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How Long, O Lord?

The Reverend Renee Splichal Larson serves as Associate to the Bishop here in the South Dakota Synod. Pastor Renee wrote a devotion which appeared in a synod publication last week. It was helpful to me, and I want to pass it on to you. She uses Psalm 13 as the basis for this devotion, a very appropriate and relevant psalm for each of us at different times in our lives, but certainly for right now too.

I have received permission from Renee to reprint her devotion below. I trust her words will speak to you too. – Pastor Tim

“How long, O Lord?” the Psalmist writes (Psalm 13). Perhaps the psalmist sighs these lyrics, their pain and longing so deep there are no other words. Perhaps they shout the words out of frustration or anger. Or maybe they cry them, cheeks stained with unending tears. “How long, O Lord?”

Lately I have found myself asking that question. Right now, I ask out of a longing to know. “How long, O Lord, will life feel out of whack?”

I want to know when I can visit my loved ones without fear of transmitting illness. I want to know if my five-year-old can go to kindergarten in the Fall. I want to know that my husband and I are making the right decision by putting our kids back in daycare after juggling work and home life for the last 16 weeks. I want to know if kids are safe in their own homes, or if some are going hungry, or when people can safely go back to work. I want to know: How long, O Lord, will we be so politically divided? I want to know how much longer people can hold out emotionally and mentally, as we all wait with expectant hope for a vaccine or effective treatment for COVID-19. I want to know … how long, O Lord?

Some may say this is not a helpful question, but along with the Psalmist, I ask it. I don’t expect an exact answer, but I do have a promise from God, that God hears the question and the longing within it. This is a faithful and prayerful question, because we speak it to the One who holds together all things, the One who is our past, present, and future. And we, like the Psalmist, trust in God’s steadfast love (verse 5), no matter how long we must wait for what we deem to be new life.

There is a song in the Evangelical Lutheran Worship book (i.e. the “cranberry” or “red” or “new” hymnal), called “How Long, O God.” It is hymn #698. The lyrics were written by Ralph Smith. Ralph served as a professor and dean of the chapel at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, IA. While I attended seminary at Wartburg, I learned of Ralph Smith, of his life and of his tragic death because of a car accident at the age of 44. I cannot sing this hymn without thinking of this man I have never met.

Perhaps in this time where communal singing poses a great danger to those gathered, we can pray our beloved hymns. Maybe it will give us a chance to pay more attention to the words and how they get planted in our hearts and minds. Hymn #698 is a hymn I find worth praying. It is a psalm in and of itself. Verse five both asks the question and proclaims our hope: “How long, O God?” the psalmist cries, a cry we make our own. Though we are lost, alone, afraid, our God will lead us home.”

Rev. Renee Splichal Larson
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