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?
Liked this post? Do stay in touch – subscribe by email or like my Facebook page.