The Sins of My Youth

by Elouise

Dear Readers,
‘Youth’ includes everything before the present moment.
The older we get, the more ‘youth’ we accumulate.
Don’t even try to get out of this one!

The Sins of My Youth:  A Meditation on Psalm 25

Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!
(Psalm 25: 6-7)

It’s late August 1965 in Savannah, Georgia, just two weeks before my wedding.  A double wedding with one of my sisters.  It’s hot and oppressively humid.  Not the time of year to be making last-minute decisions.

My sister and I are having yet another discussion about how to manage parts of the wedding and reception.  The discussion escalates into an argument.  My mother joins in and—wouldn’t you know it—takes my sister’s side!

This feels like the last straw.  I begin reminding them of the many times my mother has sided with my sister against me in matters about what is, after all, my wedding too!  I’m tired of being……

Just then my father walks into the room, having heard nothing but my angry outburst.  He cuts me off in mid sentence.   His very next words burn in my memory:

Young lady, do you know what your biggest problem in life will be?
(dramatic pause)
You always think you’re right!

My father’s harsh judgment quickly takes up residence in my mind.  There it joins other choice lines.  Over the years these voices regularly get together with yet more voices to remind me of my many failures and shortcomings.

The voices taunt me, mock me, and try to bait me into arguments.  Sometimes I make up nasty little speeches to hurl back in their faces.  I’m not about to stand idly by and just take it!

In Psalm 25, something like this is going on with King David.

The king is in distress.  He’s like a little bird with its feet hopelessly trapped in a net.  No matter what he does, he can’t seem to break free.  In fact, the more he struggles, the more entangled he gets.  He’s lonely, afflicted, troubled in his heart.

It seems he’s been here before. David has made tons of enemies in his lifetime:  Goliath, Saul, countless political enemies, even members of his own household.  His foes would love a chance to snatch him up and make a tasty little meal of him.

But this time David’s big problem doesn’t seem to be out there.

David isn’t trapped by one of his many political rivals.  He’s trapped in his head by the reality of his past.   Internal voices remind him of

  • things he wishes he could forget
  • things he wishes he hadn’t done
  • damage he can’t undo
  • exactly who said what about him

He’s caught in a tangled web of deceit, intrigue, remorse, regret, guilt and shame.  Parts of the web seem to be of his own making.

David’s attackers aren’t lying in wait for him somewhere out there.  They’re lurking in the corners of his mind.  Waiting to pounce.  The voices taunt and mock him:

Just who do you think you are?  King David the Great?

David knows exactly who he is.  At least he thinks he does.  He knows himself far better than his enemies out there could ever know him.  Even if they don’t get all the facts precisely right, they still have plenty of reasons to call him out.

So King David takes a huge risk.  He lifts up his soul to the Lord.  He places his trust in God.  And then he waits.

While he waits, he talks–incessantly!

  • He tells God his worst fears.  All this waiting might be for nothing, and I’ll look like a fool!
  • He asks God to teach him, lead him, show him what to do next!
  • He reminds God that he’s waiting. . . patiently.
  • He urges God not to remember him according to the sins of his youth, but to remember him according to God’s steadfast love and mercy which are far older than David is!
  • He reminds God that God’s good name is at stake here, not just David’s peace of mind.
  • He asks for God’s mercy (for the second time).
  • He talks about what God is famous for:  showing the humble what to do next, leading them in steadfast love and faithfulness.
  • He asks God to pardon his great guilt.  (Another plea for mercy!)
  • He describes how faithful God is to those who turn toward God.
  • He assures God that his own eyes are turned toward God.  (Just in case You didn’t notice…)
  • He asks God to turn to him, and tells God how lonely and afflicted he feels right now.  (He can’t emphasize this enough!)
  • He asks God to forgive all his sins.  (Not just the little sins. . .)
  • He directs God’s attention to those many foes who would love to see him (David) put down.  (Time is wasting!  Look, God, Your reputation is at stake too!)
  • And just in case God forgot, he reminds God that he’s still waiting!

So what’s going on in this Psalm?  I’m struck first by several things David doesn’t do in this Psalm.

  1. He doesn’t try to defend himself or explain away his past.  He isn’t defensive.
  2. At the same time, even though he laments the sins of his youth, he doesn’t dwell on the details of his many transgressions.  This seems to make sense, since God already knows all the details and then some.
  3. Even though his enemies are ready to mock him if God doesn’t come through for him, David doesn’t attack his enemies or ask God to see that they get what they richly deserve.  Amazing!
  4. Finally, he doesn’t promise God that he’ll never go near that net again if God will just get his feet unstuck this one last time!

So if that’s what isn’t going on here, what is going on?

David tells us:  He’s waiting.  Waiting for God.

As in the rest of Scripture, waiting isn’t about sitting passively, twiddling our thumbs.  It’s about getting ready—ready for what is surely coming to pass!

In Psalm 25, it seems all these words are David’s way of getting ready.  He isn’t just filling up the silence.  He’s making room in his mind and his heart for another voice:  the voice of God who doesn’t remember him according to the sins of his youth and his many transgressions, but according to God’s own special brand of steadfast love.

  • Steadfast love that knows the whole truth about David and his transgressions
  • Steadfast love that understands not just what David did, but why he did it
  • Steadfast love that knows not simply when and against whom David sinned, but when and by whom he was sinned against.

God’s steadfast love will surely pluck David’s feet out of this tangled net and teach him to walk in new paths.

Psalm 25 invites each of us to wait for God actively, not passively.

What voices and memories haunt you?  What do you wish you could forget?  What do you wish you hadn’t done?  What would you like to change but can’t?

  • Talk to God instead of playing old tapes.
  • Make room for God’s voice and God’s truth about you.
  • Count on God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.
  • And wait–expectantly!

Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!

* * *

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 Aug 2014
Revised version of a sermon I preached in a local church, July 1995