Monday, July 27, 2009


Facebook friends introduced me to the expression “FML,” an addendum added to their news of unfortunate events, embarrassing twists of fate, and unhappy experiences. Without too much imagination, I figured the expression is an abbreviation for “f*** my life.” While verifying my surmise online, I found a website,, which contains short descriptions of assorted calamities and humiliating moments. These, in turn, have been collected into a published book F My Life.

The expression is crude but understandable: how badly you feel when you’ve said or done something well-intentioned but inappropriate, or when your best laid plans backfire in some way! I feel that way when I’ve done my best in a situation but, for whatever reason, the circumstance goes awry and I feel foolish.

Without being too irreverent, I thought of some biblical FML moments. Several passages in Job immediately spring to mind, but so does this one from Jeremiah.

Cursed be the day I was born! May the day my mother bore me not be blessed!
Cursed be the man who brought my father the news, who made him very glad, saying, "A child is born to you—a son!"
May that man be like the towns the LORD overthrew without pity. May he hear wailing in the morning, a battle cry at noon.
For he did not kill me in the womb, with my mother as my grave, her womb enlarged forever.
Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame?
(Jer. 20:13-18)

"FML" indeed! The Israelites' despairing complaints typified their experience of Wilderness.

The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’ (Ex. 16:1-4)

From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’ But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’ So Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’ (Ex. 17:1-4)

Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron; the whole congregation said to them, ‘Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become booty; would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?’ (Num. 14:1-3)

The migrating Israelites unfortunately became a historical example of impatient despair in the face of adversity.

Needless to say, a despairing, disappointed response to personal situations should not be a fixed part of a religious person‘s outlook (or anyone‘s for that matter). “Rejoice in the Lord always,” says Phil. 4:4: “always,” not when things are going well. But the psalms give us permission to bring problems and disappointments forthrightly to God; the error of the Israelites was to lose all hope.

Psalm 77 is one of my favorites. In the first half, Asaph expresses forthright unhappiness about life and toward God.

You keep my eyelids from closing;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I consider the days of old,
and remember the years of long ago.
I commune with my heart in the night;
I meditate and search my spirit:
‘Will the Lord spurn for ever,
and never again be favorable?
Has his steadfast love ceased for ever?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?’
And I say, ‘It is my grief
that the right hand of the Most High has changed.’ (vss. 4-10).

Can’t you hear the disapproval of sunny, “I’ve got the victory” Christians in response to a complaint like that? But this is Holy Scripture.

But the second half rehearses God’s blessings, in an “object lesson” of verse 11, “I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; I will remember your wonders of old.” The psalmist recalls the works and wonders of God.

I try to curb my own “FML” moments by recalling God’s mercies. This is definitely one of my struggles and I don’t succeed as often as I wish--despairing moments, after all, resist a larger outlook than one’s personal pain. But it might be a good idea for us to make lists periodically of God’s wonders and mercies. The mercies could be personal, or examples from the Bible. The goal is to move out of the moment’s pain--the disappointment, the hurt of pride--to the consoling truth of God’s redemption.

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