I have now been at home on my own for more than six weeks. Six weeks of not being with friends, of not touching another human being, no hugs, no elbow bumps, no three-year-old imps climbing all over me. And to be honest IT STINKS! I am coping, I am even enjoying the fact that my days are slower, and I can read more, but in the midst of all of this lockdown and self-isolation, are hard things.
Whether you are at home on your own, surrounded by a house full of kids, or working as an "essential" worker for all of us, life at the moment feels hard.
Then I come across these words in Psalm 16,
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Initially, I read the verses and thought, "so what?" I have read such words before; I know that God is good and that good things come out of suffering. However, I stopped and read them again. And then, I became a bit annoyed. It doesn't say "When life is good God's presence is full of joy" or "When I am with my friends there are pleasures forevermore". There are NO conditions on David's statement and to be honest that just feels wrong, because at the moment life does not feel full of joy. Joy is rather in short supply these days and pleasures - well, those I have are often outweighed by those pleasures for which my heart longs.
Verses 9 and 10 give us a hint to how David (who was certainly familiar with suffering) could say this.
No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice.
My body rests in safety.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead
or allow your holy one to rot in the grave.
David reveals a life lived in gladness and rejoicing, where he felt safe (even though he was hounded by those who wanted him dead) and one where he did not worry about eternity - he knew his future was secure. While David may not have understood that the last line of verse 10 is a prophecy of Jesus' resurrection, he did have faith in the God who had rescued him and saved him countless times. And because of that faith he lived with an eternal perspective and that was how he was able to experience God's full joy and eternal pleasures amidst a difficult life.
Dallas Willard in his book "Life without Lack" explains it this way,
"the surest way to realise the full potential of your God-designed self is to live in eternity while you are in time, conscious of the loving gaze of your all-sufficient Shepherd, "(emphasis mine).
To "live in eternity while you I am in time" means to fill my mind with the truth of Scripture no matter what my circumstances tell me. Not to deny the suffering but to live eternally in the challenges of today.
I think this is how Paul and Silas were living when they praised God in song and prayer while unjustly chained in a Philippian jail cell. Their action didn't say that being arrested and beaten for something they did not do was a good or pleasant thing, it wasn't. Paul makes it clear in his letter to the Galatians that he had scars from being beaten (Gal 6:17) and scars indicate wounds that were most likely very painful at one time. But still, Paul and Silas sang. Like David, they were able to see beyond their current suffering and to the joy and pleasure that comes from being in God's presence.
So, the question I am left with is how did David (and later Paul) learn to live in eternity while they were in time?
Recently I heard retreat leader Jan Johnson talk about the psalmist's use of a "pivot". In this sense, pivot simply means to turn around and the psalmists do it all the time. A great example is Psalm 22 (another by David).
David starts by crying out to God,
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.
David is being brutally honest; it feels to him as though God has forgotten about him and left him alone and he says it out loud for all to hear.
Verses 3-5 have an entirely different feel to them
Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
It is as if David has done a 180-degree turn in his perspective and is remembering God's nature and character. That is a pivot. David honestly says what he feels and then as if he has changed his mind, he suddenly starts to cry out to the God he knows. This pattern continues throughout the Psalm as David struggles to reconcile his circumstances and who he knows God to be.
My apartment is one of those railway-style flats where one room leads into another. These days I find myself regularly walking the 25-step length of the corridor often speaking to God of the realities of my current circumstances.
"Lord, I am lonely, I need to be hugged, you said it is not good for humans to be alone, and yet here I am six weeks entirely alone in my house"
But as I reach the closed and bolted back door I pivot, both physically and in terms of my focus and instead speak to God of who I know He is.
"Lord, I know that no matter how alone I feel, you are always there, you have promised to not leave me, your comforter is here - help me to see you both at work in my life…"
Like David, I often need to repeat this process multiple times. Physically I walk the 25 steps to my back door while verbally I honestly lament over the challenges of my life and then I physically do a 180-degree turn pivoting at the back door to shift my focus onto who God is. There is something about reinforcing the spiritual action with a physical one that helps me to experience the change in mindset more fully. So, each time I find myself, fearful, sorrowful and needing to lament I get up from the sofa and begin the step by step journey to and from my back door.
As I practice the discipline of pivoting, I am finding that it is easier to see what David saw in Psalm 16. It is easier to see the joy and to find the pleasure in lockdown. The joys and pleasures are often small, but they are real. The cool breeze as I sip my morning coffee on the balcony, a call from a friend, a prayer that is answered, a task completed, these all become moments of eternal life in the midst of a here and now that is full of loneliness, anxiety and uncertainty.
Whatever set of challenges you are facing in this season when we face our sorrow and fear and pivot to the reality of who God is we find that there is joy and pleasure living eternally in the world of time.
What practices (disciplines) are helping you to live eternally in the time of lockdown?