“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
These opening words of Psalm 23 are familiar to most. But each of us can ask ourselves honestly: Do I really believe that?
Speaking for myself, the truthful answer is both “yes” and “no.” It is one thing to know at an intellectual level that God is all-good, all-powerful, and all-loving; or to state that I believe that he will provide for all my needs. And truly, I believe these things! But I also know the bind I sometimes feel. There can be that clutch of dread or panic about impending conflict, the crushing weight of responsibility (even if self-inflicted), or the suffocating feeling that those I thought I could trust are now pulling back and leaving me unprotected. In those moments, there are parts of me that urge me to hide and isolate rather than surrender unconditionally into God’s hands. It can feel so much safer to take matters into my own hands and to feel some measure of control rather than surrendering to God – what if his love won’t be enough??
In my own case, this inner resistance I sometimes experience isn’t so much in the form of words or thoughts as bodily sensations or deeply felt feelings. One way or another, I am quite familiar with the inner cry that screams out: It won’t be enough!!
I know I am not the only one.
There is a reason why Psalm 23 is so appealing. It speaks soothing and reassuring truths to so many of us who need to hear them again and again as we internalize them. We all need to know that God is abundantly good to us. We need to know that our hunger and thirst will find deep satisfaction in him. We need to know that we will be mightily protected by his rod and always guided by his staff – never abandoned in a place of powerlessness or stuck alone in a valley of death. We need to taste and see his goodness – even in this life.
Psalm 145 offers similar strong reassurance that the Lord’s love and care will always be enough for us, and that our deepest desires and needs will be met by him:
The Lord supports all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look hopefully to you;
You give them their food in due season.
You open wide your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.
If you are anything like me, you may find that you strongly believe the truth of these words, and desire to live by them – AND experience inner resistance. So… What do we do when part of us screams out, “It won’t be enough!!”?
I can rattle off the things so many of us tend to do in those moments – pull out our phones, scroll through social media, eat comfort food, binge on sugar or caffeine, fantasize about ways of getting away from it all, bury ourselves in busy work, fixate on the faults of those around us, and so many more. These days, there are no shortage of surrogates we can turn to in an attempt to replace real relationships. Then we reach a point of disillusionment and realize that these things we pursued to make sure it would be enough not only were not enough, but actually depleted us. We feel frustrated with ourselves and tend to trust God even less and to want to hide ourselves even more. A vicious cycle.
Alternatively, we can open ourselves to the kindness of God and other trusted companions, and become genuinely curious about the inner conflict. Rather than fleeing the images or feelings or bodily sensations that can be so unpleasant, we can follow where they lead us. In many cases, the reason why I am having trouble trusting and surrendering to God now is because my body is remembering what I felt like way back when. If I have past experiences in which I felt deeply deprived, neglected, abandoned, unprotected, or powerless, then it makes a great deal of sense that my body would warn me in the present moment that the same danger is immanent. The situation now is radically different – but my implicit memory doesn’t know any better; it’s doing it’s just doing its job by warning me.
The ultimate answer is to be found in an experience of genuine relationships, connection and communion, abiding in love and truth, staying present to others and God – and even to those parts of myself that try to tell me that it won’t be enough.
Ironically, I think many Christians have learned how to pray in a way that keeps God at a distance – especially from the ways in which we most need his loving presence. There have been seasons in my life in which I have looked at prayer much more as a “should” or a matter of being disciplined enough or getting it right. Rather than a close connection with God, many of us either avoid the vulnerability of prayer (and shame ourselves for being “lazy”), or we stay “busy” in prayer in a way that allows us to feel safe and in control, but hinders receptivity.
God invites us to come to him as we are and receive his blessings. I have written before about the prayer of lament, in which we open up our grieving hearts to God and seek connection with him in our pain and brokenness. Whether grief, anger, lustful fantasies, overeating, bitter resentments, panic, anxiety, or deep feelings of powerlessness – what would it look like to experience these things with God? If my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, why not tell the Holy Spirit he is welcome in my body (including where I happen to be feeling dread or shame or grief or loneliness)? Why not consecrate it all to God – giving him all the pieces? If we do not, how can we say we are loving him with our whole heart?
Similarly, what would it look like to cultivate relationships with trustworthy people in which I allow them to see and know the real me – including all the parts I’d rather hide away? Many of us were wearing masks long before this pandemic began! To be fair, we may have needed to do that for a long time. The pain of deprivation, powerlessness, or abandonment is simply too much to bear until we are in a position in life in which deep prayer and meaningful relationships are genuinely possible. When we allow ourselves to experience these relationships consistently in our lives and in our prayer, real change begins to happen.
Do you, like me, sometimes fear that God’s love or the love of others won’t be enough? Are you willing to let go of your surrogates and experience real relationships? I cannot encourage you enough to step out in faith, to renounce the lie that his love won’t be enough, and to permit yourself opportunities to receive.