Anxiety, Spiritual

Assurances at 4 a.m. (It’s a Psalms Thing)

lavender
Photo credit: Jana Greene (“Lavender Moon-rise”)

By: Jana Greene

It’s been a long night.

I fell asleep easy enough, but a few hours later I woke up to pee (we keep it real here, right?) like I do every other night at least three times, and was assaulted by hip pain when I stood up. Soon after, when I crawled back into bed, I felt the familiar dull headache begin stirring behind my eyes.

Terrific.

I tried to go back to sleep. I really did. But although I was desperately tired, I hurt. Hurting in the middle of the night is a lonely endeavor. Whereas I normally might complain to my long-suffering but incredibly supportive husband, he was fast asleep.

Soon, my mind got in on the action.

Suddenly – at 4 a.m. – I had this primal wave of worry wash over me. As if pain was tag-teaming anxiety. I tossed and turned, and asked God for a little help here, please. We are going through such a weird and wild season right now.

At 4 a.m., I wanted assurances.

I wanted to call my adult child and make sure she was okay. And then I wanted her to make promises to do what I cannot even manage myself – to get my sh*t together. I wanted God to guarantee her safety.  To guarantee all of us safety.

Then, the spiraled from there….

I wanted to log into my email and find five job offers in my in-box. Even though I’m really not healthy enough to work right now.

I wanted to will myself well and get on with life already.

I wanted to lift all of my husband’s worries off of his sleeping chest, so that when he wakes in the morning, his burdens are lifted.

I wanted to know that the world is not imploding, contrary to the evidence all around us.

I wanted to fast-track my therapy to purge my closet of skeletons in one fail swoop.

I wanted to stop feeling so crappy about myself.

I wanted a magic pill to calm my nerves so I could sleep.

I wanted – no, I NEEDED to tangibly feel God’s presence RIGHT NOW. Isn’t that the real craving? Without it, no amount of ‘fixed’ satisfies.

Instead, the more I panicked, the more it felt as though my prayers were bouncing off the ceiling.

A little voice in my spirit tapped me gently on the shoulder as if to say, “Excuse me….I hate to interrupt your anxiety attack and throbbing headache, but – um…..Pslams.”

I took a deep breath.

In another lifetime (fifteen years to be exact) I was a single mother of two pre-teen daughters. I was juggling four jobs after having been a stay at home mom all their lives. I became estranged from unhealthy relationships to safeguard my recovery.  My health problems kicked in, aided by the stress. My car window didn’t roll up – a hefty bag and duct tape was all that kept me dry.  We lived in a bad neighborhood. It felt like loss, loss, loss.

Since the separation from my girls’ father, it had just been one thing after another after another – big life issues – the kind of things that threatened by then-newish (four years) sobriety. That I survived that season in life sober is a walking-on-water caliber miracle.

All on my own and responsible for the lives of two beautiful girls, I’d never felt so alone. I lived on coffee, Diet Coke and cigarettes, and the only other reliable staple I had was my Bible and prayer life.

I made it a habit each morning to rise before my children, grab my Virginia Slim menthols and a cup of coffee, and sit outside on my porch with my Bible, looking for answers. Looking for assurances between drags on cigarettes.

Psalms are assurances. If you read them aloud, they are even promises.

There is no magic pill for me.  I’m an alcoholic. I am wise enough to not trust myself to substances.

But there are Psalms.

So this morning, I’m sharing this little love letter that God led me to just now. The words were written by a man who just couldn’t get his sh*t together either – the biblical David. I love David because he is desperate and wildly in love with God, all at once.

I hope these verses speak to you, too. God pretty much drug me out of bed to come write this post. Maybe somebody out there somewhere can feel a little less alone.

Read the Psalms aloud – they are meant for those whose worlds are imploding. Savor every word.

At 4 a.m., I wanted assurances. Thanks Papa God for showing up. You always do.

(I would also love to know what your favorite Psalms are, too.)

Need a Psalm? Take a Psalm.

Have a Psalm? Leave a Psalm.

And God bless us, every one.

I run to you, God; I run for dear life.
    Don’t let me down!
    Take me seriously this time!
Get down on my level and listen,
    and please—no procrastination!

Your granite cave a hiding place,
    your high cliff aerie a place of safety.

 You’re my cave to hide in,
    my cliff to climb.

Be my safe leader,
    be my true mountain guide.
Free me from hidden traps;
    I want to hide in you.

I’ve put my life in your hands.
    You won’t drop me,
    you’ll never let me down.

 I hate all this silly religion,
    but you, God, I trust.

I’m leaping and singing in the circle of your love;
    you saw my pain,
    you disarmed my tormentors,

You didn’t leave me in their clutches
    but gave me room to breathe.
Be kind to me, God
    I’m in deep, deep trouble again.

I’ve cried my eyes out;
    I feel hollow inside.
My life leaks away, groan by groan;
    my years fade out in sighs.

My troubles have worn me out,
    turned my bones to powder.
To my enemies I’m a monster;
    I’m ridiculed by the neighbors….

Desperate, I throw myself on you:
    you are my God!
Hour by hour I place my days in your hand,
    safe from the hands out to get me.

 

Warm me, your servant, with a smile;
    save me because you love me.
Don’t embarrass me by not showing up;
    I’ve given you plenty of notice…..

What a stack of blessing you have piled up
    for those who worship you,
Ready and waiting for all who run to you
    to escape an unkind world.

You hide them safely away
    from the opposition.
As you slam the door on those oily, mocking faces,
    you silence the poisonous gossip.

Blessed God!
    His love is the wonder of the world.
Trapped by a siege, I panicked.
    “Out of sight, out of mind,” I said.
But you heard me say it,
    you heard and listened.

 

Love God, all you saints;
    God takes care of all who stay close to him,
But he pays back in full
    those arrogant enough to go it alone.

 Be brave. Be strong. Don’t give up.
    Expect God to get here soon.” – Psalms 31 (MSG)

Creation, Spiritual

To Introduce the Stars

Vincent Van Gough's "The Starry Night."
Vincent Van Gough’s “The Starry Night.”

“There is something beautiful about a billion stars held steady by a God who knows what He is doing. They hang there, the stars, like notes on a page of music, free-form verse, silent mysteries swirling in the blue like jazz.  And as I lay there, it occurred to me that God is up there somewhere.”
― Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality

There is just something about a starry night. I love stars because they are  both seemingly random, and magnificently predictable…. both brilliantly solid from our point of view, and intangibly vaporous.

Their brilliance and number give us pause.

Today during worship at church, the band led us in a song about God that mentions stars, quoting Psalms 147:4:

“He counts the stars,
  and assigns each a name.”

So many stars!

We humans like to number the stars too, although we admit there are too many billions to count. We name them things like Ursa Major, Yed Posterior, and BSC 6067; and catalog them by groupings into constellations.

The constellations are so consistent, night after night for thousands of years, that we can navigate ships by their design.  Seemingly eternal, the stars have all the time in the world to guide us.

Human science has determined that stars are but fixed, luminous points of  incandescent celestial bodies, burning as the sun.

And human seekers have determined that the same stars create a zodiac system that can set the course of their lives.

How much power in the Cosmos! How badly we want to explain their workings…

But as I sang the words of the Psalmist (and when my soul quieted enough to hear the Holy Spirit) a vision emerged that transcended astrological phenomenon.

I imagined the Crafter of the universe –  and all that is beyond it –  taking me by the hand to introduce the stars – one by one, by name.

What an odd image brought to my mind!

But what a comfort to my spirit.

Not the clinical, but the mystical – more majestic than can ever be cataloged. You see, I need something more predicable than even the stars to lead me.  I need something that lasts longer than the average life-span of a star – 15 billion years.

I need a forever God.

God – who knows what he’s doing with a billion stars –taking me by the hand. A God who could touch my life from a trillion miles away, coming close enough to breathe light into me, because he loves me – and you – more than a billion stars.

God – steadfast his brilliance, day after day, night after night….even though I am such a paradox, myself  – random and predictable… a vapor on this spinning orb, but eternally a solid being.

Me, you,  and the stars…

Our Creator has all the time in the world to guide us.