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 the shape of leadership

Finding Peace in a Time of Upheaval

At the end of our strength, there is a place of rest

Chris Colvin on April 24, 2020

I’ve never been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. That doesn’t mean I’m not affected by anxiety. Worry has always been a part of my life. I try to mask it under the guise of “concern” or “caution.” But if I’m honest, my worries can get out of hand.

My greatest worries have always had to do with health. A strange chest pain, a headache that won’t go away, or a persistent cough will make me wonder and then worry. So you can imagine what this pandemic is doing to me.

I am also the type of person who likes to be well-informed. I check headlines, but I also dig deeper. It takes more than two sources for me to come to a conclusion about any topic. But when the information I’m taking in is so dire, it can affect me emotionally and spiritually.

I’ll admit, in the first week or two of the pandemic I had to stay away from the news. It was causing restless days and sleepless nights. All I could see were the worst-case scenarios. I was also fighting off a respiratory infection, which further robbed me of peace.

At the same time, I was researching and studying a passage of Scripture that was very appropriate. In fact, it was just what I needed. Though it’s a very short Psalm, it is no less impactful. Here it is in its entirety:

My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.

But I have calmed and quieted myself,

I am like a weaned child with its mother;

like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord

both now and forevermore (Psalm 131).

 

This is one of the Songs of Ascents, the title given to 15 such Psalms that were sung on the way up to Jerusalem during the festival season. It’s a worship tune, a poem to prepare the heart to enter God’s presence.

It’s also a reminder that God is in control even when we are not. It’s a song about rest in the midst of confusion, of hope that transcends circumstances.

The first couple of stanzas, in verse 1, really spoke to me. I like to level the world on my shoulders. I take a lot of responsibility for myself and my family. I’ve realized I take on too much, though. And that’s not a good thing.

I’m realizing the most important thing I can do right now is rest in the Lord.

There are plenty of things about the coronavirus I do not understand. You could say they are “great matters” or, as the NASB puts it, “things too difficult for me.” In other words, I don’t have the training or knowledge to get it.

How long with this last? Will there be a viable vaccine? When will it be available? Are we doing enough right now? Too much? Should I wear a mask when I go to the grocery store? Does it even matter?

Anxious thoughts swirl around in my head almost daily, and I have no answers. But that’s OK — or, at least, I’m learning to accept my lack of understanding. I like to know the answers. I don’t have them right now, but to assume it’s up to me to figure out a solution is arrogance. The Psalmist might say it’s “haughty.”

And so, in my exhaustion, I have to find rest. The next stanza, in verse 2, compels me to let go of my anxiety and find rest. The image of God as a mother is a lot like the idea of Jesus being a hen, gathering His young under His wings (Matthew 23:37). But in Psalm 131, the metaphor is a weaned child snuggled up with a mother.

At first glance, this verse may not make sense. A toddler who is no longer dependent on the mother for milk is resting peacefully in her arms. Really? Have you ever seen a mother trying to hold a busy toddler? The scene is often anything but restful. Young children can be antsy and squirmy. They want down. They want the freedom to run.

But there is one moment when toddlers will lie restfully in the arms of their mothers. That’s when they are completely worn out and exhausted. They have done all their running, all their playing, all their toiling. They have extended their own energy and have none left to give. Now it’s up to the mother to offer a quiet place of rest.

That’s the picture of God with us. We run around, trying to get answers or provide an answer in our own power. When we are spent and have little to show for it, we collapse in His arms. And that’s the best place to be. God will allow us to run to the end of our anxiety without judgment. Then He will scoop us up and tenderly give us rest.

Jesus promised rest to all those who take up His yoke (Matthew 11:28-30). But for those of us shrugging off His easy yoke in exchange for our own heavy burdens, anxiety will persist. Instead, we need to lean on Him and trust Him completely.

That’s where this short Psalm ends. The last stanza promises hope, but only after we trust in God, never before that moment. When we realize there is nothing more we can do, know or understand, we turn to the One who does all and knows all, the One who is preparing a bright future for us.

Is the present crisis becoming too much for you? It is for me — and that’s OK. Because there is One who is not at the end of His rope. God is working behind the scenes. He has all the answers and just wants us to trust Him.

I’m realizing the most important thing I can do right now is rest in the Lord. I need to give up my sense of control and give in to the One who has complete control. Then maybe I’ll be able to sleep through the night.

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