My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore. Psalm 131
WE BEGAN talking about how Jewish pilgrims used to sing their way up to Zion on feast days. Along with the other fourteen Psalms in this section (120-134) would sing this song on their arduous trek up the mountain to their capital to worship Yahweh.
This song begins with humility as key to any spiritual pilgrimage, including the one we’re on. We can’t very well worship God and try to be God at the same time! We have to stay out of his chair. That is to say, we have to remember who’s in charge, and it’s not us! It’s that insidious thing called “pride” that constantly impedes our way forward into a God-glorifying lifestyle.
After humility comes childlike trust as a prerequisite for pilgrims.
But let us be quick to distinguish childlike from childish. David knew the difference and included it next in his poem.
But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.
A child trusts its mother and rests in her loving arms. It’s still. Compare these versions:
- “Like a weaned child rests against his mother, my soul is like a weaned child within me…” New American Standard Bible
- “As a child lies quietly in its mother’s arms, so my heart is quiet within me…” Good News Translation
- “I keep my soul tranquil and quiet like a child in its mother’s arms, as content as a child that has been weaned…” The Jerusalem Bible
- “…my soul is a baby content…” The Message
I’m not sure I can say such things about the way I usually relate to the God who can be as “motherly” as he is “fatherly.”
Let’s be honest, acquiring such a humble trusting soul isn’t exactly involuntary. We have to contend for it. Childlike versus childish faith comes at a cost. Note these two translations of the verse that indicate the effort David expended to acquire such a posture:
- “I have behaved and quieted myself…” King James Version
- “I have composed and quieted my soul…” New American Standard Bible
Sometimes we have to make our soul “behave.” It’s up to us to “compose” it when gets out of control.
This reminds me when my son was playing Little League baseball at ten years old. He was pitching and the game was getting away from him a bit, so the coach called time and went to the mound to calm him down. After he left, Luke struck out the next couple of batters putting his team in a position to finish as winners. On the way home I asked him what the coach said to him. “He told me to not lose my composure.”
“How did you answer him?” I asked.
“No way, Coach, I won’t!”
I asked him if he knew what “composure” meant.
“No idea!” But whatever it was, he wasn’t going to lose it, at least not before game was over.
Some people seem to always have a composed soul, but most of us have to wrestle it into line. We have to “quiet” our soul when it whines and whimpers for its own way like an unweaned baby. We have to “wean” it from its childish and self-indulgent orientation.
A childlike soul has to be “behaved” into submission by its owner, i.e., us. It’s our responsibility to tell our soul to behave, to compose itself, to be quiet!
A baby still on the breast screams at the first twinge of discomfort or hunger. In the same way, unless taught to behave, our soul clamors for what it wants when it wants it in any old way it wants it. This is no way for us to proceed on our pilgrimage, whining all the way up to Zion.
Instead of pilgrims, too many Christians act like tourists, instead of living to serve, they demand to be served. Such believers haven’t been weaned yet. Reaching into Paul’s New Testament metaphor, they still want mother’s milk when they should be chewing on meat.
Like babies who see their mother as a dairy, they relate to the Lord as simply their Provider, but fail to enjoy him as their Portion. Sure, he provides, but more than that, he is The Provision.
Granted, weaning can be arduous. Letting go of the being the center of the universe can be confusing and frustrating. Like babies being weaned we whimper: “You don’t love me anymore! Why are you pushing me away? Am I to starve?”
Though she might not enjoy the process any more than baby does, in order to help it grow up she has to pull it off the breast. She has to deny her child and the child has to suffer being denied. If they don’t, the child will be an overgrown baby sucking on its mother’s breast forever!
God isn’t abandoning his pilgrims in this stage; he’s just changing the way he feeds us. An immature soul is still on the breast and childish. A mature soul is weaned, still, quiet, and childlike.
The Other End of the Dark: A Memoir About Divorce, Cancer, and Things God Does Anyway tells my own journey toward a quieter soul. You might enjoy reading it. The profits from the book go to Freedom House.