Picture from Small Rain illustrated by Elizabeth Orton Jones
Psalm 23 King James Version (KJV)
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
This Scripture is very familiar and comforting during so many times of a person’s lifetime experiences.
Sometimes, it feels like God gives us insights or reveals Himself on a “need to know” basis.
As life situations change,
our perspective and understanding of new situations change.
A scripture, which is often called God’s living Word,
Can become more and more helpful…
Even if we’ve read it 100 times before!
So let’s revisit these words of God’s beloved David who was a man after God’s own heart.
It’s important to note that King David was not perfect.
Only Jesus was perfect.
David did many wonderful faith filled events…
As well as
Many stumbles and bumbles.
Through all of this…
David always came back into relationship with God.
So, lets look at this and reflect on our lives…
The Lord is my Sheppard…
When we proclaim the Lord is our Sheppard…
We also proclaim that we are like sheep!
So I studied this animal a bit.
They like to travel in flocks for safety
while they show a strong sense of community.
A couple of interesting characteristics are that they can actually overeat,
depleting a pasture faster than other animals.
The have a strong sense of hearing
and can often remember a person’s voice even after a year of absence.
They are kind of jittery and can spook themselves so severely that they can have a heart attack
and die on the spot…
even before they are attacked!!!
So… are these sheep a picture of how we act as people…
The Shepard looks after his sheep,
rotating them through the pastures,
keeping them well fed.
The Shepard also protects the sheep from wolves and other predators.
The Lord is my Shepard, I shall not want.
In other words, we are proclaiming that our needs are met through our relationship with God.
There is great comfort in that thought.
We can be satisfied and fulfilled…
even when we’ve been taught through a consumer driven society that we need more and more and more…
Did I mention that God meets our needs?
We don’t have to worry about more and more and more stuff to bring satisfaction and fulfillment!
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
I mentioned before that this reminds me of laying in a field as a youth…
Making shapes out of clouds.
Having innocent fun and laughing.
Time stands still or doesn’t even matter in this state of mind.
We weren’t concerned with the past.
We weren’t laying there with knots in our stomachs worrying about the future.
We just were…
We were Purely, simply enjoying God’s handicraft!
I reflect on this, like a memory of days gone by .
It can feel that now, as an adult,
But seemingly I don’t have time for such folly.
I’m too busy…
I’m too important…
too many people depend on me…
I’m getting fat…
my hair is falling out…
I believe we often cloud our God given peace of mind,
with problems we bring on ourselves.
How do we each manifest this in our lives?
Why do we chase our tails,
buried alive in clutter,
while we fry our nervous systems
and compromise our inner peace?
The peace of mind we had as children is God’s peace
and it doesn’t have to be a fond memory…
It can be here and now!!!
As a matter of fact,
God wants us to realize His love and peace in a timeless, beautiful way.
There is a cartoon that sticks out in my mind.
A person is moping the kitchen floor.
Doing a careful job and concentrating to get the dirt up so the floor shines…
They keep moping until they run out of floor to mop.
The only problem is that they are in the corner of the kitchen that is opposite of the door to get out!
I think we often mop ourselves into a corner!!!
Our concentration needs to have a macro-view rather than getting tied up in the details of our all too busy micro-view.
Advertisers, and even more so, politicians have learned that the easiest way to manipulate our thinking is through fear.
It’s the basis of negative campaigning for the politician.
For the advertiser, it’s often the fear of rejection that they play on.
We can “fit in” and “be accepted” if we buy their product.
We can be skinny, or pretty, or cool or whatever…
if we purchase whatever it is that they are pushing!
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
We are created in God’s image…
How sweet is that???
He is the source of our satisfaction…
Not stuff or people’s products!
When we were laying on our backs in the meadow,
We were fully present to light, love, openness, stillness and the flow of a breeze shaping and reshaping the clouds above our head.
Particularly the fear of rejection that crowds our minds and souls.
Being loved is one of our more basic needs.
A while back there was a study with baby monkeys.
In a room, a mother monkey was made out of wire.
She was holding an unlimited supply of their favorite food.
Another “mother monkey” was made from cloth and was cuddlable but with no food!
When the babies were released into the room,
which mother did they go to?
They always went to and stayed with the cuddle monkey, not the wire food mother!
Receiving love is a primal need deeply seated in the very core of our soul.
While God’s love is perfect, never painful,
human love is imperfect.
In looking at human love, Henri Nouwen asks:
Can we forgive our fathers for being demanding, authoritarian, indifferent, unaffectionate,
absent, or simply more interested in other people or things than in us?
Can we forgive our mothers for being possessive, scrupulous, controlling, preoccupied,
addicted to food, alcohol, or drugs, overly busy,
or simply more concerned with a career than with us?
Can we forgive our brothers and sisters for not playing with us,
for not sharing their friends with us,
for talking down to us,
or for making us feel stupid or useless?
There is a lot to forgive,
not just because our family was not as caring as other families,
but because all the love we received was imperfect and very limited.
Our parents also are children of parents who didn’t love them in a perfect way,
and even our grandparents had parents who were not ideal!
In each instance Henri discusses, there are examples that resulted in rejection and pain.
At a young age, children can hear parents fight,
they may not know the words…
but they experience and learn tension.
Through body language, sound, touch, all of the senses…
Babies begin learning about love…
bad and ugly of human love.
At a very young age, children learn to protect themselves from this pain of rejection.
They often follow their parents’ examples on how to deal with rejection.
Some learn to change the subject rather than have important conversations.
Some use humor…
Some learn a good offense (think bully) is the best defense..
These protective strategies coupled with trial and error are developed as protection from pain.
As adults, we continue to build these layers of protection.
The problem is that we get so busy being busy…
We mop ourselves into a corner.
Our mind is so filled with tension trying to avoid tension
that we become hard and callused.
Unfortunately, we carry these attitudes into our relationship with God…
often making God barely accessible.
God wants us to be relaxed in His presence to fully receive His perfect love.
He wants us to lay down in green pastures.
He wants us to be beside still waters.
This restores our soul!!!!!
It’s not buying the latest and greatest.
It’s not trying to people please that restores our souls!
It’s not being the meanest son of a gun in the valley that gets us there…
Our souls become restored when we are relaxed
we are experiencing the perfect comforting love of God!!!
Responding from a place of a restored soul to life’s challenges compared
to responding from an overwhelmed brain
is like comparing a motor running on gas to a motor with water in the tank.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
It’s only after we’ve allowed God to restore our souls that we can make the wise choices…
That help keep us close to His glory!
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
This is Spiritual death.
We are right smack dab in the middle of this imperfect world with imperfect love.
This is when the demons of doubt have compromised our ability to love freely!
This is our minds and souls…
as we allow overbearing people or events
to dictate our thoughts and emotions.
The shadow of death is everything and anything
that can spoil experiencing God’s love and life!
So, in the valley of the shadow of death… I will fear no evil because…
I am tough?
I will fear no evil because I can control everybody and everything around me?
Because I can outsmart and outlast anybody trying to rain on my parade???
Because I can fix problems???
Those aren’t the reasons King David proclaimed.
I will fear no evil because…
Thou are with me!!!!
I don’t have to control everything?
I don’t have to fix everything?
I don’t even have to be tough?
I fear no evil because GOD IS WITH ME!!!
Thy rod and the staff comfort me!
The staff was an interesting tool in the day.
The top half was the shepherds crook many of us picture.
We can see a Shepperd use this to guide and coral sheep into the safety and acceptance of the flock.
The other side is shaped as a fork.
It’s used to poke wolves, trap snakes and ward of other dangers!
God is the one who holds us together…
While protecting us from danger.
As Mary O’Malley says…
“Fear… it’s nothing to be afraid of.”
Fear is natural…
it’s a warning device.
It’s not a place to live.
It’s this fear of rejection that often makes us overthink
and leaves us in the wrong corner of the room
rather than by the door!
Fear can blow up into anxiety, uncertainty and full blown terror!
God prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies!
I used to picture this as an enemy from a distant land overtaking our country and happiness.
More practically, it’s people we are likely to have lunch or supper with us that threatens our inner peace.
Co-workers, family members, neighbors.
When we hang our vulnerability on how they decide to treat or abuse us…
We forfeit our ability to have room for God’s influence.
When we learn to depend completely on God for acceptance and the source of our value…
We can create room for Spiritual health to flourish.
Actually, when the warning light of fear hits our emotional dashboard…
This is a signal that we need to cling to God.
We cannot ever control others
or every situation…
But we can always depend on God’s love.
When we give up our death grip on trying to keep control…
When we let our overactive brains take a rest…
When we take off our protective mask…
God restores our soul.
Thou annointest my head with oil…
Oil was used for healing.
Oil is soothing and softens tough callouses.
When we can rest in this…
We can peel back the protective layers we’ve built.
We can open our most tender areas to God.
God answers and our cups overflow!
Our chains are broken!!!
Our tension is relieved!!!
We no longer have to depend on others for validation or worth!!!
We will experience a love
that we can then go out and share with others…
Even the very people we fear.
Instead of getting sucked into drama,
We can purposely remove ourselves from a place of pain into God’s realm of love.
Will we be perfect? No
Will we make mistakes? Yes
Will we inadvertently hurt others? Yes
Does this throw us out of God’s glory and dam us to a place of complicated thoughts, hardened hearts and calloused layers?
Not a chance…
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.