My Hope and My Refuge: A Few Psalms Before Bedtime
I’m in a self-esteem slump again. Those are always such a nuisance. The lies are relentless. The despair can be maddening.
Last night middle child’s Bible reading before bedtime was a few Psalms. At a used bookstore I found a Day By Day Bible that is basically the entire Bible divided up into daily readings and then paraphrase for easier understanding. The author Karyn Henley translates Psalm 71 this way:
I am safe with you, God.
Don’t let me feel like nothing.
Listen to me and save me.
Be like a rock I can hide behind…
You alone are my hope, God, since I was young.
I have trusted you since I was young.
I have counted on you since I was born.
Then Psalm 77:
I cried to God for help.
I looked for God when I was upset.
I held out my hands to him at night.
But my soul would not feel better.
I remember you, God.
I thought about you, and my spirit felt helpless.
You kept me from closing my eyes.
I was too upset to talk.
I thought about the days that came before this.
I thought about the years of long ago.
I remembered my songs in the night.
My heart thought.
My spirit asked,
“Will God forget me forever?
Will he never show his love to me again?
Doesn’t he keep his promises?
Does he forget to be kind?
Has his anger kept his kindness away?”
Then I thought,
“I will remind God of how he took care of us.”
I will remember your wonders from long ago.
I will think of the great things you did.
Your ways are best, God.
You are the God who does wonders.
You saved your people with your strong arm.
Today I opened my Bible and went to a more accurate translation. The underlying message was the same. In Psalm 71 what jumped out at me were verses 5 and 6.
“For You are my hope;
O Lord God, You are my confidence from my youth.
By You I have been sustained from my birth..”
Confidence is exactly what I lack these days. Especially in my writing, lately I am struggling to find my WHY and put aside the fears and anxiety gripping my soul as I sit down at the computer. I’ve been searching for my reason to write and I know I cannot settle on a motivation that depends on the accolades of my fellow man. It must reside elsewhere.
Is the Lord my confidence?
In some things, yes. In my salvation, at the end of the day, my confidence is in my God.
But as a writer and a person? When I look back at my “youth,” my confidence has often come from what others have said about me. Maybe more accurately, my lack of confidence has come from criticisms and off-handed remarks. Most of my ego came from doing something well and being acknowledged for it. Other people were always a factor in my drive and ambition. What would so-and-so think? or So-and-so is depending on me. And these people were consistently present in my life – giving me feedback. Building me up or knocking me down.
Friends. Teachers. Acquaintances. Partners. Club members. Family.
My confidence, from my youth, was not God.
Maybe that’s why I was so drawn to the doctrine of vocation. This doctrine suggests that God has called us to this place and this time to be a “mask of God” to those around us. It teaches that we are all given gifts and skills with which we serve our neighbors. Whether building houses, treating illness, or changing diapers – all these acts of service are that which help the people in our lives and our communities. And not only does it serve a very practical purpose, it is God ordained.
God breathed. God willed.
My skills. My talents. My abilities. They have been placed in me at this time for this place and for these people! It all sounds a bit haughty. But it’s true nonetheless.
It’s not that I am self-made and I’m doing God a favor by using my skills. He can accomplish His purposes with or without me.
But Psalm 71 reminds me that He HAS sustained me in my day-to-day, in part because He has work for me to do.
At the start of Psalm 71, the paraphrase says, “I am safe with you, God. Don’t let me feel like nothing.” The King James Version says, “In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust: let me never be put to confusion.” Other translations use the word shame. Shame is exactly what I feel in these seasons. The lies say I’m worth nothing. That all I have is shame. That I can be of no use. They confuse me and lead me to look inward for answers and solutions.
But this paraphrase says, “I am safe with you, God.” When I feel this way, I need His arms to wrap around me and shield me from the lies. From the shame and the confusion.
He is my hope.
Psalm 77 realizes that we can look back at His care and how He keeps His promises, and we can be reassured. I can reflect on the other seasons of angst such as this one and know He has always brought me through. I can know for a fact He does not abandon us, but stays close even when “my soul refuses to be comforted” (Psalm 71:2b).
It’s become clear that more time in the Word will direct me out of this swamp. More prayer. More of Him.
In You, O Lord, I have taken refuge; Let me never be ashamed. In Your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; Incline Your ear to me and save me.