Hump Day Hymns: Approach, My Soul, the Mercy Seat

Hymnal

Approach, my soul, the mercy seat,
Where Jesus answers prayer;
There humbly fall before His feet,
For none can perish there.

Thy promise is my only plea,
With this I venture nigh;
Thou callest burdened souls to Thee,
And such, O Lord, am I.

Bowed down beneath a load of sin,
By Satan sorely pressed,
By war without and fears within,
I come to Thee for rest.

Be Though my shield and hiding place,
That, sheltered near Thy side,
I may my fierce accuser face,
And tell him Thou hast died!

O wondrous love! to bleed and die,
To bear the cross and shame,
That guilty sinners, such as I,
Might plead Thy gracious name.
-John Newton (1725-1807)

***

“How are you doing?” I asked.
“Terrible!” was the reply.

Terrible? While I certainly appreciated the honesty, this grates against the folkways of my upbringing when we replied with an understated and repressed, “Good” regardless of how we were actually feeling. I have changed my perspectives on honesty regarding this so common question, yet I still am trying to figure out how to respond when someone replies with something such as “terrible.”

It does not matter with what I respond, this person will usually give me the list of things of why they are feeling terrible. I find it difficult to deal with, as I desperately want to fix things, I want to make things better for them, and I think to be honest, they want me to do the same. The most difficult part of this, however, is that the more I try to fix things, I fail miserably, and sometimes even make things worse.  When things don’t get any better or become worse, they become angry at me. When I admit that I cannot fix them, they become angry at me.

The days are several when I want to throw my hands up because I cannot do this.

I cannot do this.

And this is exactly right, I cannot do this.

Approach, my soul, the mercy seat,
Where Jesus answers prayer;
There humbly fall before His feet, 
For none can perish there.

I think of the Gospel text from last Sunday, when people began to wonder if John the Baptizer was the messiah.  He denied it, “but one who is more powerful than I is coming…” (Luke 2:16b).

***

About 1:30pm on the average Sunday I am back home, pulling on my thick wool socks because the heat had been turned down while we were away, and the hardwood floors of my 1886 duplex (in which my beloved and I have the lower flat) are like ice. I am done, for the day, with people telling me their problems. I am done, for the day, with people blaming me for this, that, and the other thing. I am done, for the day, with people expecting me to be God, and I am left, alone with myself. I feel the collective weight that has been hoisted upon my shoulders and all of the expectations that come along with it. I appreciate honesty, but sometimes I cannot handle it.

I want the truth, but I can’t handle the truth, as Col. Nathan Jessep screams in my ears.

I feel like a hypocrite, wanting something that I cannot handle, deeply desiring authenticity, but largely unable to bear the weight of it when it comes to the surface.

Perhaps it is because they are not the only one with problems and stresses. Perhaps it is because I already carry my own baggage, and find it difficult to bear both. As I my mind wanders, I become even more frustrated, my life is in pieces, and I wonder how on earth I could ever help others to get their lives together.

Thy promise is my only plea,
With this I venture nigh;
Thou callest burdened souls to Thee,
And such, O Lord, am I.

Sometimes one of the most difficult things to remember is that it is not only my parishioners, those who come to me because they are weary and burdened, it is not only these that need to attend to God for redemption and respite, but this is a promise for me as well.

Perhaps I find it difficult to hold their burdens, concerns, and worries, because I try in vain to hold mine, somewhere believing that I can handle it, and I can always handle it. As though my calling makes me into a type of super-human.

Perhaps I find it difficult because they act as a mirror. When I ask “How are you?” and they respond with “terrible,” there are days when I want to do the same, but still respond with “great.”

This is the beauty of hymns. We sing the together, and so they are corporate words, but in these corporate words, there are also individual words and pleas. They are also private moments, when feelings can be expressed, if to no one else, to God in the midst of other people. So I sing on as I go about my day, weary and burdened from the weight of my own burdens and the burdens of ministry, wondering how I can continue to stay right side up,

Bowed down beneath a load of sin,
By Satan sorely pressed,
By war without and fears within,
I come to Thee for rest.

 

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