Psalm 23 and The Valley of The Shadow of Death

I’ve said before that the only thing I could read during our hard days in the hospital this past summer were the psalms (and a few other things). I read them every single day, journaling, thinking, praying. In the psalms I had a language for what I was feeling. I had a language for my fears. But in the psalms, I more importantly had a language for who God is in spite of those fears and feelings. The psalms showed me God, even when everything was uncertain. My hope in spending my days in the psalms was not only that I would be sustained in the moment of waiting for Ben's birth, but that I would also be sustained if (or when) the dark moment came to deliver Ben unexpectedly.

That moment did come, but my mind went blank.

As they wheeled me into the operating room on the day of Ben’s birth I forgot every single thing I learned those three weeks. I couldn’t remember anything. Not a word. Not a verse. I panicked. Where was the truth? Where was the hope? Where was the life sustaining truth of God’s word I was banking on?

Except Psalm 23, I could remember that.

As they prepped me for surgery line after line came to mind:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil

As they looked again for Ben’s heart rate (just to make sure he was still stable):

For you are with me

As they worked hard to get him out:

 Your rod and your staff, they comfort me

As they pulled him out and we heard frantic cries coming from lungs that worked:

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

He lived. I lived.  But I was so disappointed in my spiritual weakness that led me to only remember a familiar psalm. It sounds silly, I know. But I really wanted other things to come to mind, not verses that are familiar to virtually everyone—even unbelievers. Even 90’s rap songs have Psalm 23 in them (anyone remember “Gangster’s Paradise”?). It was not a testimony to my spiritual growth that I could recite Psalm 23 in a moment of great panic. Most people can. It felt like all I had done to prepare my heart for that moment had been for naught.

In the days following, I was thankfully able to reflect on this more. Instead I was comforted. It was the valley of the shadow of death. It was a moment of great fear. I did need to know that God was with me there, in a cold operating room, in a moment where I wondered if my premature baby (who had spent the previous three weeks with three quarters of a placenta) would be okay. I needed the truths of Psalm 23 (and countless other psalms that speak to the very same truths). But in God’s kindness, he made it easy and gave me familiarity.

He didn’t make me work to find the truth that hard day. He brought to mind truths that I have known for years. Like the psalmist also says elsewhere, “he knows our frame, and remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14). In that moment, he gave me exactly what I needed.

That’s how he works. As Paul says in Romans 8, the Spirit helps us in our weakness and don’t even know what or how to pray. Sometimes we can just groan, and yet the Spirit is there, interceding on our behalf (Rom. 8:26). The heart behind our groans is one of trust, but we just can’t even get out the words sometimes. The agony of life makes our feeble minds go blank. In his kindness towards us, he gives us the comfort of familiarity. He gives us words to pray when we can’t think. He upholds us with truths that we’ve known all our lives, even if we don’t have the spiritual and physical bandwidth to grasp them fully.

God’s not looking for spiritual superstars in a moment of crisis. Crisis, by it’s very definition, strips us of all self-sufficiency. Sometimes he gives you a softball just to sustain you. And it’s all grace.