I made the mistake of reading the news today. I know I shouldn’t do that. The minute I pick up my phone to view the news I regret doing so, and yet I scan through the headlines like I can’t get enough of them. Voice after voice telling me about this or that tragedy – all shouting at me and clamoring for my attention. Read me! Pay attention to me! Only I am important and worth the expense of your valuable time! After I wake up and realize I’m doing something self-destructive, I feel sick, depressed, and terrible for about an hour afterward. The headlines get stuck in my brain. They start to repeat and float around inside my mind when I’m trying to do something productive. They distract me and hijack my sense of self.
Then there are the voices of self-accusation. I make the mistake of taking a look at myself, assessing myself, or seeing someone else and comparing myself to them. I start to look back on my life and see my present as evidence of all the mistakes I had made in my past. Look at me! Examine yourself! Listen to these accusations! I begin to shut down.
There are the voices of my children. I love the voices of my children, but every now and then their voices can turn against me. They overwhelm me, and I begin to lose a sense of who I am as a father, and I begin to lose control of my emotions. Daddy! I need you! I cannot do these things you think I can do on my own! How dare you think any thought but that of my needs! I feel powerless against the pull of their voices on me, and so I yell out in anger. I react, rather than responding, and my children’s feelings are hurt and so are my own.
Finally, there is the silence. The silence and stillness of all the voices I miss and still, in some way, long to hear again. Voices of my friendships lost, and despite my feeble attempts, cannot regain. Loneliness is an absence that is also a presence. You should be hearing my voice, but you aren’t, and it’s all your fault. You left. You walked away. You never called. You didn’t keep in touch. Or, at least, you didn’t do it the right way.
All these voices call out to me and try to tear me limb from limb each and every day. They pull me apart. In the book of the Lord of the Rings, the treacherous character of Saruman is called “the White” as he is the head of the wizard order and wears a white robe to signify his position. After he defected to the side of darkness, his robes change from white to having a rainbow color. When a prism breaks white light, it breaks it out into the colors of the rainbow. When those voices begin to break me, like light, like Saruman, I am broken to pieces. I am no longer whole, but I lose sense of myself. I lose any sense of unification in my mind, my emotions, my soul and center of being. I react here, I yell there, I do things that I don’t want to do and that I know aren’t the right thing to do. At the very least, I get a massive headache and need to lie down.
Odysseus did not stop his ears as he sailed past the sirens, and it nearly drove him to madness. Jason and his argonauts listened to the song of Orpheus, one of the crew, and sailed safely past on their journey, never hearing the sirens’ call. This has often been used as a metaphor for the life of the Christian, and it is aptly applied.
“I have asked one thing from the Lord; it is what I desire,” Writes the Psalmist in Psalm 27. “To dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, gazing on the beauty of the Lord and seeking him in his temple.” This is not the song of a man who has bound himself to the mast in an attempt to both control and enjoy his lusts. This is not the song of a man who has allowed himself to be broken and scattered as he listens to and welcomes in all the voices that surround him.
No: The only thing I want; my only desire, in fact, is to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and seek him in his temple. Like Jason, he knows there is a better song that will keep him on his course. Unlike Jason, the song of God not only rescues him from one danger of the sirens, but all the dangers he’ll ever encounter. Why? Because God is not just a distraction like the beautiful melodies of Orpheus. Instead, God takes our suffering onto himself. He jumps on the grenade. He dives before the bullet:
“For he will conceal me in his shelter in the day of adversity; he will hide me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock. Then my head will be high above my enemies around me; I will offer sacrifices in his tent with shouts of joy. I will sing and make music to the Lord.”
When I go backpacking with my family, it always rains. It’s a running joke among us that we’ve never gone backpacking without a massive rainstorm occurring. On one occasion, it literally did not stop raining for the three days and two nights my wife and I went hiking. After these trips, I’m always amazed at the condition of our tent when we get home and I start to clean everything. Without the tent, we would feel the wind and freezing rain. Inside the tent – and inside our sleeping bags – we are safe and warm and dry. Why? The tent bears the storm so we don’t have to. Listen to David: “He will hide me under the cover of his tent.”
When I listen to the voices of the news, what I feel is fear. What do I fear? The rainstorm of ideas and fears that are put into my head about the possibilities of the future.
Yet Jesus has already suffered the greatest of fears. Listen to David: “The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom should I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – whom should I dread?” God is not merely a distraction from those voices, but he has already taken away their power to lure me with fear.
When I am overwhelmed with the voices of the needs of my children (both real and perceived), and I start to feel like I’m powerless (this is what the word “frustration” means, from a Latin word meaning “in vain,” as in all my efforts are in vain), God isn’t merely one voice in the many that surround me, but he’s the one who sets me “high on a rock.” What does it mean to be high up on a rock? It doesn’t just indicate a position of power, but it means that I have perspective.
See, when I’m hearing all those voices and all the needs, I begin to feel that I can never meet them all. People are that way. Anyone who has had to deal with trying to serve the needs of others has experienced the overwhelmed feeling of knowing that even if we are able to meet some of the needs around us, our own needs, at least, are still compromised in the endeavor.
Having perspective lifts you above the fray so that you can make decisions and feel in control of your surroundings and situation. This is what God does to us when we rely on Him and when we seek only Him and not our own needs. “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you,” Jesus said. When we look only to him, it puts us in a place where we aren’t compromised any longer. It’s a place of confidence. So, David: “Though an army deploys against me, my heart will not be afraid; though a war breaks out against me, I will still be confident.” Why? Because he knows he’s on the side that will ultimately win. Belligerent customers and arrogant supervisors be damned, there is nothing that can shake me if I am trusting in the God of the universe as my support. There’s nothing anyone can say to me to offend me, and there’s no reprimand strong enough to crush me. God gives us confidence through the perspective we gain when we trust in Him.
And finally, the silence of loneliness. “Lord, hear my voice when I call; be gracious to me and answer me. My heart says this about you: ‘Seek his face.’ Lord, I will seek your face. Do not hide your face from me; do not turn your servant away in anger. You have been my helper; do not leave me or abandon me, God of my salvation. Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord cares for me.”
There’s not much to say about this that David hasn’t already said here. When I feel alone. When I feel loneliness creep in like the cold draft from an open window, I must remember that God has always been a helper to me. This is not just some consolation, either. Jesus Christ experienced the worst loneliness of all: the loss of his Father while he suffered and died on the Cross. He cries, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He experienced this loss for me, so that by believing in him, I will never have to bear it myself. It doesn’t matter that right now I have no one to call on. Even if my own family, the closest people to me, my own father and mother – even if they were to abandon me, as David says here, I know that the Lord still cares for me, and he cares for you, too.