Lowering our Shields and Searching for Help

Psalm 70I tried not to blink, knowing that the closing of my eyelids would turn wet eyes into tears, and that tears would turn into crying.  

At some point I couldn’t control it anymore. My eyes closed, the tears fell, and the cries began.


Of course, this all happened while sitting in a work meeting. My cheeks got hot and my body fidgety as I dealt with my own discomfort of vulnerability in this kind of setting.


I sat there for a bit, uncertain of how to proceed. Do I explain where all this is coming from? Do I move on? Do I make a joke?


How do I stop this?


Really, though, that wasn’t the question I needed to think about. The real question was: What is at the root of this?


Because the conversation was not particularly difficult, just direct. It was a good talk about a relatively minor conflict regarding a process. The kind of important chats I think are at the center of healthy teamwork and collaboration.


I didn’t want to do anything to deter this person from moving towards this kind of conversation again. Yet there I was, sitting cross-legged in an office chair, crying in response.


The root was not the tough conversation. The root was my exposed vulnerability.


My shields were worn thin from stuff going on in my personal life, and suddenly, I felt the arrows of feelings I usually ping away in those moments.


Shame for getting something wrong.


Fear of failure.


Disappointment in not pleasing people.


Feelings I thought I had outgrown suddenly flew at my face and pierced my tear ducts into revelation.


It turns out I hadn’t outgrown those feelings or outran them or stopped letting them bother me. It turns out I just had a good shield. And once that defense was down, I was just as vulnerable as I had always been.


I wonder sometimes if our biggest enemy is ourselves. I wonder if our own feelings are what are most likely to taunt us and pursue us into holes of darkness.


What if we prayed for God to rescue us from the arrows of shame, disappointment, and fear?


Please, God, rescue me! Come quickly, Lord, and help me. May those {feelings} who try to kill me be humiliated and put to shame. May those {feelings} who take delight in my trouble be turned back in disgrace. Let {those feelings} be horrified by their shame, for they said, “Aha! We’ve got him now!” – Psalm 70:1-3 (Inserts added by me)


What if instead of trying to shield ourselves, we asked for help? That is more difficult. Because asking for help feels needy.


But as for me, I am poor and needy; please hurry to my aid, O God. You are my helper and my savior; O Lord, do not delay. – Psalm 70:5


The reality is, it’s okay to need help. Our vulnerability doesn’t make us weak; it makes us human. When we stop shielding ourselves, we open ourselves up to feel. And in the faith context, that acceptance of feeling and acknowledgement of vulnerability allow us to recognize we are not God. We cannot control everything.


But maybe it’s that letting go of the shield that helps us find a new joy.


But may all who search for you be filled with joy and gladness in you. May those who love your salvation repeatedly shout, “God is great!” – Psalm 70:4

That was my reflection on Psalm 70. Link up with your own Psalm 70 post below. Please read a few others, too, if you can. And come back next week with a post on Psalm 71.


(Also, I'm experimenting with leaving the link up open longer. You have a week to make your post! Maybe that will give you the nudge you were waiting for to join. Use #PsalmsJourney to tweet and follow the posts of others.)


Advent Series Day 8: One who values the needy

I spent the summer of 1999 as a volunteer in the poor urban areas of Los Angeles. I was born and raised in small town, Wisconsin, so that summer brought many new things before my eyes. I saw people living in cardboard boxes, parents digging in dumpsters for food, and children without safe passage to school. There were many things that overwhelmed me with despair. But there were also things that filled me with hope and joy. One that I still think about often is homeless karaoke. A small church in Skid Row decided to host a karaoke night for its homeless neighbors. A couple who attended had the equipment, and wondered if it could be used. Being a poor church, they couldn’t do much but brew a pot of cheap coffee, set up the equipment, and pray that God would do something with it.

They had no idea.

Hundreds of people show up on a regular basis. The night I was there, the hosts could not make it through the list of singers before close. This has made a huge impact on the Skid Row community. In fact, an award-winning short film was made about it.

Why? What about karaoke brings so many people to this church?

Because at karaoke, the homeless are treated as real people. The joy of singing, dancing, and fellowship takes the weight of their situation off their shoulders for a little while. And as they stand on the stage, they are seen as individuals with something to offer. For a little while, instead of being overlooked and ignored, they are clapped for.

They know their lives are valued.

In Solomon’s Psalm about the future Messiah, he describes a King with wide dominion. His rule will span from sea to sea, and kings from far and wide will come to pay tribute to Him. The Psalm goes on to describe the reason the Messiah deserves such honor.

All kings will bow down to him; all nations will serve him. For he will rescue the needy when they cry out for help, and the oppressed  who have no defender. He will take pity on the poor and needy; the lives of the needy he will save. From harm and violence he will defend them; he will value their lives. - Psalm 72:11-14 (NET translation)

The Messiah King deserves his throne because He uses his power to rescue the needy and defend the oppressed. The Messiah does not overlook the poor. He treats them as if their lives are worth something.

Jesus is this Messiah King. He demonstrates it from the time He is born.

When angels announce Jesus’ birth- the most important event in human history to that point- they do not announce it to kings. They announce it to poor and lowly shepherds. The message of the Messiah’s arrival is entrusted to those the rest of society would have seen as unworthy for the task.

When Jesus is traveling and preaching, He values everyone He comes in contact with. He dines with those others reject. He heals and touches those others avoid. And when John the Baptist sends his disciples to Jesus, asking if He really was the Messiah after all, Jesus answers with

“Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” –Luke 7:22

When Jesus’ identity as the Messiah is questioned, He confirms it by confirming His role as one who helps and heals the poor and needy.

And now, at Advent, we can look forward to not only Jesus' first coming, but His second. For when the Messiah comes again, He will establish a perfect kingdom- a kingdom in which all needs are met and all lives are valued.

Our Messiah rescues the needy, defends the oppressed, and recognizes the worth of every human being.