As I walked along the water’s edge at Sandbanks, I watched a young child paddling up to her knees. As a larger wave came in, she trustingly put her small hand up into the hand of her father, who was carefully paddling beside her. Although only a toddler, she instinctively knew that she would be safe if she could just hold his hand.
“Jump! I’ll catch you.” Were those words ever said to you as a youngster? What was your reaction? Whether perched on a rock, or on the branch of a tree, on a wall, or a climbing frame in the playground, we usually only momentarily hesitate before jumping into the waiting arms of someone we trust. Perhaps it’s dad or mum, an older sibling, grandad or grandma, or perhaps a teacher or well-known friend. Why should we doubt the reassuring words? They have made a promise, “I’ll catch you” and our experience tells us that this person has helped us before; they can surely be trusted again.
Children initially tend to be trusting; it’s only as we get older that we become more wary.
Inevitably a trusted friend or perhaps an adult finally lets us down, and even though there may be a perfectly good reason which we may or may not know about, at that moment we are left feeling hurt and insecure.
Fortunately, although we may be let down on numerous occasions by friends or family, we still know there are certain people on whom we can depend. Over a lifetime we will usually be fortunate enough to have one or two, or even a small handful, of stalwart, constant friends on whom we can always rely. They will always make time to listen, support and help, if they can. A deep, often mutual trust develops. What a relief when we can talk to them – they will surely understand and simply accept us as we are at that particular moment.
Of course, we all need human friendship, encouragement, help and support to positively grow and develop as an individual. But I’ve found there are times in life when we are alone, perhaps at a crossroads, or in uncharted choppy waters. Our trusted friend, or partner, may not be there or just unable to help. Perhaps we face a new job, or retirement, it may be a health issue or time to move home. We may be caring for someone and feel totally unable to cope any more, or experience a bereavement which has left us reeling. There are also times when even a good, supportive friend is not enough. We still need something more, although we may not be able to put it into words.
Thank God for the Book of Psalms! This diverse book of poetry spanning 800 years from before the time of Moses, 1400BC, expresses heartfelt praise and thankfulness, feelings of doubt and fear, moments of rejoicing and celebration, feelings of isolation and despair. Written over centuries by various people, including King David, the words express all our human situations. Whether despairing or rejoicing, the authors honestly share their feelings with their God. Because of the honesty expressed by the Psalmists, again and again they help us during times of struggle or distress.
Whether I’ve been alone 6000 miles from home, sitting on the concrete floor of my tiny sitting room, as a young science teacher in my late twenties in the “African Bush” of Zimbabwe, or more recently, sitting on the vet’s surgery floor in a treatment room at Sidmouth, cradling my much loved golden retriever as he is euthanized, I’ve always found a peace and comfort from the Psalms. The Psalmist puts into words what I am so often unable to articulate.One of my favourites is Psalm 121. The God who never sleeps, reaches through all our innermost thoughts and feelings to bring a soothing balm. I particularly like this version based on the NRSV:
"I will look towards the hills – from where will my help come? It comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to stumble, for he who watches over you will not slumber. The one who watches over Israel never slumbers and never sleeps. The Lord watches over you, a shelter at your right hand. The sun will not beat upon you by day; nor the moon by night. The Lord will protect you from evil, He will watch over your body and soul. The Lord will watch over your going out and your coming in, now and always. Amen."
God does not deliberately send difficulties and heartache but, as Christians, God is with us in good times and bad. He gives us the strength to keep going and, like the child on the seashore, he walks beside us hand in hand.
Whatever we may face, and however things may seem, He will be with us at all times, in all places, always!