Can This Birthday Be Happy? Using the Psalms as a Pathway to Joy

Bloodwork. Bleomycin infusion. Fourth floor oncology appointment. Those were the events that appeared when I opened my iPhone calendar yesterday morning—three digital boxes below a banner wishing me a happy thirty-second birthday. 

This wasn’t the first year my family spent a special occasion navigating the side effects of a serious illness. For decades, it’s been my chronic illness that’s complicated events, but this birthday my mom and I sat with my brother as he received chemotherapy treatment. 

No one asks for hard circumstances, especially on a day intended for celebrating. Grief-filled circumstances make you wonder if a happy birthday is fully out of the question. When special days—or even the most ordinary weeks—come wrapped in suffering, how can we hold on to our God-given joy?

How Lament Sets Your Feet on a Journey Back to Joy

If you’ve read many blog posts or articles about grief over the last few years, you’ve likely seen the emphasis on turning to the Psalms in times of distress or disappointment. Psalms of lament acknowledge that life isn’t always cupcakes and confetti—they give language that speaks to broken hearts and broken circumstances

How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long will I store up anxious concerns within me,
agony in my mind every day? —Psalm 13:1–2

They also show what it looks like to turn to the Lord in the midst of pain: 

But I have trusted in your faithful love;
my heart will rejoice in your deliverance.
I will sing to the LORD
because he has treated me generously. —Psalm 13:5–6 

Some situations need the slow steeping of lament because lament calls for more than just venting. It provides an opportunity for you to pour out your sorrows before God and ground your confidence in Him. Today you may find it helpful to spend some time praying a lament passage like Psalm 13 back to the Lord. 

There’s certainly a time to grieve. I’ve found myself dipping in and out of Psalm 13 and Psalm 22 over the last few months as we’ve wrestled with my brother’s diagnosis. But heading into this week I found myself returning to the last line of Psalm 13: “he has treated me generously.” 

What my heart needed on my birthday was not to spend time lamenting but to turn my eyes away from what my family lacked—things like clear answers, immediate healing, or immediate relief.What I needed was to use the last verse of David’s lament to launch into another kind of Psalm-filled journey to joy.

A Year Crowned by the Creator 

Have you noticed how the Psalms tend to address the Lord with certain names? In your own prayers, as you cry out to the Lord, you may think of Him as “Rescuer.” You may think of Him as “Deliverer.” You may think of Him as “Savior.” But “Creator” is normally not the go-to choice. 

During a recent church service my family and I watched from our hotel room, Texas pastor John Elmore pointed out that while “Creator” is generally not the title most people turn to first, it’s the one Peter used when giving instructions for suffering:

So then, let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator while doing what is good. (1 Peter 4:19)

During his sermon, Elmore said that when he thinks of the title “Creator,” he thinks of how God has created light from darkness, life from nonlife, and order from chaos. If the faithful Creator-God is able to accomplish each of these seemingly impossible tasks, how much more would He be able to generate vibrant hope out of hard circumstances? 

This focus on God as Creator ties into the theme of Psalm 65, a psalm I meditated on in the days leading up to my birthday. In my Bible, the heading of Psalm 65 is “God’s Care for the Earth,” a fitting title as the passage provides the reminder that the Creator is not distant from His creation.

In Psalm 65, David paints a picture of the Lord as a God of grace (vv. 1–4), a God of power (vv. 5–8), and a God of abundant provision (vv. 9–13). As the psalms of lament give language to help us turn to God in our grief, psalms like this offer language to borrow when we want to experience gratitude for and joy in God’s goodness. What if you were to use these categories to make a list—not one of lament or lack, but one describing evidence of ways the Lord has abundantly provided for you? 

I used those categories the morning of my birthday, borrowing language from Psalm 65 about who the Lord is and what He does. Here’s a look at some of what I put on my list: 

  • Lord, “You are the one who hears prayer”—every word, every thought, You’ve paid attention to it all (Psalm 65:2). 
  • You know who I once was, and yet Your grace and love overflowed through Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 1:13–15). 
  • Where sin multiplied, Your grace multiplied even more. Through Jesus, every one of my rebellious ways has been atoned for (Psalm 65:3; Rom. 5:20–21).
  • Without You, I would have no hope or confidence, but You are the “God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the distant seas” (Psalm 65:5). 
  • It’s always been true: “You crown the year with your goodness” (Psalm 65:11).

It’s time to create your own birthday list—even if your birthday isn’t for a few more months. Grab a pen and paper, and as you read the text of Psalm 65 below, write down your reasons for celebration: 

Praise is rightfully yours,
God, in Zion;
vows to you will be fulfilled.
All humanity will come to you,
the one who hears prayer.
Iniquities overwhelm me;
only you can atone for our rebellions.
How happy is the one you choose
and bring near to live in your courts!
We will be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
the holiness of your temple.

You answer us in righteousness,
with awe-inspiring works,
God of our salvation,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the distant seas.
You establish the mountains by your power;
you are robed with strength.
You silence the roar of the seas,
the roar of their waves,
and the tumult of the nations.
Those who live far away are awed by your signs;
you make east and west shout for joy.

You visit the earth and water it abundantly,
enriching it greatly.
God’s stream is filled with water,
for you prepare the earth in this way,
providing people with grain.
You soften it with showers and bless its growth,
soaking its furrows and leveling its ridges.
You crown the year with your goodness;
your carts overflow with plenty.
The wilderness pastures overflow,
and the hills are robed with joy.
The pastures are clothed with flocks
and the valleys covered with grain.
They shout in triumph; indeed, they sing.

As you read these words, which ones most infuse worship in your heart? As you take time to finish creating your list, save it for a weekday that’s wrapped in suffering or keep it for the next birthday laced with unwanted circumstances. On that occasion, no matter what you’re facing, may you find reasons for joy—not because of your circumstances, but because your God is a faithful Creator, one you can trust will crown the day with His goodness. 

About the Author

Katie Laitkep

Katie Laitkep

Katie Laitkep was working as a hospital teacher when God called her to join Revive Our Hearts as a staff writer. She serves remotely from Houston, Texas, where God sustains her through saltwater beaches, Scripture, and her local church. Katie's … read more …

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