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. Kate 5th June, 2013 at 9:22 pm #

    Thanks Tanya,
    I’m struck by how true all your words are. I felt like I was an extrovert until I became depressed. And now I am so hugely an introvert it’s painful. I sit in a room of people and have no desire to talk to anyone, in fact I sometimes cannot make out the words.

    Psalm 23 is so wonderful, it speaks truth, and peace. It reminds us that being calm and still is part of Gods plan.

    Much love, keep writing and looking to God.

    Kate xx

    • Tanya 6th June, 2013 at 10:07 am #

      Urgh. Depression is such a thief of things – I hate how it has robbed you of your ease with people. I am praying that it will leave you – and that in the middle of it all that God will be with you. Thanks for empathising with me. Sending you so much love.

  2. Jacky 5th June, 2013 at 8:48 pm #

    yes I do like this post! I like the way you think, and I love your honesty. eg: the rod and staff ‘comfort?’. I too wrestle with this, trying to be comforted by it but in reality, well, not really finding it!
    And like David, I have to learn to say things prophetically, not descriptively. Well put, Tanya. And thank you for writing when you’re laid low xx

    • Tanya 6th June, 2013 at 10:04 am #

      Thanks for just understanding completely where I’m coming from in all of this. I am telling myself today – see and say things prophetically, not descriptively. Thanks for that reminder!

  3. Caleigh 5th June, 2013 at 8:20 pm #

    I love this, Tanya. I love how even though you feel quiet and small, God still makes your words have volume.

    • Tanya 6th June, 2013 at 10:03 am #

      Thank you for this, dear Caleigh. It is easy for me to forget. Love you.

  4. rachel lee 5th June, 2013 at 5:47 pm #

    blessings all mine and ten thousand beside,
    great is Thy faithfulness.

    these words were sliding through my mind as I read these words. yet another reminder for me to rest in His pastures, made to lie down.

    visiting you via emily’s place this morning. <3

    • Tanya 6th June, 2013 at 10:02 am #

      I love that hymn! His faithfulness is indeed great.

  5. Mary 5th June, 2013 at 4:52 pm #

    Just read a post that talked about Goodness and Mercy PURSUING us. I think of you like Job, trusting God in the midst of the storm. I also think about the disciples in the boat with Jesus in the storm…they woke Him up. He brought peace. Praying God will bring you peace in the storm, give you words to write, encourage your heart to know you are loved, chosen, redeemed, and uniquely made. God knows all and loves you right where you are. It is OK to tell Him how you feel. He’s big enough and loving enough to handle it when we speak the struggles of our hearts. God Bless. Tanya

    • Tanya 6th June, 2013 at 10:02 am #

      Thank you so much for your prayers for peace. I am feeling more peaceful today – it helps.

  6. Mark Allman 5th June, 2013 at 4:43 pm #

    Even in silence Tanya your voice stands tall.

    • Tanya 6th June, 2013 at 10:01 am #

      Your comment reads like poetry – thank you, Mark.

  7. David Rupert 5th June, 2013 at 3:33 pm #

    “Makes me lie down” — that’s a tough one. Some of us NEED to be made to lie down, to rest. But it’s hard when every fiber of you wants to rise up and “do”. Prayers for you in this season

    • Tanya 6th June, 2013 at 10:00 am #

      Yes! that is it exactly. Both extremes are difficult, I think – the stress from overwork and not getting a break, just as much as the isolation from having a little too much of a break. Thank you so much for your prayers.

  8. starla 5th June, 2013 at 3:31 pm #

    ohh how I struggle with understanding…and am learning just to trust and know that He is good and it will all work out for good and he always has a plan.

    • Tanya 6th June, 2013 at 9:59 am #

      thanks so much for stopping by – thinking of you on your journey as I am on mine.

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