During this season of life I am working on living into Psalm 23. “The Lord is my shepherd…” When speaking to myself I often change the traditional “I shall not lack” to one of these:
- . . . I have everything I need.
- . . . I am not going to miss out on anything good.
- . . . I don’t need to worry about tomorrow.
- . . . I don’t have to take control.
Today I’m adding a new one to the list, “ . . . his presence is enough.”
I got the idea from some things I read in Contentment: The Secret of Lasting Calm, by Dr. Richard Swenson. The first chapter links contentment with the first verse of Psalm 23 through a series of paragraphs that begin, “Contentment is when we tell the Shepherd . . .” In one of those Swenson writes:
Contentment is when we tell the Shepherd that His presence is sufficient for all our emotional needs. We seek solutions for our emptiness in many directions, all of them lacking. But those who go deep with Jesus discover He is always better. The greater our intimacy, the greater our contentment.
I believe Jesus is saying something similar in Matthew 19 in response to the rich man’s question about real (eternal) life and “what do I still lack?” Jesus tells the man to sell his possessions, give the proceeds to the poor, and come follow him. What the man lacked was the Shepherd. None of his wealth could make up for that. The Shepherd cannot be bought!
Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.
One of the dangers of affluence and privilege is that they allow us to mask our real need. They allow us to be our own shepherd. When circumstances are not to our liking we change them or assuage the pain through some other means. Feeling unfulfilled or disconnected? Go out to eat. Lacking relational intimacy, go watch 50 Shades of Grey. Bored with the mundane, treat yourself to a vacation.
Jesus is telling the man that his wealth is a detriment and it is preventing him from drawing life from the vine. So is ours to the extent that we use it to solve discontent.
Although we suffered a tremendous financial loss over the last year, we are not close to destitute. I have a decent paying job and we have always lived relatively frugally. Our lifestyle has not changed much outside of downsizing and Hilary going back to work. (Obviously a much bigger change for Hilary than for me.) However, what the loss has done is expose how much comfort I took in having a sizable nest egg and how I didn’t think about the little expenditures that I would make to cover up my deeper pains.
What does living into Psalm 23 mean to me these days?
It means leaning into God and giving money away or spending some in celebration at appropriate times rather than trying to save as much as I possibly can. It means learning to live in awareness of my deeper pains so that I can run into the Shepherd’s arms for a hug and healing rather than using money on small expenditures to cover them up.
The Lord is my shepherd . . .
. . . He restores my soul.