We live in uncertain times, times where there seems to be no strong foothold, where we are trying to balance on shifting sands.
With all the unpredictability created by COVID-19 and exacerbated by what is unfolding in our national affairs, it is easy to feel unsteady, unsure and exhausted. Many of us wake up in the middle of the night and begin doomsday scrolling or are afraid to glance at our phones in the morning for fear of what we will see come across our newsfeeds.
I am pretty sure last week alone was 12½ years long. Or at least it felt like it.
And it’s hard to walk forward when life feels so precarious, lacking confidence in the next step because we feel as though the world around us can collapse at any minute like a house of cards. 2020 has been a rough year — a VERY rough year — and right now, most of us are near the ends of our collective ropes.
At times like this, I often turn to one of my favorite spiritual practices to sustain me. When I teach about prayer in confirmation or in Bible Studies, I talk about the different names we have for God, disclosed to us in Scripture, and how we can use those names to help us when we pray. They allow us to help envision characteristics of how God has been revealed to us to help give us comfort and strength.
For example, when the world feels unfair and injustice, I pray to my God who is a Judge (Psalms 75:7); when I am inconsolable or feeling bereft, I pray to my Comforter (Jeremiah 8:18); and when I need guidance, I pray to the Wonderful Counselor (Isaiah 9:6) or the Good Shepherd (John 10:11) who will lead me.
Lately, the image of God that has been sustaining me is that of God as my Rock and my Refuge, my Fortress, an ever present help in times of trouble.
I love the image of God as a Rock because for me, I picture Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach, Ore., when I pray to my Lord, who is my Rock. I envision a God who is unmovable and able to protect me in the midst of the changes and chances of life.
As I stand in the shadow of this rock, I know my God is a great God, one in whom I can put my trust, and the image gives me a feeling of calm, no matter how turbulent life is.
The Bible describes God as a Rock in many places. This includes one of my favorites, from Psalm 18:1-3. “I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, so I shall be saved from my enemies.”
When I use this verse and envision my Lord this way, I am reminded that the world and it’s well-being does not depend upon me. I have a God who will be a shelter and who will be a stronghold, even when the most basic parts of life are unsure.
Does this mean that we are assured a life without trial or pain? Absolutely not. After all, in order to talk about a refuge, one needs to know the storm. The mention of enemies reminds us that those who walk the path of Christ garner opposition. But what it does mean is that we have a God who knows the storm and doesn’t leave us alone in the midst of it — who promises us salvation. In other words, the weight of the world is not on our shoulders, but the comfort of God is.
This sense of peace and assurance is often what I need to sustain me as I take a break to be renewed by prayer, allowing me to continue to fight the good fight for the Way of Peace and a God of Mercy, in the midst of a turbulent and unjust world.
So my advice is the next time you wake up in the middle of the night, full of ennui and despair, or arise in the morning filled with inertia or are overcome with fear and anxiety, is to take some time to breathe deeply and envision Our Lord as a Rock. Breathing in “O Lord My Rock” and exhaling “You are My Shield.”
It won’t’ change the world, but it will help you know who is in this battle with you. And these days, that assurance can allow us to take the next steps with confidence, no matter where it leads.
O Lord, My Rock. My Fortress and My Deliverer, thank you for being an ever present help in times of trouble. Help me to stand in your shadow to renew my strength, and give me courage to continue the journey, knowing you are a solid place in the shifting sands of life, and no matter what happens, that is enough. In the name of Jesus, the Rock of my Salvation, I pray. Amen.