Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Growing Down

[a blog I wrote for the Society for Christian Psychology]

Psalm 131 is a Psalm of Ascents, one of the songs (Ps 120-134) that Israel sang and prayed on their pilgrimage to Jerusalem for festal celebrations. Psalm 131 prepares the worshiper through childlike simplification and trust in Yahweh. It can do the same for us today.

My heart is not proud, Lord,
    my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
    or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
    I am like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord
    both now and forevermore.
(Ps 131:1-3 NIV)

Dale and Juanita Ryan from the National Association for Christian Recovery have written a very moving meditation based on this Psalm in their book, Rooted in God’s Love: Meditations on Biblical Texts. I will share this meditation and then offer some comments throughout.

A weaned child in the psalmist's culture is a child who can walk and talk. It is a child who for many months has been nourished day and night at it's mother's breast. Every time the pain of hunger came, the child enjoyed the powerful combination of having its stomach filled with warm milk while being held in a close, intimate embrace. Messages of love and valuing flowed into the child's spirit while the life-sustaining milk flowed into its body.

Love and nourishment are the soil in which security grows. A weaned child still needs to eat. But, it is not frantic about its next meal. It has learned that it's needs are important, that they will be noticed and that they can be met. Because of the love and nourishment it has received, a weaned child has grown secure.

How often our pathologies and insanities are driven by an insatiable thirst for love and nourishment! We grasp, bite, kick, envy, lust and grab all because we feel deficient, deprived and alone. We can be like starving refugees rushing a UN Aid truck in a crazed stampede!

The authors continue,

Recovery is like being loved and nourished until we can be weaned. We don't grow out of having needs - our goal is not mere self reliance. Rather our goal is to experience love and nourishment. As we do so, we gradually become less frantic about our next meal. We grow. We heal. Eventually a new kind of security grows in us - not the security of toxic self-reliance, but the security that comes from nurture. We become less frantic, less fragile. Our souls become stilled and quieted.

Have you experienced this progression in your soul? The Lord Jesus wants to move us from a frantic grasping to a quiet receiving posture, from the grasping of the orphan to the simple request offered by the beloved child. If we were honest, many of us would likely say that we are not where we would like to be in this regard. But this experience (or lack of experience) does not mean that such realities in God are not possible; perhaps we are not in a place to receive them yet. There is a certain amount of breaking and humbling that must occur for orphans to loosen their grip on the ideals of control.

There are many obstacles in the spiritual life, many corrupt beliefs and practices that are complexly interwoven with our cherished systems of survival. We are not really sure we want God or his promises! We’re not sure he can be trusted with our care and nourishment. It takes many gradual, tiny steps of trusting and testing God and his goodness within the context of safe communities of Jesus. Eventually, we can be weaned. But even then we shall never “grow up” and graduate to greater matters of control. Blissfully, we grow down into the ever younger and simplified new self that asks for what it needs from God, serenely trusting that our Father shall always give us what we need.

Dale and Juanita Ryan close the meditation with a beautiful prayer to help us get started:

Nourish me, Lord. 
Nourish me with your love.
Calm the frantic feelings within me.
Grow a sense of security within me.
I want to be able to sit quietly.
Like a weaned child.
Secure in your love.

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