, the hope, the uncertainty, the pain of the human experience.
Tiny Little Things shows me the same raw humanness that I see in that I see, with even greater magnitude, in the book of Psalms. In the Psalms—as Walter Brueggemann puts it—we see a movement of human experience from the place of orientation to disorientation; from disorientation to reorientation.
Orientation to Disorientation.
First, it is a movement from a place of relative stability in the world, where things are experienced as they are meant to be…
LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory in the heavens. (Ps. 8:1)
… to one of grief, loss, trauma, anger, confusion, despair:
How long, LORD? Will you high yourself forever?
How long will your wrath burn like fire?
Remember how fleeting is my life.
For what futility you have created all humanity! (Ps. 89.46-47)
The Psalms present the human experience of disorientation at its most sharp, jagged and painful. They plumb the depths; no edges are smoothed out. The Psalmists question God’s plan; question his promise; question his love; question his wisdom. In the Psalms we see people unhinged by their suffering.
Disorientation to Reorientation
And yet, the Psalms also show a movement disorientation to reorientation. This is the place where the pain—or, perhaps more accurately, its lesson—has left its legacy. The believer, having sunk to the depths re-emerges to a stronger, deeper and more mature trust than before. There is a new trust—shaped through suffering, but most especially, shaped by the experience of being saved from that suffering by God. The result is thanksgiving and praise:
I will exalt you, LORD, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me.
LORD my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me. (Ps. 30:1-2)
You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
LORD my God. I will praise you forever. (vv. 11-12).
This is what makes the book of Psalms different from a book of good advice. It is written by people have met the God who not only understands—who not only has wisdom to offer—but who has the power to enact salvation, and the love to follow through. They have encountered the LORD, who welcomes us in the midst of our disorientation. They have been saved by the God who has not left them in that disorientation.
This is the same God we worship. It is the LORD, in his power, his love, and his covenant faithfulness—expressed finally and fully in his chosen King and Son—who makes this experience of disorientation so meaningful. When we cry out to him we can know that that he is leading us toward something better.