No Fear: A Meditation on Psalm 4

46f9d9e71b2629105337f49fa1dfd66eWhen I was a child, I didn’t understand how money could be such a driving force in people’s lives. What was the big deal, I wondered, with having enough money to own a really fancy house, a hotrod car, and new clothing?

Now that I’m older, I get it. I still don’t feel a need to shop at Neiman Marcus, but some of the main stressors in my life are financial.

My car needs replaced. Every time I start it in this weather, I hear its serpentine belt chirping away. Serpentine belts are not supposed to do that.

I went to physical therapy for a month in the autumn, trying to get rid of an odd ache in my shoulder. The therapy didn’t help, and now I’m stuck with the bill, which is higher than I expected.

I have to start a retirement account. I have to stick with a dumb phone because I don’t have enough money for a smartphone. I have to take a work-related trip to Michigan in February. I have to purchase tax software next month. I know that compared to some people, my financial situation is fairly stable, but even so, I worry about it.

As I’ve been thinking about purchasing a new car, and paying bills, I’ve also started rereading the Psalms as part of my effort to spend more time reading Scripture this year. A few days ago, I read Psalm 4. David writes,

There are many who say,

“Who will show us any good?”

Lord, lift up the light of your countenance upon us.

You have put gladness in my heart,

More than in the season that their grain and wine increased.

In David’s time, “grain and wine” was equivalent to food and drink. Grain is of course the main ingredient of bread, a basic staple of life; and in a world where water was of questionable cleanliness, wine was one of the basic drinks. Still, that David mentions wine instead of a simpler drink such as milk also adds a touch of luxury to this passage. The season of increasing grain and wine referred to here is a season of plenty, where people have not only enough to eat but also good things to eat and drink. This is a season to rejoice over.

But even more than we rejoice over having good food and drink, we rejoice in God. In the “the light of [His] countenance” David finds a greater gladness than in the physical necessities of life. I find the phrase “the light of [God’s] countenance” interesting; I live in central Iowa, and in the winter here, there are plenty of dark, cold days. When it is dark and cloudy, its hard to be hopeful about life; when it’s sunny, no matter how cold, it’s easy to be positive. That David refers to God’s countenance on them suggests that when we are in the presence of God, whatever our physical circumstances, we can find hope and joy in life.

But to some degree, this is cold comfort. When my bills need paying, I want to have a little money in the bank. Joy in God is not going to pay my bills.

And that’s why I like the last part of this Psalm:

I will both lie down in peace, and sleep;

For you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.

Emptying my bank account to pay for a new car or for medical bills or something else makes me really, really nervous. If there’s another emergency, if I suddenly lose my job, if the economy tanks, what’s going to happen to me? I am especially nervous because as a single woman, I feel like I don’t have someone to fall back on; it’s just me, taking care of me.

But that’s not what the Psalmist says: It is God alone that “make[s] me dwell in safety”. Whether my piggy bank is overflowing with pennies or rattling empty, the Lord cares for me. I like that the verb makes is an active one: That God makes me “dwell in safety” implies that He is actively looking after my well-being; my physical condition is of great concern to Him.

And in this safety, I can be at peace. We do not sleep unless we feel safe. David the Psalmist would not have bedded down near a lion’s den. I do not go to bed until my work for the day is done. That the Psalmist goes to bed here suggests that in God’s protection of us, we find perfect rest; there is nothing more than we should do.

This is not to say, of course, that I should begin to make rash or foolish financial decisions. In fact, I’m taking steps to make my financial situation more stable than it seems now.

But even as I do so, I am trying to remember that a stable financial situation does not give me lasting joy or peace. God alone does that.

And because of that, whatever decisions I make should not be made out of fear. Whether I buy a car or not, it should not be out of fear of draining my piggy bank. Whether I take a second job or not, it should not be because I’m afraid for my finances. Every action I take should be taken in confidence that I have joy in the Lord, and He is protecting me.



To Do: 2016

Here are my goals for 2016. I’ve been giving them a good deal of thought, and these are the things I think will enrich my life: personally, professionally, spiritually.

It’s worth noting that I’ve tried to focus on quality over quantity. Rather than resolving to bake four different kinds of bread, for instance, I’m looking to improve my baking skills; the point is not to do a whole bunch of things but to do things which will help me to do other things better, and with more pleasure.

To that end, I don’t have as many goals this year as I did last year. I’ve focused on things I really want to do, not things I feel I should do.

Professional Goals

  • Read up on teaching developmental courses. This is something I’ve struggled with, especially since I was never enrolled in a developmental course myself. I would like to improve.
  • Read The Seven Laws of Teaching, by John Milton Gregory. This book has been recommended to me by several sources. Time to read it!

There are other things I’d like to do to, such as teach an online course and take a professional development or training seminar to boost my skills, but those are far enough outside my control that I’m not adding them to my official to-do list. I’ll still work towards those goals, though.

Personal Goals

  • Improve my knitting skills. 1) Learn to pick up dropped stitches on my own. Every time I drop a stitch, I take the whole project to a knitting expert. That has to stop.  2) Learn to increase & decrease (add and remove stitches from a project). I’ve been religiously avoiding  projects which require me to increase & decrease. But when I learn to do so, I’ll be able to make something besides scarves and fingerless gloves.
  • Get comfortable baking with yeast. Every Christmas, making the traditional Christmas-morning cinnamon rolls is really an adventure, because it’s the only time all year that I use yeast.
  • Start a retirement fund. While I feel awfully young to be thinking about retirement, the truth is that I’m thirty and unmarried; it’s me that will be taking care of me when I’m retired, and that means putting money aside for me now, years before I’ll actually need it.
  • Buy a car. My current car has nearly 170K miles on it. By year’s end, I’ll need a new one, but spending tens of thousands of dollars on a single purchase makes me nervous. I’m hoping that if “buy new car” is on my to do list, I’ll be more likely to overcome my nerves and actually do it.

Again, there are other things I dream of doing (visiting a friend in Seattle, climbing a 14er with my father and my outdoorsy aunt and uncle, owning a pet) but I’m just dreaming about them, not listing them as official resolutions.

Also, I want to have people over more regularly; this is a real goal of mine, but so very unmeasurable that I’ve left it off the official list. Still, the fact remains that I love cooking and baking and eating with people, yet I very rarely make these get-togethers happen, and it’s time for this to change. Anyone want to volunteer to be my first guest?

Spiritual Goals

  • Find a church home and get involved. I am leaving the church I’ve been attending for the past four years, for reasons I outlined in this post. Time to find a new church.
  • Read several religious books, including Dante (missed him last year! It’s been too long since I’ve read the Commedia) and George MacDonald’s sermons, which have been sitting on my Kindle for months now.
  • Celebrate Lent, and possibly other church calendar fasts/feasts. Last year I marked Lent with a fast from humor websites, and Advent with a fast from unnecessary purchases. Both of those times were rich ones in my spiritual life.

I have two other spiritual goals, but as with my goal of having people over regularly, they’re nearly impossible to measure in any way whatsoever, and so I’m describing them here rather than listing them with my other goals:

One, I want to spend much less time on the Internet, mindlessly scrolling through humor websites and skimming mildly interesting Atlantic and American Conservative posts; there are way more productive ways to spend my time. Which leads me to my next goal. Two, I want to read the Bible and pray more regularly. When the semester is very busy, it’s easy for me to fall out of the habit of reading the Bible, and then simply not pick it back up again. This should not be. Reading the Bible is, of course, something I can do more of when I’m not online!

By posting this list to my blog, I’m mostly guaranteeing that I have an easy way to remind myself of what I’m committed to doing this year; I’m not trying to get attention so much as I’m trying to hold myself accountable to using my time profitably. However, because I think it’s interesting to talk about what I’m learning and how I’m growing, I will post about my work towards these goals from time to time; look for the posts under the tag To Do: 2016. 

Here’s to a great 2016!