My devotion passage for this morning was a reading of Psalm 139. It is a beautiful psalm, written by David, who recounts for all of us the intimate relationship he has with God. He says, “You know when I sit down and when I stand up. You study my traveling and resting. you are thoroughly familiar with all my ways.”(CEB) The Spirit of God rested on David from his ordination by Samuel at his father’s, Jesse’s, house, many years before. David testifies to us across the eons what it is like to have a deep and intimate relationship with God, one that sustains us, one that anticipates our every word and deed, one that is willing to go with us into every time and place.
Sitting on my porch and enjoying this psalm on a beautiful fall morning, steaming mug of coffee at my side, was just the cure for any Monday morning blues that may have crept in overnight. That is, until I got to verse 5. The NRSV says, “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.” For David, this seems like a good thing. He makes it sound so wonderful.
Yet, I had to pause and this verse. You see, I’ve been hemmed in before. When I was a child, I grew up next door to four older cousins, who loved to play tricks on the “little one.” (that would be me, by the way…) Once, they decided that it would be enormous fun to lock my in one of the storage sheds of their parents. There was no light source, so it was dark. There was no ventilation, so it was musty and smelly. They had locked the door, so there was no way to escape. I read this verse, and I remembered that I don’t like being hemmed in at all. Maybe David enjoyed it, but I certainly don’t.
This is not my first time reading this verse. I’ve read it sitting on the beach, and gazed out at the vastnesses and beauty of the ocean, and thanked God for hemming me in at such a spot. I’ve read this verse when life was going well, and have given thanks, knowing that God’s grace and abundance led me to such a spot.
Yet, what happens when God hems you in at a place you don’t like? What happens when God hems you into a job that you don’t like, or a marriage you can’t seem to escape? What happens when God hems you in and death seems to be all around you, when there seems to be no way to escape? What happens when there seems to be no escaping an illness, either yours or a loved one’s? Being hemmed into a dark, damp space puts our faith to the test. We don’t like being hemmed into an uncomfortable place, but often God allows us to stay in one place for a while, even when we find it too hard, too dark, too sad, just simply too much.
I think David must have known that place, too. Maybe when God allowed his son to die, or when his best friend, Jonathan died. Later on in the same psalm, v. 23, David says, “Examine me, God! Look at my heart! Put me to the test! Know my anxious thoughts!”(CEB) David knows that God’s ways will lead him to goodness and life. But he also knows that God tests us to see how long or how much we will trust him. In these times, us Christ-followers are called to acknowledge before God and each other that we are in an uncomfortable place, and that we have anxious thoughts. But finding grace and truth and God’s love in these times reassures us that God is still the guiding force in our lives, that his love for us will prevail. This psalm, and others like it, gives comfort and hope to those times we are hemmed into a tight spot, waiting for God to open up a door, and invite us back out into the light of day.