I have not had anything to say about the Gospel in my days this week, but interestingly, I have had lots to say to others out of irritation. I am particularly skilled in the use of biting words, heavy handed judgments and sweeping critiques. While my days have been wonderfully free of anything remotely resembling stress, internally I am filled with agitation, restlessness and discontent.
Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 43:5
My self-sufficient Christian inclination is to notice I am “grumpy”, acknowledge that being grumpy is my sin, repent and then look for ways to quit being so irritable or ways to be more actively joyful. Unfortunately, that is like recognizing I have a fever and determining to be well without examining what has caused the fever. Two things that keep being brought to my mind are Psalm 23 and my deep need for control. I want my days to look a certain way, my parenting to look a certain way, my home to look and function in a certain way, my social life to contain certain relationships, my ministry to be particularly defined and basically to live as a marketable and clearly defined tidy package in my own eyes and those of others.
My home is constantly a mess, the laundry is constantly not finished, last night I burned our dinner, my children don’t actually “obey right away” or often even until a fourth or fifth hysterical demand, I can’t fit all the relationships I want to maintain while also maintaining a sane schedule and my mental capacity and self-discipline seem both to be diminishing by the day. My helplessness to control my environment, the people around me and even my own heart is not a contrived spiritual thing to say, it is reality in Technicolor.
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. Phil. 3:20-21
The things that are not in my control, like the state of my home, the disorganization of my paperwork, the failed expectations of my parenting (to be creative and enthusiastic and fun all day every day – ha ha), and so on…are all under His control! He is never not in control. Things not going my way are still and always going His way. His will is never thwarted, not even in the smallest detail. The Psalmist answers a disturbed soul with “hope in God”, implying the disturbance just might be because hope had been placed elsewhere. My deep down agitation has something to do with this reality that I can’t have things the way I want them when I want them and that my peace and well-being have come to rest in my will being done rather than His alone. I trust my will more than His and want my way more than His.
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Psalm 23
He restores my soul. What good news indeed. And, as Paul mentioned above, He restores my soul by transforming me and not as I might demand that He transform my environment, circumstances or the people around me. He is committed to restoring my soul, it is the very story of redemption to which the person and work of Jesus have been devoted. In this restoration work, He makes me lie down, often when I think I should run faster and longer. He is the One working the transformation in His way, by His means, in His time. He doesn’t fly me over the valley of the shadow of death as if it is to be avoided at all costs, but walks with me through it and becomes more visible to me in it. This valley of disturbance is the very one in which my hope becomes most strongly anchored, my faith becomes sight and my lowly body begins to resemble His glorious one a little more clearly.
And here is the part that keeps coming up in numerous readings over the past week: He prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies! In the face of enemies, whether that means people who genuinely suffocate my spirit or make my heart feel condemned, or whether that means the various circumstances which work in opposition to my desires, or whether the enemy is simply my own divided heart which is counted righteous even as it is drawn to sin, I want to flee or hide or attack. Sitting down to a lovely meal is the last thing on my mind. After all, speaking of disturbed souls, my stomach would be in knots and that meal would have indigestion written all over it, if I even felt hunger at all.
But His control over everything and my hope placed exclusively in His will being done rather than my own, invite me to sit in peace and enjoy the banquet even as enemies attempt to stare me down and intimidate me. What would that even look like? To enjoy the person in front of me with genuine absorption in the moment no matter how long my to-do list is for the day, to sit peacefully in a messy house just as if I were at a clean and simple spa, to love my children wildly even when their hyperactivity or carelessness would threaten my very last nerve, to be more interested in the people I encounter at a party or social gathering than my own marketability in their eyes…perhaps these are tables at which my soul is invited to be at rest.
What if I start to understand the person and work of Jesus as the Great Disturber of my soul, at work to actually bring comfort with his rod and staff? What if instead of trying to ignore, mask or self-medicate my agitation and irritability I begin to ask Him to search my heart for the unbelief behind these raw and real emotions? What if He replaces my strong belief in my own ideas and plans and “needs” with a more powerful belief in His control over all things so that I can enjoy that table, any table, He has prepared for me? As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. Psalm 42:1