Monday, November 4, 2019

Heartstrings and Heartache: 
The Meaning of  "Dismayed"

Two weeks ago, we had a wonderful 40th Anniversary Banquet. In preparation for some brief remarks about our theme verse: I Chronicles 28:20,  I was thinking about the phrase “ not be afraid neither be dismayed...”, and I wondered what the difference between those two words was. We sometimes fear things that we know to fear and we can  also fear "the unknown," but what does it mean to be "dismayed"? 

looked it up, and while being dismayed is similar to being afraid, it happens when we're caught off guard and at are a loss for what to do.  One cannot be dismayed in advance. Whatever it is that dismays us, we never see it coming.  Life is like that sometimes. "Sometimes a plank in the bridge gives way... and we who tread are frozen fast with fear."  I chose not to include these thoughts about "dismayed" in my remarks at the banquet, but they came back to me a few days later... and 
I needed them

On Monday afternoon, our family received some news of a serious nature from my second daughter who is mid-term in her second pregnancy. (It's a boy. Due in March. We had the "reveal" party just three weeks ago.) I will not go into details, but the discovery came during a routine doctor's visit when she was alone. That made it much harder. The doctor called for an immediate follow up visit two days later with father and mother and doctors and surgeons and counselors. Those difficult sessions would come on Wednesday.

At my Tuesday morning teachers, the morning after we learned the news, I was not yet at liberty to tell any of this to our teachers. I chose to share my unused thoughts about the "dismayed" from our theme verse. I knew if I explained why, I might break. It has happened before, and everyone understands, but I could not yet be that transparent. As I looked across the chapel, eyes met with each teacher as I spoke, I thought back over the many years I have spent with with this group since 2000, and I recalled the many times when we have collectively and individually been dismayed by unexpected trials to difficult to talk about in real time. I paused, took a breath, and moved on to the second part of the verse: "...neither be dismayed, for the LORD God, even my God is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you..." And on that positive note, we each began our days at Calvary.

But later that afternoon, in the quiet of my office, I inadvertently slipped back into "dismayed mode." I wrote a note to a prayer partner that ended with: "There is a lot of information for them [my daughter and her husband] to process. One of the options the doctors presented is not option for them at all (and yet by law it must be presented). Yet even from a firmly "pro-life" position, the strain between facts and faith is deep--the tension between the mind and heartstrings takes time to tune." The next morning the word-picture about heartstrings crystallized into these lines.


Sometimes the tension
between the heart
and the head…
strains beyond
what string can bear.
The tie that binds
is stretched like gut
across the frets—
too tight to tune
the anguished cry
of twisted  time.
But just when it seems
the strand will snap,
there comes a turn
that trues the tone
into a steady note
played soft and low
by the gentle stroke
of God’s almighty hand.
© Tom Kapanka 

I should clarify that the original draft written the day before the Wednesday visit ended with "...The gut is drawn / outstretched on frets / and fear the strand / will break / before a single note / is played."  Before the second consultation, the doctors provided little hope, but on Wednesday, once the non-option was again presented by counselors and again taken off the table by the parents, the focus turned to a plan of action--a difficult plan to be sure--but one that has been successfully done upon birth. It gave them and all the family reason to hope and brought specificity to our prayers. Mostly this news has provided more frequent moments of peace as God works His will in this situation.

Note: There are 19 lines in this piece, and the first 13 show the stress that comes when we are dismayed. Words like "tension," "strains," "bear," "binds," "stretched," "gut," "fret," "twisted," and "snap" depict the human anguish that results from ignoring the rest of the verse: for the LORD God, even my God is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you..." Gut (our deepest sense of being) refers to both the visceral feeling we experience during stress but also the fact that for thousands of years stringed instruments were made from animal intestines. (It's still true today.)

Likewise, the word "fret" has two very different meanings. First it means debilitating worry ("Don't fret about it"), but it is also a part on some stringed instruments ( especially guitars ) that bring certainty to the pitch and tone of a note. Only in the last six lines comes a "turn" of trust... toward faith (like the turn of tuning peg on a guitar) that changes the meaningless screech of stress and the "fret" of worry to the clear tone of certainty that comes when we stop fretting and become instruments in God's hands. It's true that strings must be drawn tight to create a clear tone, but the difference between heartache and harmony comes in knowing we are never forsaken.

It may seem strange that I would write during such a time. We all cope in different ways. I write mostly to myself as the header of this blog suggests.

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