Worship In Hard Times
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Courtney ReissigCourtney Reissig is a pastor's wife, freelance writer, blogger, and teacher. She was born in California, grew up in Texas, and did a couple of stints in Michigan before finally graduating from Northwestern College (MN). After doing some graduate study at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, she met her husband and fell in love, and they now make their home in Little Rock, Arkansas. You can read more of her writing on her blog or follow her on Twitt...more
How can we worship God through the really hard times? Courtney Reissig shares her story and tells how God met her through His Word.
Worship In Hard Times
Dave: Alright; you know what I did when COVID hit. I started reading a certain book in the Bible.
Ann: Yes; you started reading Psalms/the book of Psalms.
Dave: Yes; the funny thing is I didn’t know—I started before COVID—then, after, I’m like, “Maybe, God led me there,” because the book of Psalms was so emotive. It felt like I was reading Scripture of people who were going through a pandemic—
Ann: You’re right; yes!
Dave: —sort of like I was. It gave words to the feelings we had. I’m so glad I was reading that during the pandemic.
Ann: It just shows how relevant God’s Word is to everything that we go through.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
I remember you doing that. I read the Bible through every year, so—
Dave: Yes; we’ll be driving down the road; and Ann, every time we are on a road trip: “Let me read you the book of Psalms,” “Let me read you this Psalm.”
Ann: “Let me read you what I’m reading today; you’re going to love it.”
Ann: [Whispering] Dave doesn’t like it when I read out loud to him.
Dave: So why are we saying all of that? I don’t like that—I don’t know why—I should enjoy it.
Ann: You pretend you do.
Dave: I like it when you read Scripture.
Today, we’ve got Courtney Reissig with us today, who wrote a book about the Psalms called Teach Me to Feel: Worshipping Through the Psalms in Every Season of Life, even the COVID season; right?
Courtney: Right; right, even during COVID.
Ann: Courtney, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Courtney: Thanks for having me.
Ann: We’re glad to have you back.
Courtney: Yes; I’m glad to be back.
Dave: So you’re a writer; you’re a teacher/Bible teacher; the managing director of Risen Motherhood, which is a phenomenal ministry. Most importantly, though, you are a mother of four.
Courtney: I am.
Dave: Married how long?
Courtney: Almost 12 years.
Well, anyway—as I opened up your book and read the first chapter about your sort of experience in the hospital, which led you to the book of Psalms—man, what a compelling story! I mean, none of us want to live what you went through; because you walk in one day, thinking you are just going to go home that day, and you end up almost a month in a hospital with this pregnancy. It was a tough time.
Courtney: It was; yes.
Dave: I know that’s where you start the book, sort of telling us your feelings, going through that time.
Courtney: The doctor on-call came in. Then the contractions just kept getting worse. She was like, “I think you’re having a placental abruption.” A placental abruption—if it’s a full abruption, means certain death for the baby within five minutes and ten minutes for the mom—the other complexity is we have three other children. So you were there; you helped take care of them. They went from having me every day to three weeks of a steady stream of different people every day.
Friend: I remember they were listless little boys.
Courtney: They were—they would cry—they didn’t understand. My dad decided to go get them and drive them back to Florida, where they/my parents live. It took a lot of the frightening nature of what was happening to them out of the equation, but it was the worst experience of my life [emotion in voice]: “What if they leave and I die?” “What if I die, and they don’t see me again; and I don’t get to say, ‘Goodbye,’ to them?”
I had to be monitored three times a day. They were about to take me off, and my nurse and I looked at the monitor. I said, “Did his heart rate just go down with that contraction?” The doctor was like, “This is the last straw; time to deliver this baby.” They start the procedure. It takes a while, because I have some other issues from previous C-sections. He is born screaming; we both just start sobbing. We have no idea what is going on; but at least, he is breathing. You can hear them being like: “This is a miracle baby,” “This is a miracle baby.”
Placental abruptions don’t stop for three weeks. We feel God was like: “I’m going to make this placenta abrupt for a little bit and stop it. You’ll feel the weight of your mortality and your son’s mortality, but I’m not going to let you die today.”
Ann: Wow; I mean, I feel like I’m there. I just want to cry with you; I see you wiping your tears, Courtney. That’s intense.
Courtney: Yes; it was intense. It was really intense. My older children still remember it.
Ann: Do they?
Courtney: Yes, they do.
Ann: We’ve been talking earlier about what that was like for you and how the Psalms have ministered to you. That really did prompt you to write this book. Even coming out of that, I love that you wrote feelings that you were experiencing when you felt let down; you talked about Psalm 55. Another chapter in your book is when you felt despair, and you talked about Psalm 88: forsaken, in pain, worthless.
I’m hearing this; I’m thinking, “Yes, God’s Word relates to every one of those feelings.”
Dave: So what jumped out to you initially? Give us a walk through/you know, one of the Psalms that God really used to help you feel but to also minister to you.
Courtney: I had hoped that by spending all that time in the Psalms for all those three weeks that, when the moment of crisis came, that I would, then, remember everything I had read or, at least, that something would stand out to me that I would display resolute faith or that I would somehow have a glowing face—I don’t know—
Ann: All the Scripture is going to come to your mind.
Courtney: “It’s just going to flow out of me, because I’ve just been pouring it into me. Of course, it is going to come out in a moment of crisis,”—people think like this/they think—“I wouldn’t respond that way in a crisis.”
Well, you actually don’t know how you are going to respond in a crisis until you’re in the crisis. In the moment, I literally couldn’t remember anything that I had read. If you had said, “Tell me something that you have learned in the last three weeks,” I would have been like, “I don’t remember anything”; but I could remember Psalm 23. I remember, in the moment, thinking, “This is a sign of weakness and failure. [Laughter] Everybody knows Psalm 23.”
Here I am, thinking—
Dave: “That’s all you can remember.”
Courtney: —Psalm 23!
Ann: You felt lame,—
Courtney: I felt lame. I felt like a weakling.
Ann: —because you are a Bible scholar and teacher.
Courtney: Right; right. I didn’t have any words to remember in that moment, because I remember people like John Piper can remember to recite all this Scripture when he was in a cancer ward. I’m like, “I don’t have anything.” [Laughter]
Ann: That’s reassuring for many of us.
Courtney: Right! In the moment, it was a crisis. It was really intense, and I was like on the border of a panic attack. There were a lot of things going on in that moment. For me, what was helpful, later on, was realizing that it wasn’t a sign of failure; it was a sign of kindness of the Lord. He was not even making me dig deep for anything; He was just showing me: “Psalm 23 is Scripture, too; it’s just well known.”
Ann: I listen to you, and I think, “Oh, it’s almost like God took all the other Scripture out, because He wanted you to sit in Psalm 23.”
Courtney: Yes, He did; yes. He did, and I did sit in it. I was really comforted by it, which I’m happy to walk through it if you want to. So Psalm 23:
The Lord is my Shepherd. I have what I need. He lets me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters. He renews my life. He leads me along the right path for His name’s sake.
Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger for You are with me. Your rod and Your staff—they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows.
Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me, all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord as long as I live.
Dave: Like you said, it’s so familiar; but again, hearing that, it is so powerful.
Courtney: It is. It is; yes.
Dave: Those words are loaded with meaning.
Dave: I’m thinking of a listener, who is in that valley—
Courtney: Right; right.
Dave: —for whatever reason—and they are just struggling. What is God saying through this Psalm?
Ann: Also, Courtney, why does that make you feel so much when you are reading it?
Courtney: I mean, I don’t know exactly why Scripture makes me cry when I read it—I don’t know—but I think, for me, a lot of it is I’ve experienced this Psalm. I mean, Psalms are poetry. So even—if you think of a song, even a song that’s not about the Lord—a good song/a good lyric does make us feel. We are feeling beings; God created us with emotions. He could have created us emotion-less, but He didn’t. He created us with emotions. As image-bearers, we are created to feel. God feels as well; you see, when Jesus was on the earth, He felt. So it’s not wrong to feel.
It’s good to feel; but as a Christian, we want to harness our feelings rightly in a way that honors the Lord. In this Psalm/when you think of: “The Lord is my Shepherd,” I immediately go to John 10 with “He is the good Shepherd.” In the context of John 10, it’s right after John 9, where the man born blind is healed and then kicked out of the synagogue for, basically, being healed by Jesus. Here, Jesus says, “I’m the good Shepherd. I’m the Shepherd who doesn’t leave you. I’m the Shepherd who doesn’t devour the sheep. I’m the Shepherd who always cares for the sheep.”
Dave: —and “The sheep know My voice.”
Courtney: Yes; they know Him, and they hear Him, and they are cared for by Him.
For the person, who maybe feels abandoned by someone, or who feels like they’ve been taken advantage of by bad shepherds, the good Shepherd is so comforting—because you think of shepherds—sheep are so vulnerable; they so desperately need the shepherd to take care of everything for them.
Ann: And He’ll leave the 99 to go find the 1.
Courtney: Yes; yes; then: “I have what I need. He lets me lie in green pastures. He leads me besides quiet waters,”—like He is taking care of everything that we need.
So often, especially in the midst of suffering, it feels like what we are experiencing is not what we need; that we have this tremendous lack. What the Psalmist is saying/what David is saying is: “You have everything you need.” One of the things—in verse 4 of Psalm 23: “Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger,”—a dark valley is dangerous; but it’s saying, “I don’t fear the danger.” It’s not saying that we aren’t going to be in suffering; it just says, “I don’t fear what it is, because I have a good Shepherd who is with me.”
Ann: Yes; I love that because one of the versions says, “For You are close beside me.”
Courtney: Yes; yes.
Ann: I think about our grandson, who is just really fearful of the dark right now; and he feels totally safe when his dad is beside him.
Courtney: Yes; yes!
Ann: That is for us too. We could be going through anything; but when we have Jesus/when the Father walking beside us, it gives us a little more courage.
Courtney: Some people know this; but I was actually diagnosed with cervical cancer in the middle of COVID. I had to have a hysterectomy very quickly after. It was a really long and quick crisis; but I had to go to all my appointments alone, because it was COVID. My husband never met my oncologist; he couldn’t be in the hospital with me. I had to have a hysterectomy by myself in the hospital, and he had to wait in the car. I had to spend the night in the hospital.
When I had my PET scan—I remember—they tell you, with a PET scan, to be calm while you are waiting for the dye to go through.
Courtney: I was like, “I don’t know how you can be calm.” So I listened to music. Some people had sent me a playlist/a friend had made me a playlist. I was listening to some music.
It was one of those moments where—I have been in medical crisis before; but this is the only moment where Daniel could not be with me. He has been by my side for everything that we’ve gone through—and this is one of those moments, where like he could not be in the PET scan room with me. I sensed so clearly that the Lord was with me—like Psalm 46:1—“You are a very present help in times of trouble.” If you are trusting in Jesus, we have the Holy Spirit residing within us so that we are never alone. Even when we are in the darkest valley, He is with us.
Ann: I had a situation very similar to that. I was having an MRI, checking for cancer; and it’s so traumatic for your soul.
Courtney: Yes, yes!
Ann: You can be so gripped by fear—
Courtney: —gripped; yes.
Ann: —and anxiety. I’m thinking of listeners, who have gone through so many circumstances, where they are just gripped with fear and anxiety.
I can remember—you know, I have my head in this thing; and the noise is so loud; it’s banging—I can remember thinking, “I’m just going to go to another place with Jesus.”
Ann: I pictured Psalm 23.
Ann: I pictured myself walking beside a stream with Jesus in this green valley. That helped me. I mean, it is also Scripture. It’s almost like I went to another place in my head,—
Ann: —because this place was too traumatic.
Dave: She always goes visual.
Ann: I do go visual.
Dave: She sees it; it’s like she is seeing Psalm 23 come alive.
Courtney: Right; right.
Ann: We can use our imaginations for really terrible things. Why wouldn’t we use it to picture Jesus?
Courtney: That’s so helpful; yes, absolutely.
Dave: I’m just thinking of the truth of: “I will fear no evil for You are with me.” That truth—and he writes—“…comforts me.”
I’m thinking of, as an NFL chaplain for 33 seasons with the Lions, there were many situations, where I would be one of the first people on the field to a player, who just got injured—the different responses in that moment by players—I can remember Kevin Glover breaking his leg. He knew, snapped during a playoff game. By the way, the Lions weren’t in very many playoff games; so this was a long time ago. [Laughter] But walking over to him on the field in Tampa, he literally had a smile on his face. He wasn’t happy; but he was like, “Okay, the Lord is in control. I’m done; but He has got me.”
Walking over to the other guys—who are yelling, and cussing, and screaming—because this is their whole world. They had no sense that there is a God with them; what a difference.
Courtney: Difference; yes.
Dave: Whether it’s in a hospital room or in your marriage—whatever—to know that you can be comforted by the truth of what the Psalmist is writing here: “You are with me.” Keep going!
Ann: Yes, this is good.
Courtney: One of the things that I think is also helpful is when you see, “Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me,”—the rod being—the staff like guiding us; but also the rod is discipline. So even the discipline of the Lord—not punishment—but suffering comes into our life as a way to harness us and discipline us.
Ann: —to shape us.
Courtney: —and to shape us; yes.
That—to be able to say that it comforts us—I can say that on things, on the backend, and say, “I can see what the Lord has done in that.” I want to be able to say, “This suffering that the Lord has brought into my life doesn’t feel good; but in the grand scheme of things, it is going to work out for good.” I want to be able to say, “I know that it is a comfort. When I am experiencing suffering, it’s not a sign that He is against me; it’s a sign that He is for me, because He is conforming more to the image of Christ.”
Then I love verse 6: “Only goodness and full love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for as long as I live.” I love that only goodness—because, again, in suffering, it doesn’t feel like goodness and faithful love—it feels like death. It feels like—when I was diagnosed with cancer, it felt like God was kicking us while we were down—I’m like, “COVID, really? You’re going to give me cancer, too, in the midst of COVID?” It felt like He was kicking us while we were down.
Ann: So stop right there.
Ann: A lot of people feel that at different times in their lives, where they are mad at God/they are blaming God; they are like, “Really?! Really?!” How do you deal with that?
Courtney: Well, I think you are honest about it. The worst thing you can do is not be honest about how you are feeling, because the Lord is/He knows what you are feeling anyway. It doesn’t do any good to pretend like you are trusting when you are not.
I prayed that to the Lord—I talked about it to my husband—I also told this to the Lord, “I feel like You are kicking us while we are down. I feel like You are not with us.”
Dave: You are writing a psalm right there.
Courtney: One of the helpful things of processing through that is, if you are pouring Scripture into your life, eventually those things do work themselves out; it just. sometimes, it takes time. By God’s grace, I was able to get to a point where I realized He wasn’t kicking us while we were down. He was showing up—and He showed up in a number of ways—of having people help us, and my parents were able to come down; there were a number of things to help. But I was honest; I didn’t stuff it down—
Courtney: —where I was trying to put on a good face for everyone, who was waiting to see how we were going to respond. What’s helpful—I always think of Joseph, too—is how Joseph, at the end of Genesis, says, “What you meant for evil God meant for good.”
Courtney: And he said it at the end of his life; he says it at the very end. We aren’t given the process throughout what he endured—and when we think of how long he endured injustice, and suffering, and difficulty before he ever saw any fruit from what was going on—
Ann: And he could have been so bitter—
Courtney: Yes, he could have been.
Ann: —angry with his family/angry with God.
Courtney: —and the Lord worked in his life so that he was able to have that perspective of that: “Yes, you meant it for evil; but God intended it for good.”
What the Scriptures—I think sometimes we build a theology of trust based on the end result of what we see in the Scriptures—but the Scriptures don’t tell us all the process that got to that point. We have a little bit of study to understand: “Well, that was maybe 20/30 years that that was going on,” or “That was seven to ten years that that was going on.”
So when you think of the span of your life—you get diagnosed on a Monday, and you’ve got to have a resolution of trust by Friday—well, that doesn’t always happen.
Courtney: The Christian life is hard; and life is complex; and people are really complex. Sometimes, if you are even just looking at counseling people, and working through and just loving suffering people—is giving them the breathing room to have those feelings that—“It is really hard,” and “I don’t feel like I trust right now.”
Ann: I’m thinking of talking to kids and to friends, where they will be suffering—and they will be lamenting, like: “I feel so forgotten,” “I feel like this is unjust,”—I have this habit of hating that they are in pain, so I try to fix their pain.
Courtney: Oh, yes; I do, too; yes.
Ann: “Okay; well, God’s Word says…” I’m a pretty positive person, so I try to bounce them out of their negativity.
Ann: Our one son will always say to me, “Mom, let me just sit here in the pain of it.”
Courtney: Right; right.
Ann: It’s a good reminder for me to, like: “Oh, yes, I don’t need to fix him; that’s God’s job. I can just sit with him in it.
Ann: “Put my hand on him; pray for him; understand and say, ‘That’s got to be so hard.’”
Dave: Yet, there is something that happens—I’m guessing you agree with me—when you do go vertical—
Courtney: Oh, for sure; yes.
Dave: —when you’re in the pain/you’re in the struggle. The Psalms often do that. It’s like—even Psalm 73—we’re not going to walk through it; but he’s—I’ve said it many times: “Why do the evil prosper? Why do bad people get good things?”
Courtney: Yes! Right.
Dave: The psalmist is, for the most of that Psalm,—
Courtney: Yes, he’s real mad.
Dave: —saying what we’re all thinking. And then you get to: “Then I went into the sanctuary…”/“Oh, when my eyes went vertical, then I got a different perspective.” I think that’s what your book does—that’s what the Psalms do—is, when you say, “God, I want Your perspective,” you read people, going, “Oh, they are complaining, too; but here it comes: ‘You are with me,’ ‘You’ve got this,’ ‘God is my refuge and my strength in time of trouble.’”
It’s such a good reminder that we can literally lift our chin and go: “Okay, I’m going to”—“walk into this year” “walk into this marriage” “walk into this hospital room” “walk into this test”—“and know that God is with me. That’s all I need to know. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know He is with me; that is enough.”
Bob: I think, for all of us, emotions can be sometimes confusing. Sometimes they blindside us; they come out of nowhere. We think: “Where did that come from?” “Is this even right or appropriate? Am I sinning by feeling the way I feel?” I think this conversation between Dave and Ann Wilson and Courtney Reissig has been so helpful as we look together at the book of Psalms and see that God’s Word tells us that we can bring our emotions to God. Emotions are not bad; they are given to us from God. We just need to know what to do with them when we feel them. Some of us need to know how to feel them more deeply.
Courtney has written a book called Teach Me to Feel. It’s a book we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. It’s available online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call to order your copy. Our number is 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the title of Courtney’s book is Teach Me to Feel. Order it from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call to order: 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, we’re excited about four events that are taking place this weekend. We want to ask you to be praying with us for couples who will be attending Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways in Cleveland, Ohio; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Delray Beach, Florida; and Little Rock, Arkansas, this weekend.
We had to shut down Weekends to Remember back in March of 2020. Since that time, we’ve only had a handful of events. That’s one of the reasons we are excited that we are able to have these events now and that couples are coming out to spend a weekend with us to strengthen their marriage.
David Robbins, the president of FamilyLife, is here with us. David, our listeners need to know that, even though conferences had to be shut down for a season, a lot of ongoing ministry has continued to happen, here, at FamilyLife.
David: Yes, I’ve gotten a little sentimental, looking back and reflecting, as I keep getting appointments landing in November and December now on my calendar. It just makes me think back to the last 18 months. In a lot of ways, a lot of things for people have been frozen or on hold. In particular, ministry to marriages and families, there has not been a pause. If anything, there have been greater needs; and there has been some pretty cool acceleration of what’s been happening.
As I reflect back, I just, first, want to say, “Thank you for the ways you have come around us as a ministry—for the ways you have given: for you Legacy Partners continuing to give, month in and month out; for many of your special gifts—to keep us, as a ministry, moving and ministering to families in this critical time. It allowed our ministry to be creative, whether:
- It’s a Dates to Remember box, which that date box has helped thousands of couples carve out time to be intentional with their marriage around God’s Word.
- There was a virtual cruise we did; who [knew] you could have a cruise without a boat?
- And over ten thousand couples in Latin America have gone through the Vertical Marriage small group through a Zoom small group.
Those are just a tip of the iceberg. God has been on the move in some powerful ways. I just want to say, “Thank you for the ways you have given in order to keep ministry going strong and being created to keep pursuing our mission and our vision of every home a godly home.”
Bob: Yes, the last year-and-a-half has been so critical for so many couples and so many families. People have continued turning to us for help and hope. Because of listeners, like you, who donate to this ministry, we’ve been able to be here, providing that ongoing hope and help. So thank you.
David, thank you for being here with us.
Again, join us in prayer for the Weekend to Remember getaways that are happening this weekend. I hope you have a great weekend. I hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend, and I hope you can join us on Monday when we’re going to talk about screen time. If you don’t think that the amount of time you’re spending looking at a screen is having an impact on your marriage, and your family, your relationships, then you’re just not paying attention. David Murrow is going to join us to talk about how all of us are drowning in screen time and what we should do about that. I hope you can tune in for that.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you on Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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