According to the psalmist, God’s presence with us now, our knowledge of God’s presence with God’s people–Jacob and others–in the past–this means that we do not need to be afraid.
The psalm opens with these words of comfort: “God is our refuge and strength. A very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear.”
“Therefore, we will not fear.”
Easier said than done. Right?
In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown says that about 80 % of the thousands of parents she’s interviewed have had the experience of being overwhelmed by love for their children only to immediately begin imagining horrible things that might happen to those same precious children–at which point the joy turns to fear.
If you are in the 20% who haven’t had this experience, consider yourself blessed. If you are not a parent, you may have had this same type of experience with a spouse or sibling or niece or nephew. Or maybe not this exact experience, but a time when you begin to fill with joy and then suddenly squash it down. Brown calls this “foreboding joy.” She says that we “practice being devastated” because “we don’t want to be blindsided by hurt.”
The preacher Fred Craddock talks about a related concept that he terms “putting cushions on the floor.” Most of us try not to get too excited about things–in case they don’t turn out as well as we imagine. “Well, I got an interview, but I probably won’t get the job.” “Yes, the publisher is interested, but they might not like the first chapter I just sent in.” “Sure, these tests were negative, but the cancer could always come back.” Cushions on the floor. So that if disappointment comes it won’t hurt too much.
Except all of our cushions and all of our practiced devastation doesn’t really make things better when disappointment or tragedy strike. They just prevent us from fully experiencing joy in the moment.
So how do we get to that fearless place the psalmist proclaims?
“God is our refuge and strength. A very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear.“
How do we do it?
“Be still, and know that I am God!”
You’ve probably heard this verse before. It’s a lovely verse: “Be still and know that I am God.” In our loud, fast-paced society, the thought of being still sounds nice. Be still.
Except this verse doesn’t really mean what we generally think it means. The translation is bad. The Hebrew word used here is raphah, which means “let drop, let go, abandon.”
Lay down your weapons.
And this makes sense in the context of the psalm. “God makes wars cease to the end of the earth; / God
breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; / God burns the shields with fire. / ‘Lay down your weapons, and know that I am God!’”
As Mennonites, pacifists, most of us support the notion of disarmament. We know that the solution to gun violence is not to give more people more guns. That our nation’s problems will not be solved by shifting larger and larger percentages of our national budget to military spending.
We may not keep loaded handguns in our silverware drawer. (I really hope you don’t keep a loaded handgun in your silverware drawer.) But it seems that our anxiety–our foreboding joy, our cushions on the floor–these are also false forms of security that we cling to in the midst of our fear. These are metaphorical arms we take up; and like real weapons, these defenses are more likely to harm us–and those we love–than to protect us.
When joy comes, we imagine all the ways the joy could be ruined–and in the process, of course, we ruin the joy ourselves. We practice being disappointed in the hope that when actual disappointment comes it won’t be quite so bad–which just means that we feel disappointed much more often than we actually are disappointed.
I think God’s words in the psalm apply not just to our physical defenses, but our emotional defenses as well: “Let drop, let go, abandon, and know that I am God.”
Your foreboding joy. Your cushions on the floor. Let them drop. Let them go. Abandon them. And acknowledge that, in the end, our faithful and loving God is the One with true power.
Yes, it’s easy to be worried. There is much to fear in the world.
But the psalmist’s song is deeply true: “Yahweh of heavenly forces is with us; / the God of Jacob is still our refuge.”
Thanks be to God.