Rod and staff: strange comfort

Afghanistan Shepherd - From Afghanistanmatters, (Flickr: Creative Commons licence)

Afghanistan Shepherd – From Afghanistanmatters, (Flickr: Creative Commons licence)

This is the fourth week of an M.E. relapse, which means I am more isolated than usual, needing to spend even more time in bed, in silence.

 

I am an extrovert. I find that when I’m with people, I have more thoughts and ideas, more motivation and excitement to write and learn, than when I am in periods of silence. In order to write well, I need conversation. I need other people. When I am silent, I don’t really know what I am thinking. My thoughts swirl around idly and I can’t grab ahold of them. I only know what I’m thinking when someone asks me a question.

 

The irony is not lost on me. I am in bed, with all this time to write, and now probably enough cognitive energy to write a little, every other day – but I am not writing. The lack of stimulation is silencing me. I have forgotten what I wanted to say, and have lost confidence that anyone is interested. (Logically, I know that people are interested, but annoyingly, my muse does not run on logic, only on emotion.)

 

My voice feels quiet and small.

 

I am guessing that this is how introverts feel when they talk to extroverts – their voice is quiet and small. When they retreat, when they have silence, that’s when their voice resumes its volume. They can finally know what they think, and their voice resounds majestically around the cathedral of their mind.

 

This is not what quiet does for me. The quiet makes me quieter and smaller, and all I can hear are others’ voices, bouncing around my head.

 

****

 

“He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters.” Psalm 23:2

 

The image is of a shepherd, leading his sheep. We hear it sung by angelic choirboys and we think, ‘how idyllic’. I don’t. Perversely, I start to feel all indignant for the sheep, and their lack of control over where they go and what they do.

 

He makes me lie down. This verse is all very well; but what if you don’t want to lie down? What if you want noisy waters?

 

I have also always been intrigued by verse four of Psalm 23: ‘your rod and your staff, they comfort me.’ Because what does a shepherd use a rod and staff for? Not for stroking the sheep, certainly.

 

A shepherd uses a rod to ward off potential attackers, but also to tap the flank of wayward sheep, to guide them if they wander. The pain keeps them back on track. A staff is for hooking sheep out if they’re stuck somewhere. I presume the shepherd hooks the crook around the sheep’s neck or flank, and then tugs and drags them out.

 

We know, as outsiders, that the Shepherd has good purposes – but what does the sheep know? All that the sheep really knows is that he/she is being hit, or yanked. The rod and staff both bring pain and discomfort to the sheep, even as they are rescued or kept from danger. And sheep, being sheep, probably don’t understand why on earth they are being hurt.

*****

 

Let me be clear: I don’t believe this relapse is discipline to me for being ‘wayward’. I think it is the normal progression of the illness. This is just what the illness does, and there is little I can do to influence it, though I do try. I don’t know of any ‘greater purpose’ or lesson from this particular episode or indeed this whole, horrible illness. There may or may not be one. This world is broken. Sometimes suffering is just hard.

 

And yet, suffering – of various kinds – always feels like a blow from God’s hand, whatever the natural or logical explanation. “The Lord has afflicted me”, complains Naomi, when her husband and sons die (Ruth 1:21). “His hand is heavy against me,” says Job, of his suffering (Job 23:2).

 

Sometimes, the blows fall repeatedly, and it is just hard, it is just painful, and you don’t know why it is happening.

 

At those times, I like to read Psalm 23 and hear its challenge.

 

“The Lord is my Shepherd. I lack nothing.” (Psalm 23:1).

 

Verse five tells us David has enemies – so technically, this is not true. He lacks peace, freedom from attack, slander, enemies. But he says it anyway – “if I have God, that is enough.” He doesn’t say it descriptively, he says it prophetically, with the eyes of faith. David has the same kind of unquestioning trust that a sheep has for its Shepherd. It is no more foolish for a Christian to trust God in the midst of pain than it is for a sheep to trust their Shepherd in the midst of a dark valley, with only the painful tap of a rod to guide them.

 

A rod. A staff. Made to lie down.

 

This is a different kind of comfort, to be sure. This is not the easeful blanket that I long for.

 

I sigh, and read the psalm again. I read it to be reminded that there is goodness and mercy; a banquet prepared for me, and a place in God’s house forever. I pray David’s words, for God to restore my soul and guide me in paths of righteousness.

 

Sometimes it is just enough to remember that I don’t need to understand everything.
Sometimes it is just enough to remember that there really is a Shepherd.

 

Over to you:

  • When has suffering felt like God is dealing you heavy blows?
  • Which parts of Psalm 23 do you like the most?

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48 Responses to Rod and staff: strange comfort

  1. Sheila at Longings End 5th June, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

    Dear Tanya…thanks so much for your courage under fire. KEEP sharing your words. They are powerful and their impact goes far and wide. With love and blessings in your struggles…sheila

    • Tanya 6th June, 2013 at 9:58 am #

      Thanks so much for your encouragement to keep sharing my words. I have passed on your message to my muse – I hope she takes notice! 🙂 Thank you.

  2. Mia 5th June, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

    Dear Tanya
    Oh, dear one, we will never understand on this side of eternity and I think it is good that we don’t! I hear your heart and feel the questions deep in mine too! I just know that our world is lost in chaos and darkness and everyone suffer in some way or the other. But, I also know that our Pappa God did not shy away from our terrible plight, but suffered with us when He sent Jesus to redeem us back from the Kingdom of darkness. I always keep reminding myself that He is still busy making everything new for His bride. Praying for you, dear friend!
    Much love
    Mia
    Mia recently posted…Empty LampsMy Profile

    • Tanya 6th June, 2013 at 9:57 am #

      Yes – it is so good to remember both parts – that Jesus suffered for us, and that he is making all things new. Thanks for the reminder! I like that there is both in the psalm – that acknowledgement of suffering and dark times, but the promise of an eternal banquet in God’s house for eternity afterwards. Thanks so much for stopping by, lovely Mia!

  3. Rebecka 5th June, 2013 at 11:37 am #

    This was beautiful! I do often feel like God is dealing me heavy blows. Especially during M.E. relapses, when I become isolated, when I’m missing friend’s birthday parties, when I can’t play with my nieces and nephews, when I have to spend several weeks at my parents’ hose because I can’t look after myself. It’s easy to feel that way in those situations…

    In Swedish, the verse “He makes me lie down…” is often translated as “He lets me rest in green pastures”. It’s comforting to know that my shepherd knows I need to rest (even though I might not want to) and that He lets me.

    I hope and pray your time of isolation will be over soon!

    • Tanya 6th June, 2013 at 9:50 am #

      Rebecka – I really love your perspective on that verse – that our Shepherd enables us to rest, even though we struggle with it. I think so often we (as a culture) take for granted our health, so that it becomes very hard to see resting and investing in our health as anything other than missing out. Like you, I struggle most during a relapse – it’s the disappointment of it all. Thanks for empathising. x

  4. Beth 5th June, 2013 at 10:15 am #

    “He restores my soul” – that us my favorite part of Ps 23. Because oh, I am ever in need of soul restoration, it seems.

    Hang in there, sweet Tanya. You are not forgotten or abandoned.

    • Tanya 6th June, 2013 at 9:46 am #

      I so hunger for the restoration of my soul. It is such a great prayer to pray. Thank you, Beth – I really appreciate your support.

  5. Joanna 5th June, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    It’s funny that I saw this right after starting Walter Brueggemann’s book ‘The Message of the Psalms’. To quote from the preface, which is all I’ve read so far: ”Much Christian piety and spirituality is romantic and unreal in its positiveness. As children of the Enlightenment, we have censored and selected around the voice of darkness and disorientation, seeking to go from strength to strength, from victory to victory. But such a way not only ignores the Psalms; it is a lie in terms of our experience.’ Thanks for being real, Tanya. And I guess you might enjoy the book if you haven’t already read it.

    • Tanya 6th June, 2013 at 9:45 am #

      Thank you so much, Joanna. I haven’t read that book, but that quote sounds SO good! I’m amen-ing every word. It’s going on my Amazon wishlist, for sure.

  6. Karen 5th June, 2013 at 9:47 am #

    Thank you. That brought great comfort, and was a timely reminder. Hooray for Jesus!!!
    I think Jesus was talking about tough times when He spoke of pruning. When a person prunes a tree, he takes off the dead wood, but ALSO THE GOOD BITS. Bits that you think are right, and flourishing, and shouldn’t be touched. Areas where you can clearly see God work through.
    And then the opportunity gets cut off. You get mistreated. Accused falsely. Lose the use of limbs. Are Vilified. And the work you have done in Christ goes to pieces. At least from your perspective. BUT, the Shepherd – as you so clearly and lovingly say! What a Shepherd!!!
    Karen recently posted…Offence and off – side!!My Profile

    • Tanya 6th June, 2013 at 9:43 am #

      I am so glad this connected with you, friend. Your thoughts on pruning are really helpful – I can definitely see how God has been at work in your life, even through the crazily unfair parts. You are an amazing minister, and a great woman of God. I shall ponder that awhile for my life, too. thank you.

  7. Wendy van Eyck 5th June, 2013 at 9:09 am #

    Thanks for your honesty in this post. I can only imagine how hard and lonely it must be but be encouraged we need your voice. So keep speaking, even, maybe especially, when you think no one is listening. We are leaning in trying to catch your thoughts.
    Wendy van Eyck recently posted…God? Do you care about me?My Profile

    • Tanya 6th June, 2013 at 9:40 am #

      Thank you so much, lovely Wendy, for your encouragement for me to keep speaking. I do know, really, that amazing people like you are listening – but it always helps to have that reminder! Thank you.

  8. Karen Sandford 5th June, 2013 at 8:58 am #

    Tanya, thank you for this.
    I long for peace, an end to suffering. A time of being settled and without the constant turmoil of my life.
    Know that your words are vital.
    God is using you.
    Even though life is crap. And as you say, there may or may not be a purpose in it.
    I pray for grace, strength and healing for you.
    Much love x

    • Tanya 6th June, 2013 at 9:39 am #

      There is so much in Psalm 23 that echoes that longing for peace that you have. And indeed in the Bible – I think it is a God-placed longing. Thank you for your prayers – saying one for you now. x

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