I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall be always in my mouth.
My soul will glory in the LORD;
let the poor hear and be glad.
Magnify the LORD with me;
and let us exalt his name together.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me,
delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him and be radiant,
and your faces may not blush for shame.
This poor one cried out and the LORD heard,
and from all his distress he saved him.
The angel of the LORD encamps
around those who fear him, and he saves them.
Taste and see that the LORD is good;
blessed is the stalwart one who takes refuge in him.
Fear the LORD, you his holy ones;
nothing is lacking to those who fear him.
The rich grow poor and go hungry,Psalms 34: 2-11
but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
A Reflection on Psalm 34
In the spectrum of emotions, disappointment is listed under the umbrella of sadness, alongside sadness and shame. Prolonged disappointment can transition to feeling dismayed or displeased. These synonyms reveal much to the troubled heart. In religious circles where sunny spirituality is upheld on a golden pedestal, disappointment is hushed, invalidated, ignored. Yet nearly every Christian will experience disappointment to some degree in his or her lifetime.
Not long ago, my oldest daughter wanted to express her feelings of disappointment when a close relative decided against a much-anticipated visit that had been planned for months. She canceled it literally a week before her flight was to arrive in Indiana. To say Felicity was disappointed would undervalue her emotions; she was devastated, crushed. At her request, we worked on a way to share her feelings honestly and openly.
The response she received was, “Everyone gets disappointed in life. You’ll have to learn to deal with it.”
Sometimes we internalize this same message when we are disappointed in God’s will for our lives. Maybe we expected a different outcome to our prayer or were told to “have more faith” that God would provide a miracle. When the seemingly opposite of a blessing crashes our confidence in God’s goodness, it’s hard to carry on in the same way. We feel duped and depleted, distant from prayer – as if the eternal mystery of how and why God chooses or permits certain circumstances creates a chasm of doubt within us.
The psalmist here knows well of disappointment. It’s not often we can jump from having our dreams dashed to a place of rejoicing and praising God. Instead, our faith is more fluid and often rises and falls as we wrestle with what God may be asking us to suffer.
The first part of Psalm 34 uses the juxtaposition of the poor and the rich. The psalmist isn’t writing about material wealth or poverty; he is speaking of the poor in spirit. As is typical in spiritual realities, we see a paradox – the poor are actually the rich ones, while the rich are bereft of what matters most.
It seems that the psalmist wants us to remember that, when we are disappointed or discouraged, we grow in the beatitude of poverty of spirit. We become empty of self, and, however painful, are thus open to God moving more freely in and through us. In this psalm, the poor are the ones who “sought the Lord” and “cried out” to Him. We, too, tend to fall to our knees in desperation and weeping when we are flooded with loss after loss.
It’s interesting that the psalmist wanted to begin with praising God, because, as I mentioned earlier, that is likely more difficult when we are despondent and struggling to accept God’s will for us. Yet when we act contrary to our feelings and recall the ways God is vast, the wonders of His creation, and past blessings we have received, it creates a prayer that is built on the virtue of fortitude and can subsequently withstand a greater suffering.
Here, the consolation is that God hears the one in “distress” who turns to Him. We may not receive the answer we are seeking in prayer. We may not have a particular cross removed from our lives. Yet we can be certain that God hears us and has not forgotten us.
Finally, the one who “fears the Lord” and is “stalwart” finds his or her reward. The psalmist reminds us that fidelity to God is foundational when we are nearing the edge of hopelessness and want to give up on persevering in prayer. Fear of the Lord isn’t recoiling in terror of God as tyrant but instead springs from the virtue of humility and the knowledge that God’s mysterious and paradoxical ways come from a place of profound love for us.
Disappointment, like any emotion, must be acknowledged and accepted for what it is. We can do this without wallowing, but instead by moving through the frustrating ups and downs in our relationship with God. As in all relationships, trials and tests often produce the most beautiful results – if we are willing to stay the course and endure what is arduous and difficult.