Many of us love the Psalms because they provide words for feelings we struggle to express. They give voice to appreciation for God. In many instances, they express our own wonder for creation and the Creator.
They also express some startling aspects of nature. Consider the following excerpts:
All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads; (Psalm 22:7)
For I hear the whispering of many —
terror all around! —
as they scheme together against me,
as they plot to take my life. (Psalm 31:13)
All day long they seek to injure my cause;
all their thoughts are against me for evil. (Psalm 56:5)
For my enemies speak concerning me,
and those who watch for my life consult together. (Psalm 71:10)
I am small and despised,
yet I do not forget your precepts. (Psalm 119:141)
Alone and afraid
These excerpts depict the Psalmists feeling alone, skeptical, suspicious and harmed. They assume people are out to get them. They express a feeling of abandonment.
Many of these Psalms — including those that express many of the above paranoid thoughts — are attributed to King David. However, the Scriptural story suggests that the fear and skepticism in the Psalms attributed to David did not keep him locked in place. He was not one who cowered and hid. Instead, David’s fears and his willingness to be vulnerable in giving air to those fears seemed to have drawn him closer to God. David persevered despite his feeling that the world was out to get him.
Brené Brown noted that shame cannot survive being spoken. Related feelings of fear and inadequacy rarely survive being spoken, as well. Putting a name to that which threatens to keep us locked in place exposes it to the harsh light of realism and exposes the invalidity of our fear.
Might the Psalmists’ naming of paranoid thoughts fulfill a similar role? Could they be holding their suspicions to the light of truth?
In such a way, naming that which binds us or that which we fear is a move toward resilience.
Many of us may relate to David in our own place and time. We feel beset by enemies and uncertainty. Right now, we are surrounded strife: an illness that threatens us, political struggles, financial uncertainty. We are unsure about what the future holds for our faith families in the church.
All the uncertainty can make you want to shut the blinds and hide inside. Except we are quite tired of being hidden inside!
What is at the root of your anxiety today? Can you name it?
Our faith is an inspiration for resilience. It provides a lens through which we gain perspective on that which threatens. The Psalmists felt threatened. Within their same songs of fear come notes of reassurance and truth:
For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted;
He did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him. (Psalm 22:24)
Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was beset as a city under siege. (Psalm 31: 21)
For you have delivered my soul from death, and my feet from falling,
So that I may walk before God in the light of life. (Psalm 56:13)
The verses are recognition that we do not hide alone in our fears. They are not a barrier between ourselves and God. Rather, as we name our fears and trepidations, we invite God to join us in our concern and affliction.
God with us
The Psalms refuse to leave us alone. In them, we find space and opportunity for naming the fears, inadequacies and shames, which might keep us locked in place. Even when we lack the words to name fears for ourselves, the Psalms express our felt fears and desires.
Fear seeks to isolate us. It tells us we must be the only ones. Our faith reminds us that we are not. We are not the only ones to struggle against feelings of isolation and uncertainty.
Again, can you name the anxieties you carry today? If not, perhaps reading through the testimonies present in the Psalms will give you the words you lack today. In so doing, may you find a reminder that you are not, in fact, isolated in your fear.
Ryan Dunn is the minister of online engagement, Rethink Church, for United Methodist Communications. Contact him by email.