When I was in kindergarten we began each day reciting the 23rd Psalm from the King James version of the Bible, of course. To focus the attention of a room full of squirmy five and six year-olds my teacher held up a picture inspired by each verse of the psalm. Together we made our way through words like “leadeth” and the psalm made its way into my heart.
I loved the picture of the little lamb nestled in green grass that illustrated, He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. But I never wanted to look too closely at the picture of the fluffy lamb traversing a dark, craggy canyon that was the valley of the shadow of death. Sure, the shepherd was shown leaning down to guide the lamb with his crook, but why was the little lamb there in the first place?
As I child I didn’t understand the inevitability of danger and scary situations and I couldn’t find comfort in the strange promise that God would be with me in them. Now, as a parent, my instinct is to guard my children from scary moments in life. A “mild peril” rating for a movie will likely keep us home from the theater. A broken guard rail will render a playground out of commission for us. But those are not the truly scary things in the world—those are simply the small things I can control.
I have no control over the scariest things in life. Perhaps you’ve felt a new sense of fear this week as you’ve learned the details of the mass shooting in Las Vegas. Nowhere is safe and you have no sense of security. It is normal to experience fear or anger after an event of such senseless violence but at this point I want to encourage you to pause: stop consuming endless hours of news or conspiracy theories or debate about gun rights.
Stop to pray, make space to lament, and find the Good Shepherd who is with you in the valley of the shadow of death and comforts you, even while the world is dangerous and scary. The thing I couldn’t possibly understand as a kindergartner is that we are not promised safety. God isn’t blind or deaf to the horrors of the world but what he offers is distinct from what the world offers. The world feeds on our fears to gain power and wealth, though no government or ideology, no weapon or insurance policy can deliver on the security it promises.
Hundreds of times in scripture we are told not to be fearful or anxious. There is something deeply toxic about fear that prevents us from faithfully trusting in the promises of Jesus. Fear turns us into cowering animals that will kick and bite even those who try to help us because we believe we can only trust ourselves.
The hard-fought lesson I have learned since kindergarten is that if I hand over my fear I am free to follow the Good Shepherd, even through the dark valley. He feeds and comforts me in front of my enemies. He heals and restores me so that I am no longer living in fear and scarcity. If I am with him, my cup overflows. And he does all of that not by removing me from the scary world but by being with me in it. Only then am I able to re-engage with scary situations: to work for justice, to advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves, and to seek peace.
I’m not promised safety but I know with all my heart that God is with me like a Good Shepherd who cares for his sheep. I have the assurance that in life or in death I have no reason to fear because I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.