Sometimes, life just falls apart, all of a sudden. Nothing seems to be right, all is messed up, and things are going to pieces faster than we can collect them up. During the past few weeks, I’ve been in the presence of lots of people whose lives have suddenly come undone. Such is the nature of our broken world. Death and destruction is a regular part of our existence. And I suppose that few of us would argue that we receive the blessings of our lives with a far better spirit than we do with the disasters that come our way.
When good times come, we praise the Lord for his mighty acts, and his great gift of salvation. But when hard times come, and fearful times, and confusing times, we’re less apt to rise up and bless the Lord. Actually, we’re more apt to respond in a way that is quite the opposite. We may become angry with God. We may even decide that God has become our enemy, and we may believe, in our distress, that no good can come from the Lord. We may wonder if we are being punished for something we have done that was wrong; we may wonder if God has forgotten us, or taken some leave of us.
But very rarely do we consider the possibility that the trials and tribulations and crises that have come into our lives have come to bring about yet another level of spiritual maturity. We don’t, as a rule, think as the Apostle James encourages us to think: “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance…so that you may be mature and complete.”
And the fact of the matter is that there is much that we do not know, and cannot know about what transpires in our lives. Much of what happens in our lives is an out and out mystery. And coming to grips with mystery, and learning to be comfortable and content with mystery can be quite a challenge.
And that’s why verse one of this psalm really speaks to me. The Psalmist understands that his knowledge and understanding of God, and of God’s ways is limited. And this is an absolutely wonderful place to be. The Psalmist speaks about being settled and confident and comfortable with the things that he cannot know. He’s learned to accept and receive and welcome the wonder of mystery into his life.
Now of course, there is much that we can know about God and about God’s ways. God is known quite clearly as the God who reveals. God is continually in the business of revealing his glory to us both in the Scriptures and in the natural world. Psalm 19 announces very majestically that “The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.” This morning there are sermons about God’s majesty and power that are being preached all over this planet, and some of them are even in churches.
And yet, there is much that we do not know about our God, and there is much that we do not know about our world. It is a mystery that we will not fully comprehend until that great and glorious day when we pass over into eternity. The Apostle Paul says in First Corinthians chapter 13, “For we know only in part, and we prophecy only in part…for now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; Then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” That’s awesome. It is very comforting, and it fills me with hope and glorious anticipation. I can’t wait.
So, there’s some stuff in this life that we are simply not gonna understand. There’s some stuff that’s beyond our intellectual capabilities. And so we’ve got to learn to quiet ourselves when it comes to the mysteries of our lives. We’ve got to develop an appreciation for mystery. This will help us to better understand our relationship with God, because it allows us to put more trust in God than we do in ourselves. And that can be really difficult, because we so much want things to be predictable and reliable and above all else understandable. But if we could know everything, where would our sense of awe and reverence be? We ought to be in absolute awe of God. To be in reverence of God is to be in awe of God. And when we are in awe of God, God can truly be our Lord. Humility in the presence of God is absolutely essential. There can be no real peace in our lives without it.
At first read, verse two makes us want to say, “Aww, isn’t that cute?” The Psalmist says, “I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother.” I got to thinking about that, particularly when the process of weaning was initiated at my house. It’s been a long time now, but I don’t remember that that process was all that cute. I do not believe that my daughters woke up one morning and said, “You know, I’m done with that thing. Just pour me a glass of soda, and I’ll be fine and dandy.” I’m pretty sure that it was much more complicated than that. I seem to recall some measure of objection. I do not believe that either girl was fully in favor of becoming weaned.
And yet we all know that this has to happen. All children need to be weaned. All children eventually have to learn to sit up to the table and feed themselves. But the process is never easy. The mother, who was once the dearest, and most intimate source of comfort and satisfaction, now becomes the enemy. The child, who was once accustomed to experiencing instant comfort and instant gratification, is now deep in distress, facing her first sorrow of life. And the child struggles with her first great mystery. “Why is this no longer available to me? Why is my greatest source of comfort and peace now being denied me?”
And yet, we all survived it, didn’t we? None of us grew up despising our mothers or initiating lawsuits against our mothers because they intentionally introduced the very first crisis of our lives. And we survived it because we learned that we could still find comfort and solace in our mothers, even if it wasn’t at the breast.
Weaning was the first time that we discovered that peace could be found in the midst of a crisis. That’s a life lesson that should carry us through all of our days. And so the Psalmist can say with full confidence that he has discovered peace and quiet and calmness in his soul in the same way that he first discovered it as a child. He grew up. He learned to move through, and then beyond his crisis with the hope of something better ahead.
A crisis can be found anywhere, and if one cannot be found immediately, one can usually be manufactured just as easily. It usually doesn’t take much effort at all. In many cases, like weaning, a crisis arises when somebody doesn’t get their own way. All crises are pretty much the same. There’s usually fear, frustration, anger, some sort of loss, and lots of blaming. Most of us here this morning could probably build a list of things that we believe that God has denied us, much in the same way that a mother denies her child the breast.
And where are we, right now, spiritually, as we ponder that list of denials? Are we angry, frustrated, sorrowful, feeling cheated in some way? Do we want to lash out at someone or something? If so, we are also, most probably, experiencing no calm, and no quiet, especially of the variety that the Psalmist describes.
Is it possible then, for us to imagine that the denials that we have experienced in life are actually for our own good? Can we even consider that they are part of God’s weaning process for our growth and maturation in the faith? Can we believe that these things just might be God’s intentional way of bringing about something even better and greater in our lives? We must believe this, or otherwise we remain unweaned children, fighting and grasping for that which will never bring satisfaction or contentment.
When a child is fully weaned, she learns to depend on her mother in different, more mature ways. Her mother becomes, actually, a more intimate source of comfort and solace, because the child is growing and maturing, and learning skills that help her to cope with the difficulties of life on her own. And so mom is there for that first encounter with the bully. And she’s there when that first zit rears it’s ugly head. And mom has kind words for her when that first date turns out to be a real cad. And mom is there when that absolute dreamboat ups and dumps her.
Mother is now an indispensable source of wisdom and insight, but most of all, she shows compassion.
And this is how God wishes to care for us. God has every intent of mothering us through the crises and difficult passages of our lives. God intends to give us comfort when we struggle, strength when we fail, and hope when all is darkness. But most importantly, God’s intent is to grow us and mature us and to bring us to greater things.
Being calm and quiet in the midst of a crisis is an exceedingly difficult thing to do. But as time goes on, we gain wisdom and sight from our previous crises that helps us to cope with the present one. We learn the lessons that God has taught us along the way, and from those lessons, we know that God delights in bringing peace and comfort to us, because we’ve already received that same peace and comfort before. Knowing that God will continue to do this will settle and calm our souls.
The Psalmist closes by saying, “O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore.” And this is my paraphrase: “People, you know that you can trust in God. God is trustworthy. God has proved that time and time again for thousands of years. Why would God change now? Be quiet. Be calm. Be quiet and be calm now, whatever your distress. And trust God into eternity to bring quiet and calm at every step and through every crisis.”