Freedom, Prison and Praise: A 1-Verse Prayer for Desperate Places

What rolls off your tongue when you’re in trouble? What comes out when you’re in a prison or a cave? How do you pray?

Like A Song, It Came

“Help me,” “Heal us,” and “Have mercy,” are desperate prayers my God has heard lately. There’s also been that prayer for a prodigal.

But last night, these words came. Like lyrics from songs we sang in eighth grade, they came.

Set me free from my prison,
    that I may praise your name.
Then the righteous will gather about me
    because of your goodness to me.

That’s the last verse of Psalm 142, “Of David. When he was in the cave.” David prayed those words when he was literally in a cave, hiding from a hostile King Saul who literally sought to end his life.

I’d just texted a few friends to ask them to pray, another SOS. Please pray that God will bring peace to our family.

Then Psalm 142 verse 7 came, like ROYGBIV and All Cows Eat Grass and The Doxology.

Like a familiar, overlearned thing it came. The Spirit sent it and it came.

Because that verse was a go-to prayer during the decade of gut-wrenching infertility, a heart-wrenching church split, and marriage conflict that came along for the ride. Those felt like a prison that I couldn’t escape. I felt helpless and hemmed in.

So I prayed.

Set Me Free From My Prison

We know anything is a blessing that makes us pray. I think thinking of the word prison today triggered it.

David’s prison was a cave. He hid in a hole in the rocks to save his life from hostile King Saul. Derek Kidner explains, “the strain of being hated and hunted is almost too much, and faith is at full stretch.”

Psalm 142 teaches us how to pray when we feel trapped and out of control, when we see no way of escape from our dark cave of troubles. It is a psalm of lament, it is a psalm crying out to God.

There is no cave so deep, so dark, but we may out of it send up our souls in prayer to God.

Matthew Henry

My prison is not a cave. It was my “decade of troubles.”

But today I felt trapped and helpless again. As if there was nothing I could do to escape hostile, hateful words from someone I love, nothing I could do to help him know how much he is loved. I didn’t feel hunted but I did feel hated.

So for freedom, I prayed.

That I May Praise Your Name

During that decade of troubles, I loved to pray this phrase of Psalm 142. Because it grounded my prayer. It turned it from being just about me and my pain to the Lord and his praise.

Bible commentator Albert Barnes, explains, “Not merely for my own sake, but that I may have occasion more abundantly to praise thee; that thus [you] may be honored; an object at all times much more important than our own welfare.”

In other words, we ground our cries for help in the glory and praise of God that will come when he frees us from our prisons. Bring my soul out of prison, not that I may live more comfortably, or insure my physical safety and financial security, but that I may praise your name.

Because God is zealous for his glory and seeks our praise, these prison break prayers are easy to pray.

So for God’s praise, I prayed.

The Righteous Will Gather Around Me Because of Your Goodness to Me

The Hebrew verb for “praise” means to confess or acknowledge. David wants to extol God’s power, goodness and mercy in the company of the saints. In other words, he wants God to answer his prayer so that he can glorify God publicly.

Here, Derek Kidner notes, David “dares to visualize the day when he is no longer shunned or hunted, but thronged, or even crowned.” David visualized a good end. In Christ, with him as our refuge and portion (verse 5), we can be sure of a good end (Romans 8:28). But we can’t be sure when.

I believe we have biblical warrant to take our cues from David and visualize a good end.

Do you visualize how answered prayer would look? Because it does seem like that’s what David is doing. He’s picturing his faithful friends, like the friends I texted who pray, coming around him and rejoicing at God’s goodness to him in freeing him from prison.

David’s visualizing is hoping.

So in hope, I pray.

Faith Joined By Hope

David’s faith was tested in the cave. It was “at full stretch,” as Kidner said. But it was “undefeated, and in the final words it is at last joined by hope.”

Sixteen years ago, God broke me free from a childless prison. Six years ago, he brought me out of an estranged prison. Today, God is building our marriage. I am a prisoner of hope.

Now I am visualizing deliverance. It’s hard, but I picture a day when the relationship filled with hurt and hate is marked by love and laughter. Then the righteous will gather around us and celebrate because of God’s goodness to us.

Friend, tell me if I can pray for you. Because I’d like to get in on the party. Because there will be a party.

The righteous will rejoice in God’s goodness to us. He has done great things, we will say together.

So together, we pray.

We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

1 Corinthians 1:8b-11 (ESV)

Tolerance: The Wedding Gift It’s Taken Me 25 Years To Unpack

Marriage author and husband on wedding day
Rather listen? Here’s the Keep On Podcast.

It was not on our gift registry. Truth be told, I thought I was a pretty “live and let live” 21 year-old bride. But like the rogue aunt who went “off-registry” and bought us the best flexible cutting boards and a silicon spatula set that now I cannot live without, God knew better.

So he gave us the gift of tolerance.

But that snowy Sunday in January as we unwrapped the pile of wedding gifts, this newlywed didn’t appreciate that gift.

Two Bears In Marriage

But I had really been tuned in, I’d have welcomed it. After all, Grandma Beth had told me. At the bridal shower, when everyone shares a nugget of advice with the bride-to-be, she’d hinted. Grandma’s advice came in one short line.

You must take two bears to live with you—Bear and Forbear.

-Grandma Beth

Bear and forbear. We don’t use those words much. To bear means to accept and to endure and to forbear means to refrain, to control oneself (Lexico).

I won’t lie. I used to think forbearance was weak and acceptance meant beat. This last line in Amy Carmichael’s poem sounded like defeat.

In acceptance lieth peace.

Unpacking Tolerance

The Bible uses the words bear and forbear. Jesus bore with faithless disciples (Matthew 17:17), Paul bore with hostile Jews (Acts 18:14), Christians bear each others’ burdens (Galatians 6:2), and our God forbears (Romans 2:4, 3:25).

But the Greek word for forbearance is also translated as—guess what?—tolerance. It means to hold oneself up against; to put up with. Synonyms are bear with, endure, forbear, suffer. In other words, we still may oppose the opinions, annoying habits and even the hurtful sins of others even as we bear with the people.

It’s only recently, that I’ve unpacked that wedding gift. For nearly 25 years, tolerance lay in a bin tucked away because I didn’t want that gift. Why? Because tolerance only had a negative ring to me.

I thought it meant one of two things. Tolerance either meant that one must agree with an opinion that one is opposed to—and how could anyone possibly do that?—or to accept all viewpoints as equally valid. Both were logically inconsistent, and unpalatable to me. 

When it came down to it, I didn’t like the gift because, in G.K. Chesterton’s words, Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.”

And if I’m anything, I am a girl with convictions. But while tolerance can mean that, but it doesn’t always.

He Tolerates Me

Tolerate means to allow someone to do something that you do not agree with or like (Oxford Learners Dictionary). Did you catch the difference?

I used to think tolerance was all about agreeing with the idea, but it really means to abide with the person, regardless of their habits, opinions or ideas.

Jim tolerates my thinking out loud, my being late and my hogging the quilt in a sleepy frenzy in the middle of the night. He tolerates my abrasive Mrs. Business tone, my blasting backward out the driveway, and my sampling his food— no matter what he orders.

Last year I told you 10 reasons I’m glad I married Jim. Make “he tolerates me” number 11. Sometimes he makes me laugh at my annoying ways and sometimes he calls me out. But in every case he tolerates me.

The fact that despite our flaws and sins, we’re happily married after 25 years proves it.

Some of these same issues that hounded us in year one of marriage still hound us today. The same things that annoyed me about Jim when we dated, still annoy me today. In fact, they may niggle at me until we see Jesus face to face.

The Perfect Matrix

When I unpack tolerance this way it’s obvious that it grows best in a till-death-do-us-part relationship. Because anything short of that level of commitment simply does not demand it. The, If my friend (or spouse) doesn’t spark joy, I’m out of here mindset leaves no place for tolerance.

But I must add a word to my unmarried friends. Some of you are the most tolerant people I know. Tolerance can grow in so many ways, including the hard work of lifelong friendships. To flourish, tolerance requires the soil of commitment and the water of forgiveness.

Which are vital in every marriage. So it’s no surprise that master Blogger Tim Challies calls tolerance “the great challenge of every marriage.”

Like Challies, I went into marriage thinking that marriage would help him grow in holiness. He thought that confronting each other about their sin would help them grow more like Jesus (more holy). I thought of how I’d help Jim see his sin and he’d oh-so-tenderly correct me.

But I agree with Challies on how the surprising way this actually plays out. He writes, “Aileen may grow in holiness by having me confront her in her sins, but she seems to grow more in holiness by patiently tolerating my sinfulness—by loving me despite my sin and loving me as the Lord helps me progressively put that sin to death.”

Holiness By Tolerance

If we’re honest it’s often harder to tolerate a bad habit than a bad sin. Maybe only because we brush up against habits more often than sins.

It is often harder to tolerate the way your spouse chews his food or leaves her clothes on the ground than the way he sins against you or the way she remains unsanctified. And again, while Aileen might grow in her sanctification by having me formally point out a way in which she is sinful, she seems to grow more in sanctification by learning to accept and perhaps even embrace some of those non-moral but oh-so-annoying things I do—those eccentricities and matters of preference.

So perhaps the foremost way that marriage has helped make us holy is not so much in calling each of us to serve as the other’s second conscience, a junior assistant to the Holy Spirit in bringing conviction of sin. It is not in calling each of us to be a kind of moral sandpaper to actively scour off each other’s rough edges. Rather, marriage has helped make us holy by calling each of us to extend a kind of divine mercy toward the other—to simply live lovingly with someone who is prone to be sinful and just plain hard to live with.

Tim Challies, The Great Challenge of Every Marriage

Twenty-five years in and I finally see it. Tolerance is not weakness, or leaving your conviction at the door. Tolerance is the path to holiness. It is extending divine mercy to others.

It’s the mercy that the God who disapproves of my pride, envy and impatience—to take three—still shows by loving me.

Showing Tolerance…In Love

That’s the 25 year-old wedding gift, friends, and now that it’s unpacked it’s yours for the taking, whether you are married or not.

It’s to “simply live lovingly with someone who is prone to be sinful and just plain hard to live with.” It’s giving the mercy God gives us to another. It’s walking worthy of Jesus.

So help me God, I intend to use this gift. Maybe it’ll become as prized as the flexible cutting boards and silicon spatulas. Either way, I intend to make room for the two bears in our home.

What? You’ve also invited them in?

Fantastic! Now let’s watch and wait.

Because I think their friends, friends like patience and humility, holiness, tolerance and peace, will come to dwell with us too.

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Ephesians 4:1-3 (NASB, 1995)

10 Reasons I’m Glad I Married Him & 1 Marriage Tip

Bride and Groom married walking down aisle, hand in hand
January 4, 1997

1 Marriage (& Friendship) Tip

Hair fades, brows crease, and it is all grace that our marriage has endured to year 25.

But even with 24 years under my belt, I’m no marriage expert.

I do have one quick tip, though. I call it the THAT’S WHY I MARRIED YOU game; AKA: CALL OUT THE GOOD, or I LOVE THAT ABOUT YOU.

Single? No worries. It works with friends, too. Just call it, THAT’S WHY YOU’RE MY FRIEND.

In fact, I advise my single friends, Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, then half-closed after the wedding. This, I think, is an active way of keeping our eyes half-closed—closed to negatives we can’t change in others—and wide open to their praiseworthy ways.

To clarify, calling out the good does not mean we don’t see the bad. It only means we choose to dwell on the good, à la Philippians 4:8,

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Not Blind, Just Focused

So playing this “game” doesn’t imply you’re smitten down to the pinky toes. It just means you’re choosing to see the good in them. It’s not blind devotion. It’s proper focus.

But maybe you feel like you made a mistake in choosing your marriage partner. I hope this surprising quote from lessons for incompatible soul-mates encourages you.

Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates…But the ‘real soul-mate’ is the one you are actually married to.

Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, pp. 51-52

And you’re real soul-mate will thank you and feel more like your soul-mate if you practice this one tip.

Don’t save your loving speeches for your friends till they are dead; do not write them on their tombstones, speak them rather now instead. 

Ana Cumens

Do Not Withhold Good

Directions for use: Simply call out the good when you think it. You notice when a friend keeps her word when it hurts, call it out. Your husband unloads the dishes, acknowledge it.

Don’t save you loving speeches. Praise the praiseworthy. Don’t be stingy with it. If you think a complimentary, affectionate, kind-hearted thought about your husband (or friend) share it.

Bonus Points: Call out the good in front of others. I try to play “that’s why I married you” in front of the boys. It sounds like, “He gives great hugs. That’s why I married your dad.” Or when you’re having coffee with Meg and some mutual friends you casually ask, “Doesn’t Meg give the most thoughtful gifts?”

And without any more ado, here’s why 24 years after the wedding, I’m glad Jim’s my man.

10 Reasons

In no particular order, here are 10 reasons I’m glad I married Jim:

1. He makes me laugh. Refer to the infamous Stanley Park incident and ask him Inspector Clouseau at Walgreens.

2. He is a handyman of handymen. Look what he installed for forest-dwelling, sun-loving me.

3. He fears God. He greatly delights in his commands.

4. He is kind. And—shhh— I don’t even think he even knows about the 30-Day Challenge.

5. He is a tidy. He puts dirty clothes in the bin, though I still struggle to put the clean away.

6. He forgives me. Yes, to #7 of those 8 marriage quotes: A good marriage is the union of two good forgivers. 

7. He gives the best back rubs. ‘Nuff said.

8. He plays games. With the boys and with me, he plays to win (and usually does) and for that I’m glad.

9. He reads to me. It was Churchill’s Trial in bed last week.

10. He keeps his word. Jim’s word is golden; never have I ever doubted that.

That’s how CALL IT OUT looks around here on our 24th anniversary night. But remember, it also works wonders with friends.

Before I close, I’ll let you in on a little secret about this “game.” Playing it is a gift. But the gift of gladness is as much to yourself as it is to your spouse or your friends.

So do not withhold. Call out the good.

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.

Proverbs 3:27

The Infamous Stanley Park Incident

Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC- 6/19/04
 

Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can; all of them make me laugh.

W. H. Auden

Hurry Hon! I think we can catch it if we run.

So we cinched up our backpacks and off we ran to the free summer Stanley Park shuttle bus that offered “free shuttle service around the park stopping at 14 popular locations.”

Oh, and “The shuttle stops are easily identified.”

And sure enough, right on cue, as we raced into the Rose Garden, the bus squealed to a stop. We looked , smiled at the driver and climbed on.

And took off our packs and sat down. Because after a few hours hiking the Park’s walkway and seawall and North Creek and Beaver Lake and South Creek Path, our feet were sore.

So we caught our breath and enjoyed the view. First, Rhodendron Garden, and the Rowing Club. Then the Salmon Stream and Lost Lagoon.

Isn’t this great? Jim asked.

And it’s free, I sighed, sinking into my window seat, about halfway back, driver’s side, admiring the totem poles.

Hey- there’s our car! Jim said. And sure enough, it was. And seconds later this sign, “Leaving Stanley Park.”

Little did we know.  

 

Next stop, the driver piped, Vanier Park. Then Granville Island. Enjoy three of the city’s best attractions all in scenic Vanier Park.

What? Vanier Park? What happened to Stanley Park? I whispered to Jim.

Maybe he’s giving us a little bonus ride, he said with that grin. I was none too sure. And as riders got on at the Vanier stop, the driver started asking for tickets.

That’s funny, I whispered again. We didn’t show any ticket when we got on.

Maybe that’s because we raced right on, Jim said, his eyes growing wide.

Riders piled in at Granville Island and my anxiety was rising mile high.  No, you’re not in Kansas anymore. Or Stanley Park. We were probably only 5 miles away, but it felt 500 miles away. I slumped deeper into my seat and resisted looking up for fear of meeting the driver’s eyes. Sure enough, at each stop the driver- or his assistant- punched tickets. But he hadn’t punched ours.

Or, by the matchless grace of God, even asked to see them.  

 

The Radio

We didn’t have tickets. We were free riders. And with each stop, my misery grew.

Then the bus driver looked back, ominously, I thought. I avoided his gaze and trembled slightly as he grabbed his radio. By now the din of the riders drowned out the driver’s voice.

But I thought I knew why he made that call.

Jim, do you think he knows? I felt like a mouse hiding on top of a carpet cat tower.

He might. Maybe he was calling the authorities.

Then, Be prepared to show your tickets at the next stop in Gastown. A new driver will be stepping on board.

I squirmed. And tried to look invisible.

What are we going to do, Hon? I almost cried. We have no money. Should we just go up and confess?

Nah. Just pray it goes back to Stanley Park, Jim assured.

I did. And the bus filled and a new very crisp, capable looking driver stepped in at the Starbucks in Gastown. I curled into a ball and heard nothing whatsoever about the sights in Gastown.

The driver took his place and the old driver got off.

I exhaled, Now our secret was safe.

 

 

Don’t Look Now

Abigail, whatever you do, don’t look up, Jim said staring down into his book. The new driver’s looking our way.

I grimaced, and slunk a little lower. I could barely see out the window.

Oh no! He just picked up his radio. He’s talking and he just looked at us again.

This was unbearable. I think I’d have preferred a night in the Vancouver clink to this.

I heard something about Grouse Mountain off to the right but I dared not lift my head to peek.

Abigail, I think they might get us at the next stop. Get ready to run. I turned my head the slightest inch to see another grin.

But despite myself, his grin made me grin. Then, the driver’s voice broke in.  

 

Next Stop, Stanley Park

And after our nearly 90 minute (free) tour of Vancouver proper, the loop had closed. We spotted our car, then the Rose Garden. The bus slowed.

As soon as it stops, just run as fast as you can, Jim whispered. I almost laughed as we grabbed our packs and rose. And with the most grateful and innocent smile I could muster, but without eye contact,  I said,

Thanks for the tour. I couldn’t, and I didn’t, say then that I enjoyed the tour. 

But 15 years and plenty of retellings of the Infamous Stanley Park Incident hence, I realize that I did. I did enjoy that undercover, high-stress Vancouver loop. I enjoyed it because of Jim.

 

Joy, Because Of Jim

He makes me sweat and makes me laugh. He knows me pretty well and still loves me.

Jim  knows I don’t laugh enough and I’m prone to introspection.  So Jim makes me laugh.

The moral of our story?

Marry someone who makes you laugh. And if you can’t do that, find a friend who makes you smile. Because life is full of inconvenience. And, after all, adventures are only inconveniences rightly considered. And rightly considered the Vancouver loop was edge-of-my-seat, or slink-deep-in-my seat adventure. Because I was with my husband, my friend Jim.  

 

“With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.” 
William Shakespeare