I lift up my eyes to the hills- from where will my help come?
So begins the Song of Ascents, Psalm 121, and a question that may be familiar to you – or not. Surely, you have looked to the horizon in search of answers at some point in your life.
I have been asked to include this Psalm in funeral services I have presided over and people of the Jewish and Christian faith often read it at the beginning of a variety of journeys – as a form of assurance in the face of uncertainty, grief, longing, and anxiety that come on the road of life. It is often found framed in the delivery rooms of Jewish hospitals where newborns begin the daunting journey of life. In times of economic and political instability when we all want to make a run for the hills – perhaps it would suit us better to take a deep breath and dwell on these words.
From my dining room window, I can lift my eyes upon Columbia Mountain and gaze for hours and ask that very question- ‘From where will my help come?”
Just four short months ago I was doing just that – along with the questions: Just how long is it going to be; what is going to happen to me; what if this isn’t the right choice? What if things don’t go as planned? What if something goes wrong? What if I am not as strong as I need to be? What if I am not who I think I am? What if You, God, are not who I believe you are? Yes, even THAT question!
At the time, I was preparing for a significant “life-event” you might call it. Total Hip Replacement. Just saying the words seemed so unreal. I was too young for that sort of thing! I didn’t have room in my life for that kind of disruption! While I was thankful I could prepare for the surgery rather than have it suddenly forced upon me, the whole process raised significant questions, unsettledness, and apprehension within me. For someone who boldly professed her conviction in the things unseen and her hope for things to come – the state of unknowingness I found myself in had me completely untethered. My life felt suspended and I wondered if I would ever feel grounded again. Uncertainty reigned within me – me, the consummate control freak.
What if the things to come are not what I intended? (As if we have any control over that!) What if my choice was wrong? What if this changed me – what if I changed – CHANGED (gasp!!) forever?
Such questions are natural — whether one is contemplating a geographic journey through dangerous territory, a journey through the many ups and downs of a lifetime, or a spiritual journey seeking one’s true self and/or a reunion with God.
It’s dangerous out there – outside of our well protected selves. It can be dangerous within our overly protected selves too! Disease, injury, accidents, war, or illness threaten our bodies. Natural disasters, recessions, depressions, unemployment, outsourcing, downsizing, insolvency, debt, and theft rock our foundations. Doubt, sin, evil, corruption, fundamentalism, extremism, and outright untruths vie for our allegiance.
The big what ifs that accompany so much of life – what do we do with questions like that? What do we do amid the vast eternity of now’s uncertainty???
The rest of the Psalm provides the answer – if we are so inclined not to just listen but also hear.
I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
Not from escaping to the mountains and hiking away my troubles and anxieties as I so frequently do. In the weeks following my surgery – weeks that seemed like eons – I could only dream of hiking in the hills, forests and mountains again – but I rested in the arms of their Creator and help did come. The metaphoric mountains of life by their very existence bear witness to the hand of our Creator. It is often in the steepest of climbs and darkest of valleys – our most challenging times – that we grasp for a higher power and His existence is revealed.
He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
As I slowly gained my freedom I was met with new anxieties – what if I fall, will my strength ever come back, will I ever sleep again? I stumbled and I fell – figuratively and literally. As my life began to return to “normal,” I found myself repeating old habits that I had eschewed in light of my diagnosis and prescribed remedy. But I was able to overcome them and step forward in new directions. Revealing again that God is a keeper. God protects, shields, watches over, guards, and keeps like a Watchman keeping guard over a city or a bird shielding its young in the shelter of Her wings.
God kept watch over me when I wasn’t watching out for myself. I remember one evening midway through my recovery when I realized I had pushed my limits too far and walked much further than I should have. I was starting to panic as my legs got weak and I was 2.5 miles from home. Of course, I would not call for help – but as if on cue to my prayers of consternation – a friend pulled up beside me on the road and said “Hey there – you look a little tired. Want a ride?“
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.
These words of promise by no means imply that those who walk in the shelter of God will not face harm or that nothing ill will come their way. On the contrary, the writer knows all too well the nature of this world we live in is not for the faint of heart – that we will meet with opposition and evil – not at every turn – but enough for us to grow weary and wary.
If my faith were as certain as my hindsight – I would have no trouble in life. But I’ve lived enough and long enough to know that the very essence of this life is why I/we need this psalm – these words of promise – to get us through the vast eternity of now’s uncertainty.
Since my surgery four “short” months ago, I have returned to the mountains with a passion and with a new appreciation for the mountains of life. Not only have I successfully and blissfully crossed physical boundary lines, but I have let go of a few mental ones too.
- My fear of falling and failing that has held me back since my surgery and, quite honestly, throughout my life, has started to diminish and been replaced by a sense of freedom and confidence even amid the uncertainty of life.
- I am who I am – not just who I think I am.
- I am strong – by a standard much different than my idea of strength.
- And, I am assured, not by what God promises to do but what God does. What God does for those who rely on Him when life turns upside down and your light is turned to dark, when the journey ahead is not the one you mapped out, when nothing makes sense in the moment, when uncertainty reigns within you.
God guards you as you go on your journey of life and as you return home. As you go out and come in. As you face the vast eternity of now’s uncertainty forevermore.
Let your light so shine!!