Signposts: Daily Devotions

Thursday, March 17

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
—Psalm 46:1–3

Although I imagine these words have brought solace and strength to people for thousands of years, I had no idea that one day I would find them so dramatically helpful. Until one year, I found myself in the grip of a bizarre and frightening phobia, and was not sure how I could cope without this psalm and other similar Scripture.

The phobia had to do with standing in the midst of people and reading aloud from a printed text. When I began to read the Gospel from the center aisle of the church, I became almost literally petrified—my body became rigid and I felt sure I was going to fall over. Since I’m a deacon in the Episcopal Church, it's my role to read the Gospel each Sunday morning, and this phobia made Sundays interesting, to say the least!

I talked with therapists, analysts, spiritual directors and close friends. I tried every relaxation technique I could find; I even tried mild medication. None of this worked for long. I practically memorized these verses from Psalm 46 and used them as a mantra; nothing changed. I tried to laugh it off, I tried exercising and deep breathing early on Sundays, and, finally, I admitted my problem to my clergy colleagues. Much as I love doing this, I told them, I will no longer read the Gospel on Sundays.

Their reaction, and that of other people,  filled me with more gratitude than anything that has happened to me in a long time. I have learned from this awesome experience that God comes to us as refuge and strength not in order to make us strong, but in order to comfort and shield us when we are weak. And the good news is that I feel happier and more connected to God in this weakness than I ever have in my “strength.”

Help us, O God, in the midst of trouble and despair, to admit our weakness, to accept your guidance, and to trust in the love and comfort of friends. Amen.

These Signposts originally appeared on explorefaith in 2006.