In the middle of life happening last week, Francis was having her daughter, the precocious granddaughter Anne, quote the twenty-third Psalm, daily. Sometimes Anne would cut up a bit and speak the words sloppily, so Francis would gently say, “Say it right, Anne.”
Those familiar phrases began to settle into my understanding. I began to associate them with my own experience. And I realized during one of my too frequent night watches that I should share with my girls from the other side of a “valley of the shadow of death” time.
Maybe this will help someone. I will have serious doubts and feelings of shame and will possibly become terribly insecure for a time after this publishes, because that is what I do. But it will not hurt me to feel those things for a day or two. Here is what the twenty-third psalm means to me now.
The Lord is my Shepherd.
I am guided and fed by my Creator and the Manager of my life. Not by my own ideas and feelings.
I Shall Not Want.
Unless I make a conscious decision (shall not) to count my riches in Christ Jesus, I will want. In my valley, my anxiety felt based in want. I wanted good things, truly, to have everyone around me to feel happy, be good, make good decisions, and live well.
I had a messy hormone imbalance happening. I felt terrible and sad because of all the big “wants” around me. I was in a perpetual state of anxiety and was convinced that the answer to my questions lay buried under a million unsolvable “if only s”. If Elv would not work so many hours I would be have more time to be with him and I’d feel better. Or if we had more money, or if that dog would stop barking, or the washer wouldn’t make so much noise.
I honestly believed that the blackness would lift if things could be righted. This was partly true, but I was too focused on temporal fixes. It did seem to help at times when people would manage to say the right thing for once. But after all the hard work of shoring up and patching over all the “lacks” in my world, some small thing would slip again. Someone would do the unexpected or say it badly, and the whole carefully arranged wall holding back the doom would shift. The tsunami of gloom and doom would come pouring down over my soul. Heart pounding, sweating, black panic was again all I could feel.
Deeply entrenched want, was raw and open to my poor family. I had no idea how to not want. But I began to learn that what I considered to be wanting was not what God wanted to fulfill for me.
The Green Pastures and Still Waters
Faith was what kept me from not dying in the valley of the shadow of death. Faith was what helped me to Walk Through and to manage the Fear of Evil. I am so grateful to my husband who is like a shelter in a storm to me. I am also glad that Mom finally instructed me to go to the doctor. But most of all I am glad for the green pastures and still waters of prayer and mediation in His presence. I learned to pray through the heart poundings and panic to peace again. It was there that I realized that I could not carefully arrange my world to work for me ever again. I had to simply let God do that and trust Him to not mess it up even if I was messy in it. I shall not want began to actually mean something do-able to me.
It is The Shepherd who restores my soul. He restores me soul leading me in the paths of righteousness. I had to learn about that path again. Not my ideas of rightness or wrongness. I found the freedom of “letting it go” about what people thought. The paths of righteousness were more about His plans and not about me. I still hate making mistakes. I still feel terrible often when I become worried about what people might think of me or my family, but I am lots more secure in believing what God thinks of me and them. Oh I’m still adding a ton of grace to what feel like odd situations to me, but that too is a richness of living in Christ Jesus that is available to me. There is nothing as rich and wonderful and comfortable as Grace… now. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.Grace tells me that I really don’t know the answers, I don’t need to, but God does and He has it covered. It’s not my problem.
That is a long time. The question that I still have to hand over to the Shepherd is this: For how long will this peace last? When the next tsunami hits will I know what to do? What if something bad happens again? What ifs are haunting. Sometimes they are paralyzing.
I push through those doubts by sitting down at His prepared table regularly. I find pieces of the feast in odd, unexpected places, such as, in a magazine in the waiting room, in a photograph, sometimes during a conversation with co-workers or family, in church during worship, or while I’m cleaning the bathroom.
Yesterday the phrase “eternal weight of glory” came to mind, out of the blue and I couldn’t place it. I found it in scripture. 2 Corinthians 4:17 ESV says, “For this light, momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”
Next time the blackness threatens; I have tools. I have had my head anointed with oil and my cup is running over in so many ways. Today I know how to count my blessings. I have stood at the valley of the shadow of death and walked through to the other side. Someday at the brink of other valleys I will know that goodness and mercy will surely follow me through and I can without a doubt dwell in the house of the Lord, Forever.