We all have periods in our lives when we feel trapped and powerless—certain that anything we might try to say or do to redeem ourselves, or to correct a misunderstanding, will only worsen the situation. This could be a strained relationship with a friend or family member. It could be a serious misunderstanding with a co-worker who consequently has suspended or removed their trust. Or, as a manager or supervisor, it might be a situation where our leadership has come into question and those around us begin to doubt our ability to lead them in the work.
Whatever the cause, the result is the same. We find ourselves suffering an inner pain and anguish that refuses to be resolved by an external word or action, no matter how kind or well-intended. The words we hear, or the generous gesture offered to us by another, act like a temporary analgesic. Eventually, after it’s “credit has been deposited into our account,” our “self-worth balance sheet” is still left in arrears. We are left feeling alone in an arid kind of personal wilderness—feeling impotent, and threatened by external or internal hostile “voices”—or both.
When I am in this kind of space, I have erected a kind of wall—like a plexiglass wall—through which I can see and hear the world around me but behind which I cannot touch or be touched by others. I have retreated emotionally and spiritually into a kind of silent resignation.
For God alone my soul in silence…waits. It is not that I’m feeling hopeful for an encounter with God; but rather, after frantically turning over all of my other options, my mind has collapsed and accepted the futility of trying to find fresh nourishment on my own to solve this dilemma. I accept that I do not have the necessary resources within me to redeem myself or the situation.
From God comes my salvation. This starts more as a desperate mental conclusion than a faithful statement of belief. I begin to wait, even if indifferently, for something or Someone from outside myself to begin to supply what I need in order to regain my hope and strength.
God alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold, so that I shall not be greatly shaken. I begin to remember—to recall times in the past when I have felt like this—when I have been threatened or disempowered to this degree. And I recall how God did provide sustenance; gave me strength; and caused me to see, to understand, and to move through the challenge in a different and life-restoring way.
But as soon as this recollection of hope begins to form, I immediately recall the depths of my current wilderness. How long will you assail me to crush me, all of you together, as if you were a leaning fence, a toppling wall? They seek only to bring me down from my place of honour; lies are their chief delight. They bless with their lips, but in their hearts they curse.
Even though I rehearse again the pain of the place I am in, something has changed. I have touched, or been touched by, a deeper and stronger Reality. It is not that I suddenly have the solution to everything that is troubling me. Rather, I begin to realize that these present threats, failures, or fears are not able to eliminate or even shake the truth of what is emerging within me. For God alone my soul in silence waits; truly, my hope is in God. God alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken.
Gradually, what initially felt to me like a bottomless pit from which I could not rise, starts to provide me with a solid foundation from which to begin again. It enables me to gain distance—to detach my very existence from the situation that was consuming me, and to connect me to the real Source of my life. In God is my safety and my honour; God is my strong rock and my refuge.
From this restored position, I have become strengthened to re-engage. Indeed, the challenge, threat, or difficult situation has not changed, and it remains something to be worked through. But I have changed—or been changed! I have been freshly nourished by the Source of my life and been given fresh hope and faith. And from that place of restoration and refreshment I can even affirm for others the truth that has saved me—Put your trust in God always, O people, pour out your hearts before God, for God is our refuge.
Don Phillips is the former Bishop of the Diocese of Rupert’s Land.