When I was a nine-year-old Sunday-school student memorizing Scripture verses in the basement of an old brownstone church in downtown Los Angeles, I didn’t imagine any value to those efforts other than a few shiny gold stars. I never dreamed that some of those good words would become the lens through which I learned to see myself and to experience the loving presence of a good God.
Back then, the Song of the Good Shepherd (as Psalm 23 is sometimes called) made my heart soar with its beauty and promise, even though I had little lived experience to help me understand it. Now at this point in my life, I know every word to be both lovely and true. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. . . .”
All the days. There have been quite a few of those since that church basement—a little more than 25,000 all told. Looking back, I can testify to the graces of goodness and mercy flowing over and around each one. Living them, I wasn’t always so sure.
It’s a painful fact of life that difficult days come to all of us—days of sorrow, struggle, loss, confusion, grief. And walking through such days feels dark, the shadow of death near enough to be tangible. Valley days are scary, and when you’re living them it’s tough to believe that goodness and mercy are anywhere in the neighborhood. Throughout my life, I have learned that it’s in the looking back that the shadows lift and the streams of living water glisten. The path may take us through some rocky places, but those green pastures are still there, just around the next bend in the road, their beauty beckoning us to rest and reflect.
As a nine-year-old, I used to wonder about those “enemies” in verse 5, and why they were present at the feast so lovingly described in this psalm. Sixty years later, I’ve learned that my own worst enemies live inside my head, pretty much ever-present! Their names are anxiety, self-doubt, viral bouts of agnosticism and uncertainty, even despair. During the difficult days those enemies can become loud and insistent.
And that is exactly when the Shepherd calls me to the Table, reminding me who I am and to whom I belong. He blesses me with loving presence and empowers me to tell those insistent voices to cease and desist. When they are quieted, even just a little bit, I am once again able to identify goodness and mercy, and to receive the anointing that is mine because of Jesus.
So I’ll be writing about all the days in this space, the green pasture ones and the valley ones too. It’s important that they all be acknowledged with honesty and humility, that we make room for lament as well as thanksgiving.
And of course, what I write will be colored by my life—all of my life. I am a woman, long-married to a good man. Together, we’ve weathered important, sometimes difficult transitions. Early in our marriage, we lived cross-culturally for two years; at midlife, I started a small business and left a life of housewifery to enter seminary, eventually serving on the pastoral staff for two churches in California. We have come through cancer, the death of a beloved son-in-law, and the journey through dementia with our parents, one of whom is still living. Our oldest grandchildren are wrestling with the meaning of life, our youngest deals with a serious, chronic disease. Life is good, life is hard—and all the days of it are rich with goodness and mercy.