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Psalm 124

If the Lord himself had not been on our side,
now may Israel say,
if the Lord himself had not been on our side,
when men rose up against us,
they had swallowed us up quick
when they were so wrathfully displeased at us.

Yea, the waters had drowned us,
and the stream gone over our soul.
The deep waters of the proud had gone over our soul.

But praised be the Lord
who hath not given us over for a prey unto their teeth.
Our soul is escaped even as a bird out of the snare of the fowler;
the snare is broken, and we are delivered.
Our help standeth in the Name of the Lord
who hath made heaven and earth.

~

My daughter is nine. You know what that means, right? It means Big Emotions. It means minor mistakes lead to Mass Hysteria. It means my patience wears Very Thin. Daily.

After a particularly rough and rainy afternoon in which every other thing was a cause for wailing and lamentation, my daughter was supposed to help me make dinner. Instead, she was hunched over the kitchen counter, weeping. Again.

My lips said, “Are you still crying?” My tone said, “What is the matter with you?”

She cried harder. I sent her upstairs to her room. She never made it. She just stood in the hall, tears streaming down her cheeks. I found her there when I went to get chicken stock out of the pantry. I asked her if she wanted to go outside? Upstairs? Lie down? Help me? She didn’t know what she wanted, and with each question, my voice grew more impatient.

Finally, she flung her arms around my waist and held on for dear life. I hugged her back, a little reluctantly I’m ashamed to admit. I had dinner to make, a friend coming over, you know, things to do. I didn’t have time for Big Emotions.

But I want to bless my children. My purpose in raising them is to bless them so they can bless others. So I set aside my agenda and wrapped my arms around Jane in a real hug. I silently stroked her hair, I kissed the top of her head, and then I spoke these words—only they weren’t my words. They were spoken through me, and to me, but they weren’t mine. I said, “I’m sorry I’m not being very kind to you this afternoon, Jane. I’m treating you the way I would treat myself.”

I think the sun stood still behind the clouds, and a bush in the yard may have burst into flames. It was one of those moments of kairos, when time seems to stop, when you know Something Important is happening, even though nothing important was happening. A young girl was crying and her mother was clumsily trying to comfort her. That was all. That was everything.

In the same second that those words left my lips—I’m treating you the way I would treat myself—I saw not just how impatient, unkind, cutting, condescending, and downright cruel I can be to myself, but that I was teaching my daughter to treat herself the exact same way, and if I kept this up, she would internalize my voice and it would become a harpy in her head. Oh. Dear. God.

I credit this psalm with that realization. I had been pondering its words all week, those triumphant words about God being on our side and delivering us from those who rise up against us. And those words kept reminding me of St. Paul’s words in the book of Romans:

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Only Christ—and Christ died for us, Christ rose for us, Christ reigns in power for us, Christ prays for us!

I have been putting myself in the place of Christ! When I make minor mistakes (and let’s face it, in the grand scheme of things, all my mistakes are pretty minor), I condemn myself for not being smarter, wiser, more mature, a better mother/teacher/writer/daughter/Christian/friend/wife/whatever. When my emotions get big (because whose wouldn’t under such accusation?), I shut them up by scorning them, shaming them into silence and submission, which is just another form of condemnation.

It’s just another harpy. They take a grain of truth (you made a mistake) and turn it into a truckload of manure (you suck you good for nothing idiot) and then dump it on you. And they do it all while sounding pious and God-fearing (if you were really a Christian you wouldn’t be responding this way). Liars. Thieves. Murderers.

To my horror, this is one harpy that I’ve been oh so generously sharing with my daughter. But not any more. Not if Jesus and I have anything to say about it. And we do. And it’s this:

God is on our side. God is for us, so who can be against us? The harpies can—and will—try their hardest to pull us under, to spring the trap of their lies disguised as truth, and catch us.

But they have a problem: their trap is broken.

Jesus trampled it underfoot the day He was obedient unto death and descended into Hell. He trampled it underfoot the day He rose from the grave. And He tramples it underfoot even now, from the right hand of the Father, where He reigns in power for us and intercedes on our behalf. He crushed it, friends. That trap is broken. It can’t hold us. Like the psalmist’s bird, we are delivered from the snare. We can fly free!

The harpies cannot separate us from God. It may feel like they can. But that’s part of their deception: to make us feel like God has abandoned us, or like He never cared that much for us in the first place, or like we’re so god-awful He can’t stand the sight of us. But when we start to parse their onslaught, we realize, hey, wait a minute, that’s not right.

And it’s not right. It’s not right to be unkind to ourselves any more than it’s right to be unkind to others. It’s not right to take Christ’s prerogative. Only He can condemn—and He doesn’t. And if He doesn’t condemn us, who are we to condemn ourselves? Or each other?

Praised be the Lord!
He hath not given us over for a prey unto their teeth!
Our soul is escaped even as a bird out of the snare of the fowler;
the snare is broken, and we are delivered!

 
 
Photo by David Bush, Creative Commons via Flickr.

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