When I was a little boy, I was fairly optimistic and positive in my demeanor. I didn’t experience a whole lot of anxiety or worry, but I had an active mind and an active imagination. I also didn’t always have the easiest time sleeping, something that has only worsened as I’ve gotten older. If my mind would get to wandering (which it would do quite frequently) and I couldn’t sleep, I could easily find myself trying to understand things that were far beyond my reach, like eternity.
As I’ve gotten older, I don’t know that I’ve experienced an increased amount of anxiety, but I think that the anxieties have felt bigger. When you’re younger, the problems don’t seem to be quite as insurmountable (although they may look that way) as they are as you get older, at least that’s what we might tell ourselves to justify our own anxieties. But I must have experienced some anxieties because somewhere in my teens, my mom shared her journey through the Psalms with me.
The Book of Psalms, written by David, Asaph, the Sons of Korah, and other early worship leaders is comprised of 150 chapters. The great reformer, John Calvin, in speaking of the Psalms wrote, “there is not an emotion of which anyone can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror…the Holy Spirit has drawn to the life all the griefs and sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated.”
It seems that somewhere along the way, my mom had discovered the importance of the Psalms in her own struggle with anxiety and depression. Being the wife of a pastor was not always the easiest thing and she found solace and comfort in the Psalms, discovering a monthly reading plan which would take the reader through the entire book in a month.
My mom told me that you could base the reading plan on the day of the month and just add thirty until there were no Psalms left. So, if it was the 3rd of the month, you would read Psalm 3, 33, 63, 93, and 123. If it was the 24th of the month, you would read Psalm 24, 54, 84, 114, and 144. It was a fairly simple approach that I remember to this day.
Pastor and author John Macarthur once quipped to his congregation that any Christian paralyzed by anxiety should be sequestered to a simply furnished room, given food through a slot in the door, and not let out until he or she had read the book of Psalms. He called it “psalm therapy,” claiming that, “anxiety cannot survive in an environment of praise to God.”
It’s interesting, it wasn’t until this week that I began to put it all together, the fact that the Psalms have been to me since my youth, the same solace and place of comfort that they were for my mom for so many years. They have become the default place for me when I find myself restless in the rest of Scripture.
In fact, as I’ve been reading through my Bible plan for the year, I find myself losing some of the things that I experience most when I am in the Psalms. Instead of letting the words breathe life into me, I have had a tendency to speed through them, racing to the finish line for the day so that I can say that I have successfully accomplished my plan for the day.
Reading through the Psalms does not usually give me that option. Within the Psalms, I am struck by the words, the imagery, the artistry, and the honesty. I am struck at the boldness with which the writers approach God with their questions and complaints, with their desires and fears. I find myself reading them through and feeling empowered to be just as bold and just as honest as they have been. After all, God can take our honesty, can’t he?
As I’ve felt myself pushing towards the finish line of my yearly Bible plan, the one that gets you through the entire book in a year, my growing unease is leading me back to the place where I have found such comfort in the past, the Psalms. Not just comfort for me, comfort that has been passed on, comfort that has been shared to me through my mom.
After my journey through the Bible in a year, I’ll find my way back to what’s become familiar, not for the sake of familiarity, but because what all it brings with it. Not going to rush to get to January 1st, but at least when I get there, I’ll know what’s waiting for me…and I’ll embrace it.