Before spotify playlists, I was downloading songs using iTunes onto my iPod.
Before iTunes, I was downloading songs using illegal websites like Kazaa and Napster.
Before Napster, I was burning CDs.
Before burning CDs, I was recording mixtapes.
I remember listening to the radio in my room waiting for my favourite songs to come on. As soon as they did, I would run over and push the button with a little red circle on it, also known as the RECORD button. Then my Sony boombox stereo system would record the song onto the tape, and at the end of the song I would push stop, capturing the song on the tape forever! Then I’d wait for another song I loved, run over and hit the button, record, then stop.
Cassette tapes were not unlimited storage devices, so once the tape was filled up, you could remove it, flip it over, put it back in and fill the other side. We called these cassette tapes filled with our favorite songs mixtapes.
Believe me, I understand that there’s a whole group of you reading this who have not recognized a single sentence since the word iTunes. So let me admit upfront, its me who is technologically out of touch here. Not you. But please keep reading, this is worth it.
Creating a mix tape took time and patience, an ardent attentiveness that I’m not sure I possess anymore. So why did we do it? Why create mixtapes?
Because of a truth that has not changed for centuries: Songs can give expression to our experience. For our mixtapes we chose the songs that resonated with our souls, that put words and feeling to our thoughts, that lifted our spirits or expressed our pain. Some songs have a way of capturing the range and repertoire of the human experience so well.
If you pick up a Bible and open it to somewhere in the middle, you’ll find a historical mixtape called the Psalms. This book is filled with 150 songs that give expression to the human experience. Whatever you’re experience, there’s a Psalm that gives expression to it.
From being broken hearted to wanting to break someone’s neck—its in there.
From suffering debilitating illness to dealing with difficult people—its in there.
The spiritual frustration of God’s absence—its in there.
The celebration of personal progress,
the confession of dark desires,
the gratitude for all life’s goodness—its in there, its all in there.
Lament, joy, regret, praise, battling, thanksgiving, weariness, anxiety, depression, victory—its all in there giving expression to the range of human experience.
Why do I bring this up? Because this ancient mixtape that gives expression to your experience can do something for you that perhaps you’re missing in your life. It can soothe and strengthen your soul.
We live in a day and age when our difficult experiences are often dealt with in unhealthy ways. The two biggest ways I see folks deal with suffering include hopelessness and glossing. When we experience trouble, many today are tempted to face it with a defeated hopelessness: “Well that's just the way the world works. Lif is rough, it's not going to get any better, so just grit your teeth, shut up and deal with it.” Not exactly soothing to the soul.
The second way I see people deal with suffering is simply to gloss over it, to ignore it and pretend like its not happening or not that bad. There’s no need to talk about it; just focus on something more positive. Not exactly soothing to the soul. The ancient biblical mixtape, on the other hand, gives expression to our experiences. Even the painful ones. Its important to express how you feel, especially when things aren’t going well. When you talk about your suffering with another person rather than bottling it up inside, there is a release that is soothing to the soul. The Psalms give us permission to express the wide array of human emotions to God and remind us that He wants to know you’re whole story, wants to hear from you from you—even if its anger, pain or frustration. Not just the good—but the regrets and heartbreaks too.
The other thing this ancient mixtape does is strengthens our souls. The authors, in their expressions, also teach us something about God and what a relationship with Him can do in our lives. Over and over and over again, in the face of their struggle, pain, and challenges, no matter how dark things get, the authors honestly express themselves and always lean on God’s activity in the past to strengthen them and give them hope for the future. Their current reality does not define their cumulative relationship. The strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow is based on the loving kindness, the faithfulness of God, throughout all generations to his people. In other words, I know that God loves me and is for me, not because of our current events but because of his character displayed.
As a Christian, this is an incredibly important point. My strength for today and hope for tomorrow is not based in my current circumstance but its based on the cross. I know that God loves me and is for me, because he put on flesh and came to show me what human life can look like. He did not avoid suffering, but embraced it, to pay for my sin, to make me right with God. And in the resurrection of Jesus, I have the hope that some day will be better than this day! That someday God will fix everything. And until then, even if I suffer, I can express it to God, and find a soothing for my soul in that expression and in God's love displayed in Jesus. And I can have the strength to keep going in life—knowing that a day is coming when He returns to bring new life to this whole creation.
Give it a Listen
So go ahead and give the Psalms, that ancient mixtape, a listen (read). Not every single one of them will resonate with you every single time. But I’m confident that whatever you’re facing there’s a psalm that will give expression to your experience. And when you read it, reflect on it, meditate on it, talk with others about it, I think that you will find a soothing and a strengthening from your Father in Heaven that you’ve been longing for.