Lord, I am not high-minded;
I have no proud looks.
I do not exercise myself in great matters
which are too high for me.
But I refrain my soul, and keep it low,
like as a child that is weaned from his mother;
yea, my soul is even as a weaned child.
O Israel, trust in the Lord
from this time forth forevermore.
I love this psalm. Charles Spurgeon said of it that it is one of the shortest psalms to read and one of the longest to learn. It’s deceptive in its simplicity. Or perhaps it’s that its very simplicity makes it inordinately difficult for those of us who don’t live as weaned children in relation to God.
I must confess that I am high-minded, and sometimes I’m proud of my high-mindedness, as if it makes me a special species of human, the depth of the thoughts I think. They impress me, anyway, those thoughts. Which recognition alone ought to give me pause and induce me to lower my gaze—or at least laugh at myself!
I must also confess that I frequently exercise myself in matters too great for me. It’s a cultural tendency. We set ourselves up as prosecutor, judge, and jury (just spend a few moments on Twitter and see what I mean) without stopping to consider the insane arrogance of such a presumption, to remember how very little we know—how very little we are—and thus how utterly unqualified we are to render any kind of judgment, let alone a just one.
This psalm helps shrink us back to size; it restores us to a proper perspective. It reminds us who we are and Whose we are: we are a weaned child and we belong to God.
A weaned child is small, not totally helpless, but mostly helpless. She can do some things: walk, run, say a few words, smile, laugh, hug, hit. But most things she cannot do: read, count, reason, make her own food, walk very far. She is dependent on older, more capable people for her life and well-being. In all this we are like weaned children in relation to God.
Small children also have a limited scope of interest. They live in the immediate, the present, wholly absorbed by what is here, now. In this way also we are to be like weaned children, living in the present moment, not fearing the future or recalling the past (except as it brings us pleasure).
But there is something more, and more profound: a weaned child adores her mother. I have four children, and all of them adored me. I hope they adore me still, but if they do it is a different sort of adoration than they had when they were small. That was the adoration of trust, simple and genuine and without reservation. I was the well-spring of their beings and the source of their continued life, not because they fed on my body as they had when they were babies but because they relied upon me to care for them and love them, to provide food when they were hungry, hold them when they were scared or hurt, bathe them when they were dirty, and sing them to sleep when they were tired. I was never far from their thoughts, for I was the fundamental fact of their existence, which tethered their lives to mine in a bond of love and trust.
It is in this way that we, too, are to be as weaned children with our Lord. We are to adore Him as a small child adores his mother. Evelyn Underhill, in The Spiritual Life, says adoration is
A confident reliance on the immense fact of His presence, everywhere and at all times, pressing on the soul and the world by all sorts of paths and in all sorts of ways, pouring out on it His undivided love.
Over the past year I have come to believe—no, it’s deeper than belief—I have come to know that we cannot trust God or grow in His grace and goodness unless we receive His love. It sounds so simple, and it is. But we live much of our lives turned inward, looking at ourselves, like turtles in our shells, and God’s ever-present love falls on our hard hearts and runs off like rain off a rock. Eventually, if it rains hard enough and long enough, the rock will wear away, but in the meantime, we are trapped in the smallness of our own lives, our own frightened and loveless existence.
I see this every week in my own children who are still young enough to curl up in little balls when they are hurt or angry or ashamed. I know that ball, from the inside. It is self-loathing and self-pity and self-justification. It is anger and defensiveness and shame. All I can do when they are armored like this, curved in on themselves, their knees to their chests, their hearts in hiding, is lie beside them and love them until they relax their hold on their knees and turn to receive my embrace.
And that is what God is doing all the time. He is our perfect mother, the matrix of our existence, the ground of our being, without whose sustaining breath we would simply cease to be. He is the love that surrounds us from our birth, the everlasting arms wrapped round us. Everywhere present always, He pours out his undivided love on each one of us, calling us out of our shells, out of ourselves, and into the wideness of Himself.
Awestruck delight in the splendour and beauty of God, the action of God and Being of God, in and for Himself alone, [i]s the very colour of life… This is adoration, not a difficult religious exercise, but an attitude of the soul.
The attitude of the weaned child as she leans on her mother’s chest, in simple adoration and utter trust, wrapped in her mother’s arms of love. May we lean deeper into God and open our hearts wider to receive all that He would give.