Each week, I take some time to reflect on one of the lectionary passages for the upcoming Sunday. This week for the fourth Sunday of Easter, we're going to look at Psalm 23.
A while back I was reading an article in Runner's World that suggested having some sort of mantra would be a great psychological aid in completing difficult runs. The idea is that repeating "Strong," "I can do this," or something of the like will put you in the mindset where you believe what you are saying. Those more positive sayings are likely better than the one mantra I have whenever I re-start running after a break: "Don't throw up. Don't pass out."
There are times when you have to talk yourself into believing something. Honestly, we humans are not consistent enough creatures to always believe something all the time. We have moments of doubt. There are those times when the outside circumstances threaten the way forward. And so we have to tell ourselves we can run one more mile, finish the next page of the term paper, or get the kids to bed even if we're not sure we can.
I think that is why many churches say the creeds in worship services. Sure, they are attesting to their belief in God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. But there are undoubtedly many in those pews who are not sure if they do believe. Perhaps they are trying to talk themselves into belief. Perhaps saying that you believe even when your heart is uncertain inches you closer to a place of belief or, at the very least, hope.
I thought about talking ourselves into belief as I read Psalm 23. "The Lord is my shepherd" is easily one of, if not the most famous psalms in scripture. I have read or heard it more times than I could count. Yet as I sat down in a Barnes & Noble to read it this week, I was having a hard time believing it. I was clawing out of a rough patch of days: a rough substituting gig, a more tantrum-filled stretch with the kids, and just the general existential angst which seems to be par for the course these days. The Lord is my shepherd? I didn't know if I could muster up the belief for that. It wasn't crisis of faith level stuff, but, man, I wasn't buying the utter confidence that Psalm 23 was selling.
In fact, I wrote a streamlined version of the passage on one side of my journal page and then on the other side I acknowledged the chasm between me and the passage:
God, help me to trust
To not want
Grant my soul rest
Lead me in Your ways
Because there are days (like now)
When I am afraid
Or let me know You are here
Grant me comfort
Open my eyes to trails of
Goodness and mercy
Help me stay with You
Help me to trust
All of that was honest and true. It needed to be said. I think God wants us to say things like that. Yet I was also aware that if I dwelt on that side of the page then perhaps it might be the meditative version of "Don't throw up. Don't pass out."
My eyes slowly veered back to the left side of the page where I had written my summary. I should be honest, but I probably should talk myself into belief also. I should cling to what God has done in the past and hope that I would feel that closeness to God in the future. I could pray the doubt and pray the certainty:
he Lord is my shepherd
I shall not want
The Lord restores my soul
he Lord leads me in right paths
In the dark valley of death
I will not be afraid
The Lord is with me
The Lord comforts me
Goodness and mercy
I shall live in God's presence
The Lord is my shepherd
The world post-Easter is a world of belief even when there are still forces that attempt to smother that faith. It is a world that remembers and trusts in resurrection even when death still speaks. So many times we have to talk ourselves into belief.