The 31st Psalm is a psalm of lament in which an individual cries out to God during great despair. Classical lament psalms follow a pattern: invocation, complaint, petition, words of trust, and expressions of praise. This psalm contains all five elements, but if you reread it carefully, you might notice that it doesn’t follow the pattern one after another. Instead, the elements of the lament are fluid, flowing back and forth.
That is how I experience sadness, despair, grief, or depression. In one moment, I am calling on God in an invocation. The next, I feel like I am moving on with words of trust, only to find myself back at complaint. Our emotions are messy. Some days are better than others and some days, we feel we are taking a step backwards.
The psalm teaches us to trust in God in living and dying, to trust in God in health and sickness, and to trust in God in joy and sadness. The reading begins with, “Be gracious to me, oh Lord, for I am in distress.” God gets that. God understands that we can’t control our feelings. God understands that our emotions are not linear. God is always understanding and gracious. The real question is whether we are going to be gracious with ourselves when we feel we are taking a step backwards.