“He makes me lie down in green pastures” Psalm 23:2
My friend Sarah hadn’t returned my call in two days, and now anxiety gnawed at my sleep. She looked at me kind of funny a few days earlier, I recalled, which sent me tumbling down a rabbit hole of negative thoughts: I probably said something that offended her. She probably doesn’t want to be my friend anymore. She is probably badmouthing me to all of our other friends. They will probably abandon me too.
The technical word for this spiral of negative thoughts about a theoretical future is called “catastrophizing.” This irrational behavior occurs whenever we predict a negative outcome and allow our minds to run wild with dire possibilities.
For me, catastrophizing often creeps in at night when I’m alone with my thoughts. I begin to predict that [my husband] Leif will die on his commute and leave me alone, that one of my friends will betray me, that my cancer will return and send me to an early grave.
We live in a culture laden with anxieties about the future. Anxiety lurks in our schools, our shopping malls, our movie theaters, our concert venues. The impact of this level of anxiety and fear surrounding our nation has yet to be fully calculated.
How do we find shalom, God’s deep peace, in a world riddled with anxiety?
When I spent time with a shepherdess, I discovered that sheep are slow to lie down. They refuse to rest if they sense a menacing creature or hear any loud cracks of sound. If rams in the bunch are, well, rambunctious, they’ll remain standing, ready to bolt. And unless they’re satiated, they’ll keep wandering in search of food. When a good shepherd ensures all their needs are met, they lie in the field and rest.
What keeps you up at night? Bad test results? A looming to-do list? Past-due notices? A nagging boss? Crippling loneliness? A cold war with a neighbor? A wayward child? You can drown under the weight of what-ifs. The Accuser shouts, “This is going to be a disaster.”
The key to overcoming this lie is found in the fields. As the shepherd enters the pasture, the sheep’s eyes fix on him. The sheep are wired to respond to the voice. The presence of the shepherd means they don’t need to fret. They soon forget their worries, anxieties, fears. They lie down and rest.
The quality of a sheep’s life depends on the character of the shepherd.
Skinny, sickly sheep are the reflection of a bad shepherd. Well-fed, protected sheep are the reflection of a good shepherd. A bad shepherd offers brown, arid desert and dirty streams. A good shepherd leads to verdant, lush pastures and fresh water.
A bad shepherd ignores the needs of the sheep. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
The Good Shepherd bandages wounds, attends to needs, and keeps his eyes on you—day and night. He bears your burdens, protects the gate, and tracks you down when you stray. The Good Shepherd’s presence puts his sheep at ease.
So calm, sweet friend. Lie down and trust that the world rests firmly in the palm of God. No need to catastrophize or fall down a rabbit hole of negative ruminations. Allow the Good Shepherd to wrap his arms around you and baptize you in holy shalom.
Margaret Feinberg offers more declarations of hope and truth this Tuesday on LIFE TODAY. This is an excerpt from More Power To You by Margaret Feinberg. Copyright ©2020 by Margaret Feinberg, LLC. Published by Zondervan. Used by permission.