Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God. . .

But as for me, my prayer is to Thee, O Lord. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of Thy steadfast love answer me. With Thy faithful help rescue me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters. Let not the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the pit close its mouth over me. Answer me, O Lord, for Thy steadfast love is good; according to Thy abundant mercy, turn to me. Hide not Thy face from Thy servant; for I am in distress, make haste to answer me. Draw near to me, redeem me, set me free because of my enemies. . .

But I am afflicted and in pain; let Thy salvation, O God, set me on high! I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify Him with thanksgiving.

Psalm 69:1-3 13-18, 29-30

The journey of Great Lent began thirteen days ago, at the Vespers on Forgiveness Sunday, when the words of Psalm 69:17-18 were chanted: Hide not Thy face from Thy servant; for I am in distress, make haste to answer me. Draw near to me, redeem me. The period of Great Lent is sometimes called the period of joyful sadness. The end of the journey will be the joy of the Resurrection of Christ. The journey there of course will include the pain of the cross. It will remind us of the collective anger and ignorance of a world that killed the Son of God and how no one stopped it. It will hopefully lead us to a critical look within ourselves, to find the things that keep us from God, and even more pragmatically, to find the things that hold us back from being the people God wants us to be, and the people that hold us back from being who we know we can be. As an example, is it a sin to spend that extra five minutes looking at sport scores on my iPhone? Not one five-minute checking of scores is a sin in itself. Sports is a nice diversion from the stresses of life, a way to relax and be entertained, and that’s important. But when it’s five minutes here and five minutes there, those minutes start to add up quickly. When those minutes start to occur during the workday, or late at night, or when my child is asking for some kind of help, or when I spend so many minutes on the phone and no minutes in Scripture, it becomes apparent that I’m not being the person I could and should be.

Part of the problem in the world today is that we don’t look inwardly. We look only outwardly it seems. We look at others, often with jealousy or judgment. We posture ourselves to look our best in front of others, even if we have to stretch the truth about who we are, what we know, and what we have done. There is this pressure to compete against everyone for the prize of popularity, or material success. We forget to look at ourselves, especially through the lens that God might see us through. The goalposts that mark “success” seem to be moving constantly, and the distress spoken of in Psalm 69 is the realization (and fear) that we might not ever cross the goal-line and get to the desired goals we have and successes we crave.

Great Lent is not about sitting and wallowing in our sins and failures. It is about identifying them and, with God’s help, reclaiming our spirits, for Him, and for ourselves too. Because our own human dignity is better than the sins and setbacks we all fall prey to. I love how David, in so many of the Psalms, writes as if he is working through some issue, because many times he is. Many begin with a cry for help, a recognition of his difficulty, which is sometimes self-inflicted, and they usually end with a realization that the relief and protection he seeks can only come from God and that God pours it out abundantly.

Psalm 69 is an example of a microcosm of David’s life that is so appropriate because in so many ways it is a microcosm of ours as well. It begins with a cry for deliverance. Webster’s Dictionary defines “mire” as “wet, spongy earth”; “heavy, often deep mud or slush”; and “a troublesome or intractable situation.” ( When someone is literally “stuck in the mud,” it is hard to get out because there is no foothold to push off of. And unless one has help, one might be stuck for a long time. David’s lament about being stuck in the mire in this instance is due to persecution. He is surrounded by enemies. He feels no relief. As he laments, I am weary with crying, my throat is parched, my eyes grow dim. (Psalm 69:3)

As the Psalm continues, however, he places his hope and his trust in the Lord.  I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify Him with thanksgiving. (69:30) For the Lord hears the needy, and does not despise His own that are in bonds. (69:33)

I remember the old Westerns where someone would come unexpectedly upon a pit of quicksand and would quickly start to sink. And even though the movies never really gave a remedy for what to do, as the victim would always thrash around and sink more, the first thing to do when one is stuck in quicksand is to stop moving, stop fighting, because to continue to move and fight just causes one to sink more. The only way out of quicksand is to grab onto something and pull oneself out, or to hope someone comes to the rescue to pull one out. And if that wait is going to be a while, to be still and calm.

As we experience stress, failure, sin and setback, thrashing around in it is not helpful. The only way out is to grab onto something. Or in this case, someone. God. And to be still.

This Lenten period is neither a time to sit in the mire nor thrash about in it. It is a time to recognize that without God, we will sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold (69:2), and the floods of life, as well as those of sin, will sweep over us. Psalm 121 reads:

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From whence does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved, He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber no sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not smite you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; He will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.

Everyone has a “lifeline” and that is God, and sometimes that lifeline is other people, as we will read in the next reflection. Thrashing about will only cause us to sink more. Contemplation not only of our plight but of potential solutions—God and others—are things we should be thinking about this Lent. And then reaching out to God with prayer and repentance, and reaching out to others as well as looking out for others who seem stuck should follow.

Have mercy on me, O God. Have mercy on me.
I cared only for the outward adornment, and neglected that which is within—the tabernacle fashioned by God.
(Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, Ode One, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)

We all need God’s help to get out of the mire that we all fall into at times. We need to be still and patient, and to keep our eyes and our hearts open to the help that comes from God and from others.