How To Remember Who God Is – Sarah Nicholson
I, like everyone, have had a rough year. I have been— I am— confused and lonely. I’m a little bit disillusioned and cynical. I’m constantly tired, exhausted from Zoom, and drained from grieving all the things I’ve lost and will probably continue to lose. I’m burnt out from absorbing all of the terrible news from our deeply broken world. I’m graduating this semester into a giant question mark, amplified a thousand times over by the pandemic. Life feels really hard, and the world feels dark, in a way I still can’t quite articulate even after all this time. There is so, so much I’m afraid of, and there’s a low-level existential anxiety pulsing through me at all times. It’s a horrid combination headache and stomach ache that never quite goes away.
So it feels like a weird time for me to write about God. I feel wholly unqualified. It is hard to encourage others when I feel so deeply discouraged myself. Again, I’ll be honest: it has been hard to feel Him and believe Him for a while now. Yes, this is the Creator of the Universe who became incarnate to redeem all of humanity. Who healed the sick with a touch and calmed the storm with a word. He is making all things new and works all things for good. I know that. And yet, my tiny human brain and heart can’t hold that truth at the same time as all of the death and destruction I see around me.
Then again, maybe this is the perfect time to write about God. I have no pretense here of being profound or particularly wise, or of “learning” something the way we so often talk about in our circles, because I don’t feel like any of that applies to me lately. I’m completely uninterested in finding a new take on a familiar passage, and frankly I don’t have the energy. All I have to offer you is the quiet hope I’ve been cultivating these last few months. Underneath everything – the exhaustion, anxiety, fear, I have to remind myself of who God is. That’s it. No frills, no deep-dive Bible study on one of the short underappreciated books. All I can do is sit.
That is all that I can offer you today. Humbly, with all the grace I can, I extend to you the following: a reflection on the truths and passages that have nurtured my flailing heart in the unmoored world.
Sometime during the early fall, when all of my classes were online and my hypochondriac tendencies kept me inside, I listened to a sermon that described the Psalms as the songs of Jesus. I usually forget that the Psalms were written musically. But they were. They’re songs, lost in translation. And the Bible tells us that Jesus sings (Matt 26, Mark 14). Imagine that for a moment. I don’t know this for a fact, so don’t quote me, but in my mind, thanks to His full humanity, Jesus was a good singer, but not a great one. He could carry a tune, mostly on pitch, but it warbles a bit. There’s a huskiness to it. But He sings. I think there’s something deeply beautiful about that. Inspired by that sermon and comforted by the knowledge that some of these 150 passages probably got stuck in Jesus’s head the way Taylor Swift gets stuck in mine, I committed myself to reading the Psalms every month for three months. That’s five psalms a day, though I would often do three one day and seven the next or some other work around. The important thing is that I burned them into my heart and mind, slowly but surely.
It has been better for me than I even expected going in.
There are verses, entire psalms, that I will recite or read when I am feeling particularly sad about pretty much everything (Psalm 46, Psalm 86). There are passages that have helped me weep and grieve when I am overwhelmed by the brokenness in the world and the profound, gut-wrenching evil of sin (Psalm 5, Psalm 10). There are jubilant psalms of praise that I’ve found myself using just to remind myself that He is who He says He is and He is good (Psalm 19, Psalm 100). There are Psalms that remind me that I am known and loved (Psalm 16, Psalm 121).
There are literally a hundred more where those come from. Let me be clear: this is not a season where I’m studying the Psalms in any meaningful sense. I can’t tell you the history of them or the significance of certain Hebrew words. It has been all I can do for the last few months just to read them. Just to soak my heart in God’s word and teach myself to believe it, to listen to it. So many psalms are about His goodness and perfection and righteousness and faithfulness, promising that He is watching over His people and that justice and redemption are coming.
That has been what my heart has needed to know and what I constantly have to remind myself is true. Maybe you, too?
I want to speak to those of you who feel like me these days. I want to tell you it’s okay if you don’t feel like a particularly great Jesus follower; if it feels hard to pray because you’re tired, or scared, or sad, or any number of complicated emotions. We serve a God who became fully human. He experienced the full range of human emotions. He knows what you’re feeling and He knows what I’m feeling. Jesus wept. God is close to the brokenhearted. He is the God of all comfort. He, the Lord of all things, He is not scared away when we feel too much. I am speaking to myself here, honestly: We don’t have to feel guilty and apologize to God if we’ve “felt distant” because we’re “just dealing with a lot right now.” He knows, He’s been there, and He cares. And He invites us in, and promises us that all is being made new, and that He will always be faithful.
One of the Psalms I keep coming back to is Psalm 16. It’s short and sweet, just 11 verses. I’ll put the whole thing here, because it’ll fit (this is the NIV, but I also really like the ESV):
Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
apart from you, I have no good thing.”
I say of the holy people who are in the land,
“They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.”
Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.
I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods
or take up their names on my lips.
Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.
I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
even at night, my heart instructs me.
I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
Did you read it? Read it again. Apart from Him we have no good thing. He counsels us, and we cannot be shaken. Our bodies will also rest secure. That means that our anxious fitful nights spent waking up and thinking about the future are fruitless. We can rest because we are protected by a God who will not abandon us. We are safe in His refuge. His presence fills us with joy.
I know I promised you I wouldn’t write about any Super Christian flexes, but allow me this one: I’ve memorized Psalm 16. It’s not too long or complicated and it is filled with the very truths I so easily forget. It speaks directly to my loudest fears in this season: sickness, death, the future. I don’t really know how to write an elegant and theologically rich analysis beyond that. The Lord protects me because He loves me, and brings me life and joy in His presence.
That’s it. That’s all I know. And, even though a voice in my head often screams otherwise, that’s all I need to know. My lot is secure in Christ. The boundaries are in pleasant places. Yes and amen.
Do I always feel like that’s true? No. Do I always believe it? Not really, depending on the day. But I steal a prayer from the man in the book of Luke: “I believe, help my unbelief.” Some days, that’s all I’ve got. But the Lord in His mercy sustains me. I believe, help my unbelief that You are good. That You love me. That You know me. That You will protect me. That You are life. That You are joy.
Most days, I pray that prayer; and every single day, even when I don’t, He shows up bigger and better than I imagined. I smile, maybe cry, take a deep breath, and carry on the path of life He has made known to me by His grace.
Friends, I still feel unqualified to give you this heartfelt advertisement for reading the Psalms, though I hope you do read them well. I am tired, underslept and over-caffeinated, behind on schoolwork with absolutely no motivation to actually do it. It’s taken me weeks to write, tucked into pockets of time between classes and discussion board posts and quizzes I forgot about. I don’t feel great about my life all the time, and I am not particularly proud of my walk with the Lord in this moment marked by a lot of anxious panic on my part. But, I know the Word better than I ever have. I’ve immersed myself in the songs that Jesus himself sang, and come away having tasted and seen His goodness and kindness in a whole new way. I pray the same is true of you as we push forward into another season of forced stillness and unknowing.
May we know Him more. May we be still. May we rest in Him, for He has promised to provide and sustain us forever.