Downcast and Disturbed? A New Question to Ask

I’ve realized something new about idolatry. As I read the scriptures, I see that David connects being downcast and disturbed with somehow not hoping fully in God. He writes in Psalm 43:5, “Why so downcast, o my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God.”

For most of my Christian life, I’ve come to understand idolatry as something you love more than God, something that captures your heart more than God, or something you give your time and attention to most of all. Yet this week, I’ve been thinking about idolatry differently.

Idolatry is when I turn aside to false gods that promise to do what God says He will do. This person or thing circumvents, counterfeits, or even counteracts what God has said about His character.

For example, we know several clear and distinct names of God: God is our banner of victory (Jehovah Nissi), our shepherd to care for us (Jehovah-Raah), our healer (Jehovah Rapha), our provider (Jehovah Jirah), our sanctifier (Jehovah Mekoddishkem), and our peace (Jehovah Shalom).

I realized this week that idolatry takes root in the heart when I prevent God from being God in my life because I choose another avenue of victory, care, provision, healing, and peace. If I’m trusting in something or someone as the ultimate source of provision, I’m preempting God’s provision. If I’m taking responsibility for my own care–through various well-intentioned means–I might be thwarting God’s plan for my care.

It reminds me of the time my husband was traveling, and I asked for prayer for protection. I felt like my protector was gone. My friend reminded me that God was my Protector. It reminds me, too, of how I respond when I receive rejections from publishers. I imagine that book contract would be such a source of financial provision! Publishing isn’t my provision. God is my provision. Or when I raise the banner of achievement or fruitfulness as my victory, I must remember that God’s banner over me declares His love (anything I may write on that banner isn’t the truth about me) as my victory. Finally, what about trusting in my own obedience or ability to change? God is the sanctifier, not me.

When I am downcast and disturbed, I ask this question: Where have I turned aside to a false god that masquerades as promising something declared within the character of God? That’s a new question for me, and I’m so glad I asked it.


    Writing: “Small details intimately observed.”

    As I prepare a writing lesson, I think about Mary Pipher’s statement that “all animals, carefully observed, have things to teach us. So does every person we encounter.” On her chapter on diving into the writing process, she quotes Ernest Hemingway when he says, “If a writer stops observing he is finished. Experience is communicated by small details intimately observed.”

    I’ve been observing the fat, fluffy cardinals that have discovered the four different feeders we placed in the backyard for them. They stay so close to this food source all day long. They lounge in the trees and enjoy the bounty. The don’t leave. They just feed and rest, feed and rest.

    That’s the work of a winter in the heart. There’s a season for staying so close to God–feed and rest, feed and rest–because the spring will come soon.

    Besides observing the birds, I watch my kitten. Inside the warm house, I have a new kitten who can’t stand to be alone. In the morning, he’ll sit in the middle of the house and meow pitifully until my old cat comes to find him to play. Hearing him cry out like that, from the depths of his kitty self, and seeing the quick response of the older cat, teaches me something about crying out to God.

    Feed and rest. Cry out. It’s winter.


    I Do Love Shadow

    I consider the beautiful shadows that mark the backyard this afternoon. A shadow means the light has shown down upon that thing. It intercepts it and it enjoys it.

    As a result, shadow.

    There’s been some light here. This dark thing is how we know it. 

    Instead of despairing when a dark time comes, I ask instead what it shows me about the light.


    Back to Just Looking

    Ice covers the neighborhood today.

    I walk my daughter down the road to visit a friend. We notice how the ice on the street freezes in beautiful patterns as it surrounds the gravel and dirt. The freezing rain soaks us through as we plow on down the hill. It could be miserable, but it’s not. It doesn’t matter; we’re busy investigating the ice.

    I remember to keep looking for the design–the beauty and the complexity–in all I see today. Yes, the roads are treacherous. But they’re also beautiful.


    Much Later in Life

    As I keep to the writing task, both fiction and nonfiction, my daughter reminds me that our favorite Little House book series was not published until Laura Ingalls Wilder was well into her sixties.

    On my bedside table, I have the lovely book, Watership Down that Richard Adams wrote in his fifties. Frank McCourt wrote Angela’s Ashes in his mid-sixties. Wallace Stevens, one of my favorite poets, wrote most of his poems in his late thirties.

    I’m so glad they didn’t quit writing because they felt old or irrelevant to the culture. I’m so glad they didn’t give up in discouragement. Each writer had something vital to say–at just the right time.

    With each passing year, I remember that some of the best things in life happen much later. My older and wiser friends testify that wonderful things happen past middle age. Some of the best writing and thinking happen much later. Some of the best, richest, and rewarding friendships even happen later. Why are we in such a rush, thinking life has passed us by?

    Some great stories bloom late. This is just the right time for them.


    In Case You Were Wondering If You Should Write it Down

    As students work on personal essays over the next few weeks, we consider what we might pass on. We offer our life experience to others–the pain, the beauty, the joy, the despair–to provide insight.

    Mary Pipher explains that “with personal essays, we turn our own lives into teachable moments for others.”

    Why shouldn’t we do this work? Why shouldn’t this become part of our spiritual practice, as important as prayer or reading the Bible or worship?

    I consider how in Psalm 78:3-5, the poet writes:

    Things we have heard and known,
        things our ancestors have told us.<sup class="crossreference" value="(A)”>
    We will not hide them from their descendants;<sup class="crossreference" value="(B)”>
        we will tell the next generation<sup class="crossreference" value="(C)”>
    the praiseworthy deeds<sup class="crossreference" value="(D)”> of the Lord,
        his power, and the wonders<sup class="crossreference" value="(E)”> he has done.

    Or in Psalm 102:18, we know the reason for writing it down:

     Let this be written<sup class="crossreference" value="(B)”> for a future generation,    that a people not yet created<sup class="crossreference" value="(C)”> may praise the Lord.

    What if we decided we will not hide our stories? What if we wrote down the deeds, the power, and the wonders God has accomplished and displayed in our own lives (because they were never just for us alone anyway)?

    We will go and write, so it can be an everlasting witness.



    An 8 Year Old’s Dream Superbowl Food

    She wants to bring her own appetizer to the party. Something she made, that she will think is delicious, and that everyone will gobble up.

    She won’t even try my crab dip. The crab dip has her concerned that this party won’t have any food she’ll want to eat.

    “OK,” I say. “What will you make?”

    “Pizza Puffs.”

    Using Bisquick on the bottom of the mini muffin pans, a little quiche-making tool, a jar of marinara sauce, and some chopped up pepperoni and salami, she’s off cooking. She immensely dislikes cheese. No cheese.

    She’s the voice of young people everywhere who don’t want fancy appetizers with seafood. In a 350 degree oven (about 8 minutes later), they emerge from the oven. She’s beaming about her Superbowl Pizza Puffs for Children.

    Now, I’m off to make the crab dip for me–but only after I stuffed three of these in my mouth. So delicious!

    Enjoy your evening, friends.


    “In the morning, O Lord, I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.”

    I read in Psalm 5 when David reports: “In the morning, O Lord, I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.”

    It’s morning time. I position my pen above my journal and imagine God asking, “Is there anything you need? Anything at all? Is there any concern you might have? Any at all? Might I be of assistance?”

    It seems so bizarre that the sovereign, all-powerful Lord of the Universe would attend to us like this. I remember in Psalm 33:15 that “God forms the hearts of all and considers everything they do.” Everything. 

    What if I lived like David did, spreading out my hands in prayer in the morning with all the concerns of the day and then waiting in expectation?

    I write all the requests down that clutter my mind. I pour it all out right down to the silliest and most seemingly inconsequential (that Merlin would let us hold him or that my daughter will absolutely love her new glasses or that I’ll think of something yummy to make for the Superbowl party). Inviting God into it all feels so nice this morning.

    I think that’s what it’s supposed to feel like each morning.

    I pray over the Big Things–sick friends, hurting neighbors, anxious thoughts, major national and world concerns–but I also remember that God asks me to cast all my cares upon Him because He cares for me.

    Merlin’s gaining security. Kate loves her new glasses and wanted to wear them around town today. I’m making crab dip for the party.