My soul is sponge-heavy. It’s absorbed enough and soaked up enough and cleaned up enough that all it seem to do is some water dripping. It’s November, which is always more strenuous for my muscle memory (not just because of this, but also this). It’s also the November of a pandemic year. And the November of an election year. So, yeah. Sponge-heavy.
I know I’m not alone. Many of us have been waiting for this November with a sour mix of anger and grief and sorrow and fed up with the chaos and desperate for a change or just a sense of normalcy. And now, November is here: heavy and full and dripping wet, sometimes leaking out in tears. Sometimes in sour words. Sometimes in a bitterness that stays trapped inside for too long like an old sponge that sits too long in its bacteria and starts to smell a little sour.
This morning, after my early-riser big one was rearing to go at 4:45 am (thank you daylight savings), I tucked him up into his room until the sun was awake and crept downstairs to make my coffee in the dark when the sponge-picture hit. It was the best way to describe how my insides felt. “My spirit-sponge is heavy,” I wrote in my prayer journal, “and I’d like You to lift my head this morning because I have three tiny ones to be cheerful for today.”
I pulled the ribbon marker in my Bible open to its place in Psalm 3, where I left off from yesterday’s mid-chapter digging. And I smiled in my sponge because I knew in a moment: His Spirit is here.
But You, O Lord, are a shield for me. My glory and the One who lifts my head.
Before I started my morning dig, I did a quick peek to see if “sponge” is in the Bible, not expecting to see it. But there it is, right there in Matthew 27. I had forgotten the detail that made its way into the New Testament, just before Jesus died on the cross. One of the bystanders ran and took a sponge, filled it with vinegar (also translated sour wine), and offered it to Him to drink. Not out of derision, but out of compassion (and it was an important enough detail that it was prophesied all the way back in Psalm 69:21). It was something the Roman soldiers were accustomed to drinking. But, still, it was a sponge full of vinegar.
“Huh,” I thought. “That was interesting.” And I returned to Psalm 3:3 and read about the shield. The root of the word means to cover over and, figuratively, to protect. “God, as it were, holds my shield, protects me with a shield,” or so the Lexicon reads.
And then, there is the glory. It’s the kind of glory that surrounds God in His Old-Testament appearances, like the glory-clouds that rested on Mt. Sinai for those 47 days in Exodus 24:15-18.
And then, the lifting up. My November muscle-memory brings with it an automatic pull-down on my neck. The heavy pull down toward despondency and sadness is real, and I know these pulling emotions are a stark reality for much of the country’s right now. But I wring out the vinegar and toss in the cross and dip my Spirit-sponge back down into His bitter waters made sweet (Exodus 15), lifting it up to my lips to drink.
And finally, there is my head. As I dig down deep all the way to the end of the verse, my jaw drops open. Because the sponge and the vinegar and the heavy head-lifting that was my morning-mix of random thoughts were actually entirely Spirit-driven. Down there at the bottom of the “of my head” definition, the reference stares back at me in striking black and white. It turns out that the same Hebrew word is also “the name of a poisonous plant with a bitter taste, Psalm 69:21.”
There is a reference to Deuteronomy 29:18 and the root bearing bitterness and wormwood. And one to Hosea 10:4, showing it grows quickly and abundantly. And one to Lamentations 3:5 and the writer feeling surrounded with bitterness and woe, and also 3:19.
“Remember my affliction and roaming, the wormwood and the gall,” Lamentations 3:19 reads. My soul still remembers and sinks, bowed down within me.” The words reverberate through my November soul, a heavy spirit-sponge soaked up with vinegar. And I remind myself that those grieving days are past. But new grieving days have come, bringing with them a different kind of heaviness and uncertainty.
But You, O Lord, are a shield for me – covering me over and protecting me from the worries and heart-pangs of the outside world. You are my glory – surrounding me with a fog-cloud of Your presence when the chaos of the world fogs up the social media windows, making it hard to see positivity and sunlight. And the One who lifts my head.
I open Charles Spurgeon’s commentary on Psalm 3 and find some timely election-day words waiting there for me: “There is a lifting up of the head by elevating to office, as with Pharoah’s butler. This we trace to divine appointment. There is a lifting up in honor after shame, in health after sickness, in gladness after sorrow, in restoration after a fall, in victory after a temporary defeat, in all these respects, the Lord is the lifter up of our head.”
Yes, these next handful of weeks promise to be turbulent. But even Jesus twice refused drinking from the sponge full of vinegar at his most thirsty moment. At the beginning of the cross-story (just before He was crucified in Matthew 27:34), and at the end of it (just before His last breath in verse 48). And so, I will do the same – consistently refusing to let the November vinegar pull my head down. Instead, I’ll wring out the bitter and soak myself silly in the sweet morning truth: that through the Lord’s mercies, we are not sponge-soaked in vinegar. Because His compassion never ends. His sweet waters never dry up. And they never, ever turn sour.
They are sweet and new every single morning. Even on November 4th. Even if the outcome doesn’t look the way we had hoped, it is still God’s divine appointment.
And no matter what, we can still say: Great is His faithfulness.