The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right path for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
And, yet, so often, I find that I do.
I want, desperately, for a moment of silence set against still waters. I want, hopefully, to stumble along the paths of righteousness. I want, achingly, to bend my knees in the open, green meadow and breath deeply warm, fresh air.
For me, this Psalm, so often sanitized in cross-stitch on our walls, is an intensely, longing prayer that hopes for a deep, inner wellspring of God-given peace that overflows even when we stride into the darkest corners of the earth.
Yet, so often, I find myself in these dark valleys, with shadows that speak of death, completely spent, emotionally, spiritually and physically. I reach back to grasp for the green pasture and can manage but a dried blade or two of grass. I seek hope but find I had strayed among the rocks while the shepherd was calling me to pasture.
My world is like a conveyor belt, set at one-speed too fast. A spouse studying constantly in medical school, sometimes I can’t help but wish, as I’m scrambling together a hodgepodge of food while the baby screams, that like Jesus, I, too, could conjure a feast out of a few fish and a fistful of bread. Or that God might prepare an overflowing table for me in the presence of my enemies — loneliness, stress, despair.
But there is never a moment that welcomes a pause to restore my soul among bucolic fields of wildflowers and babbling brooks. Perhaps this is why, despite its beauty, the Psalmist says he is made to lie down in green pastures. Maybe it is simply not our natural state to be still, so we must be made to stop. Perhaps we cannot find the green pastures without the shepherd’s staff beside us. So we are, at various times in our lives, made to be still, forced by circumstances beyond our control to stop because we simply can go no farther.
Unfortunately, more often than not, being made to lie down feels too much like being knocked down, overwhelmed, breaking under the weight of life.
We are made to lie by still waters because we are too weak, too tired, to disoriented to continue.
And, then, lying there, grass cool against my back, sun warming my face, the mosquitoes never fail to find me. A thousand high-pitched whines nipping away in the silent voice of God. I am reminded not to fear the shadow of Death, because God is both life and death in whom there is no fear.
Only then, when made to lie down, do I begin to realize there is no difference between these still waters I longed for and the dry death valleys I stumbled through. Only then, when forced into stillness, do I begin to realize what the still waters and the death valleys share: God’s blessed, utter silence.
God of death valleys and still waters, Make us to lie down when our feet cannot stop. Lead us, stubborn mules that we are, toward still waters that we may drink without fear of drowning. Restore our souls even when it strains to run away rather than look inwardly toward heaven. Bear with us as we clumsily follow after you on the path of righteousness. And, Lord, help us to begin to live in your house of mercy and of goodness, help us to join the feast in your house even today.