[This is the third of fourteen passages that sustained me in the while in the dark.]

Psalm 37:3-9

3 Trust in the LORD and do good;

       dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

 4 Delight yourself in the LORD

       and he will give you the desires of your heart.

 5 Commit your way to the LORD;

       trust in him and he will do this:

 6 He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,

       the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.

 7 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;

       do not fret when men succeed in their ways,

       when they carry out their wicked schemes.

 8 Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;

       do not fret—it leads only to evil.

 9 For evil men will be cut off,

       but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land.

I camped in the Psalms (David’s Poetic Diary Set To Music) for many months. The poems legitimized my sufferings yet challenged my self-centeredness. This one in particular built a protective hedge around me and helped me make better choices than my lower person was tempted to make particularly during my divorce. This Psalm spoke directly to my fears, hurts, bitterness, and desires for revenge and gave me some wise counsel that I needed in order to chart a reasonably healthy course for my new future.

“Trust in the LORD”

To be honest, it’s pretty tough trusting God when it seems like he’s either causing or allowing the loss of most of what I had held dear my entire adult life. What I had believed and preached for most of my life was being tested.

From inside my dark pit I had to decide whether or not God is genuinely good. Could he be good even when he does nothing – nothing that I can see – to rescue me from these difficulties? His goodness had become an enigma to me. It’s easy to embrace a view of what God is like when things are peachy. Previously I’d only seen suffering from a distance, not so up close and personal, and my confidence in his character was in some ways an untested theory that I got from reading the Bible and listening to others. Now it’s beginning to be a more tested conviction.

“… and do good”

I took this to mean, “Barney, don’t do anything stupid. You’re in pain, I understand that, but don’t make your life even worse by self-destructive behavior.” I’ve known a number of people who have reacted to their suffering by medicating themselves, which made their hard lives even harder. I knew that I would need accountability as never before, so I told the brothers around me, “If you see me abusing alcohol or hanging around strange women – shoot me and ask questions later!” I knew that I needed to stay in the pain rather than numb myself it. By grace and a little help from my friends I’ll “do good!”

“Dwell in the land”

This said to me, “Don’t leave the land to find your own pasture. Outside the pasture that I have provided for you you’ll find plenty of pseudo-pastures, plastic pastures!” In other words, “Don’t be driven by your pain, humiliation, and fear to try to take control of your own life, to please yourself, or to find your own peace. You’ll find what you need in the land in which I’ve placed you.” 

I thought of Joseph (the Old Testament one) who was rejected by those who should’ve been his most reliable support – his own brothers. He was falsely accused, thrown in jail, and forgotten, yet when tempted to prove to himself his worth and sleep with the bosses’ wife, he resisted. He said to her, “How could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?”

I felt humiliated, grieved, fearful, and angry about what was happening to me. From the very beginning I heard the insidious advice of the whisperer, “You’d feel better if you went and got drunk, got a woman, and got your dignity back.” That voice can sound so logical. But we know better. We know to “dwell in the land,” rather than seek our own land for self-satisfaction.

“Enjoy safe pasture”

The respite I was afforded in Bob and Jean’s peaceful home, the love of my kids, and the support of my many friends and family were things that he was reminding me to “enjoy.” It took me a while to let myself “enjoy” anything. But he was saying to me:  “Chill, Barney. I’ve put you here. I’ve got your back. I had this pasture arranged before you had any idea you’d need it. Enjoy the safety of it. You’re right – you don’t deserve it. If I gave you what you deserved you’d have no capacity to enjoy anything. I gave this pasture to you as a place to enjoy.”

“Refrain from anger, it only leads to evil”

For most of my life, anger has been sort of a “default” emotion of mine. If something goes wrong, somewhere inside me tends toward being angry about it rather than sad or confused or fearful. Those emotions make me feel out of control, while anger tricks me into feeling in control of myself and of others. I learned this very dysfunctional way of responding to pain early on. It’s given me lots of grief, cost me some good friendships, and no doubt developed a fissure in my marriage.

I had to choose how I was going to respond to the anger about the rejection I was experiencing. To “refrain” from the kind of anger that “only leads to evil” was one of the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do. I haven’t always made the right choice but with God’s help I was and am determined to take the road that leads to healing and hope, rather than the one that leads to despair and destruction.

“Don’t do anything stupid. If you trust yourself instead of me, you’ll only make things worse for yourself and everyone around you. Many of my fallen soldiers have damaged, if not destroyed, their own legacies by finding their own pseudo-pastures. They chose to medicate themselves rather than meditate on me.

“I’ve given you a land in which to dwell and a pasture that’s safe. Don’t leave that land to venture out to find your own plastic pasture.

“Don’t let your anger imprison you or lure you to live poorly. If you fret over the injustices done to you, you’ll become a function of them, a pawn of theirs. I’ll balance the scales of justice in my time and in my way.

“Forgive. It unhooks you from the people who are making their own bad choices. Otherwise they drag you behind them and destroy your life.

“I’ll take care of my own world. You don’t need to help me punish evil. Don’t play ‘God’s Little Helper.’ Forgive and live on.” Jesus

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