I am mildly anxious much of the time, but there have been periods of my life when anxiety has risen from a simmer to a boil. Once was during a twenty-something transition and who-the-heck-am-I crisis, once when each of my girls was 10 months – hormonal, postpartum craziness that landed me in the hospital the first time for cardio tests, and for reasons that are yet unclear to me, it’s gotten pretty bad in the last 3 months. During these times, I have occasional, debilitating panic attacks out of the blue.
My kids all have big stuff going on. That is usually the case as they are all teenagers, but my ability to handle it with healthy boundaries broke down this week. I don’t let them in on that, but it can trigger me. So, I was sitting in my living room a couple morning’s ago, worry-praying for one of them and stuck in a significant panic attack. It felt like my chest was filled up with cheap polyester stuffed animal filler and it was creeping its way up my throat. My heart pounded, and my brain felt like slime. I couldn’t process or see straight.
I started whispering, “The Lord is my shepherd,” over and over again. That’s a new one for me as I’m not much of a chanter, but it’s what came out. After about the 20th utterance, I went one phrase further and managed a faint, “I shall not want.” And BAM, a light went off – my slime brain returned to its natural sponginess and the polyester filling that threatened to choke me receded.
The “I shall not want” part has always felt like a passive thing to me, but it occured to me that if it was passive, David would have said, “I do not want.” I checked in on the Hebrew (as if I knew what I was doing) and remained convinced that “I shall not want” was indeed his direct intent – he was choosing it, or at least strongly agreeing to it. Remember Gandalf on the bridge in the The Fellowship of the Ring movie? “YOU… SHALL… NOT… PASS!” Worth watching again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJZZNHekEQw
Anyway, that’s the scene that came to mind, so I gathered my inner Gandalf and said out loud, “I SHALL NOT WANT!” It has stuck with me ever since. I keep repeating it in my head every day, over and over again, because the truth is, no matter how many green pastures I lay in or how many quiet pools of water I wander by, I still want. I still want what I want when I want it. I struggle finding contentment in the midst of chaos, especially when that chaos is surrounding my kids.
It’s not that the temporary wanting of peace and prosperity for my kids is a terrible thing – it gets ugly when I elevate that want to the point of worship, when I center my emotional stability and joy around things going well for them. It’s a real problem when my want of temporary victories trumps my want of long-term growth and deeper love for them and for me. The question is not what do I want, but what to I want most? “I SHALL NOT WANT TEMPORARY SUCCESS IN EXCHANGE FOR LEARNING HOW TO LOVE!” Gotta go full-Gandalf on it.
My kids will certainly know the other part of the passage, the valley of death, during their lives – death of people, dreams, security, esteem, jobs and confidence. I will struggle when they find themselves there, but I want them to know that they do not need to fear the evil because God is with them every step of the way, just like he is with me when I panic.
A Psalm of David.
1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside still waters.
3 He restores my soul;
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for His name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup runs over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord