I am exhausted with my groaning;
every night I drench my pillow with tears;
I bedew my bed with weeping.
My eye wastes away with grief;Psalm 6
In one of the books of the classic fantasy series The Belgariad, by David Eddings, there’s a scene that always struck me as a writer’s cheat. In it a character is told that a prophecy holds clues to a great danger he goes into the library to pour over them. While he’s there, the voice of the prophecy, which also lives inside his head (don’t ask), says to him, “Hey, you don’t need to read every word, just sort of let your eyes move over them and I’ll I make the relevant passages leap out to you.”
As a teenager reading this I was like “COME ON! ridiculous.” But as an adult with a daily habit of reading the Bible, I have had this experience many times. There are times when unimportant phrases and words in passages read many many times almost become brighter, standing out against a darker wall of text.
And sometimes an entire group of readings are clearly meant for me and my current situation, for hope and comfort.
I am the Lord, your God, who grasp your right hand;
It is I who say to you, “Fear not, I will help you.”
Fear not O worm Jacob, O maggot Israel: I will help you, says the Lord.Isaiah 41
And maybe it will bother some to think of God referring to his people as maggots and worms, but for me, I see this kind of language as an honest reminder of the truth of my own power. Now, to be clear, I don’t have low self-esteem and I value work and personal responsibility and I try to put those values into place and teach them to my children. And they are important. But the experience of my life is that mere goals and striving can accomplish nothing. They are necessary but not sufficient for life. The importance of goals and striving is not to achieve external things, but to develop good character. But you must always remember that the goals you think you are working for are all vanity in the eyes of God.
This lesson might make you hopeless, until you reach a time in life when there is no forward progress, and indeed, not even to a path to walk on. Locked in a paradigm of goal setting and achievement, you will spin your wheels and grow frustrated and myopic. Put recalling the true goals will set you free.
I especially need to remember this when there are no goals to be achieved and my problems and obstacles are things I have no power over. In those times I like to remember there is only continuing to live in faith. In those times Isaiah leaps out to comfort.
I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.
I will open up rivers on the bare heights,
and foutains in the broad valleys;
I will turn the desert into a marshland,
and the dry ground into springs of water.
I will plant in the desert the cedar,
acacia, myrtle, and olive….Isaiah 41