A meditation on the Psalm appointed for Sunday, Oct. 30 (Revised Common Lectionary)
O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, those he redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south...
When you think of intensely stressful situations one might need to be redeemed from, a desert war zone would come quickly to mind. But sometimes anxiety and distress can seem more intense to us in locations and situations that otherwise are quite normal and everyday.
Freelance photojournalist Ken Paprocki was on assignment in Afghanistan during the height of the early conflict there. Several times he found himself in the middle of rocket attacks. He accompanied night patrols in extremely dangerous areas where insurgents were known to be active. It was a life of unexpected roadblocks, unknown environments and cultures, unrelieved anxiety about what might happen next.
But what really surprised him was the level of stress he experienced after he returned home to the States. "It was like going from a camel's lope to riding a rocket. I felt fear in Afghanistan, but I was rarely worried. My only preoccupation was getting my shot and finding an Internet connection to send it off. But in New York, life is so utterly complicated that we are drowning in our daily regimen of tasks: networking, drumming up business, helping friends with meltdowns, dealing with family problems, having to shoehorn fitness into the day, having to call tech support just to watch a DVD" ("The Age of Anxiety," Details, p. 135).
I'm sure you can relate to the level of distress he's talking about -- whether you've been to Afghanistan or not. We may think it's a modern phenomenon, but it's not. The Israelites experienced soul-fainting distress thousands of years ago in a desert not far from where Paprocki was assigned.
Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town; hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; he led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town...
Their lives had been turned upside down as they wandered, desperate for food and water, agonized by their plight. But God heard them and delivered them to safety.
He turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water. And there he lets the hungry live, and they establish a town to live in; they sow fields, and plant vineyards, and get a fruitful yield...
That's a beautiful word picture of a life provisioned by the generous mercies of God. Take it literally, take it figuratively, it's possible only with God's deliverance from the stressful and distressing circumstances of life -- wherever we may be.
When they are diminished and brought low through oppression, trouble and sorrow ... he raises up the needy out of distress, and makes their families like flocks. The upright see it and are glad; and all wickedness stops its mouth. Let those who are wise give heed to these things, and consider the steadfast love of the LORD.
Paprocki found ways to cope with the many distresses in the desert of modern life. Around his busy career he practices yoga, exercises, does whatever it takes to gain a measure of peace before the stress hits again. "I accept that worry's part of the price of living an exciting, interesting life."
That's what we want, right? An exciting and interesting life? There is a price to pay for that in the form of some level of stress and anxiety.
But know that there is a God whose "steadfast love endures forever." A God who stands ready to hear your cry for relief, for healing, and for peace in the midst of it all. A God who is ready to deliver.
Adapted from the book 'Connected: You and God in the Psalms' (Morehouse Publishing, 2009).