Saturday, December 28, 2019

Abide in the Shadow

Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith. I don’t agree at all. They are afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the Passion of Christ.

(CS Lewis, Letters to Malcolm)
Therefore my spirit faints within me;
    my heart within me is appalled.

I remember the days of old,
    I think about all your deeds,
    I meditate on the works of your hands.
I stretch out my hands to you;
    my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.
Answer me quickly, O Lord;
    my spirit fails.

(Psalm 143.4-7)
Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now I obey your word....

It was good for me to be afflicted
so that I might learn your decrees.

(Psalm 119.67, 71 NIV)
We spend much of our lives, it seems to me, avoiding pain. It can't be done. It can't actually be done with emotional pain, I have discovered, any more than it can with physical pain. But, strangely, that's OK.


Mostly, severe, persistent pain and anxiety arise from things we cannot change. Little things, like the pain of sitting too long in one place, or thinking of something unpleasant that we saw on the news, can be changed easily enough, by moving, or by thinking of something else. But grief, loss and arthritis are of sterner stuff.

But there is one thing we can do: keep still. Abide, in the words of Psalm 91, in the shadow of the almighty. "To abide is to bear or to endure. The Psalms are calling us to abide in the midst of anxiety and fear by remembering God’s past action and awaiting God’s future action." (Psalms: Anxiety and Fear - Warren Truesdale)

Affliction, like pain, and death, comes to us all, however fortunate or unfortunate we may be in the world's eyes. Only keep still, and wait. Remember, as the psalmist did in Psalm 119, how God's love has endured, how he has brought good of harm, joy out of grief (Romans 8.28) in the past even of our own lives. Wait for the Lord; be still and wait for the Lord (Psalm 27.14, Psalms 37.7).

Strangely, I have come to be so grateful for these "afflictions", physical and spiritual. There is more peace than we can understand in simply being still, in sitting with God in prayer, sitting with what is, and letting God do what God does; what he has done supremely on the cross, in the death and resurrection of Jesus himself. "Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4.5-7)

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