By Laura L. Smith
My chest feels tight. Sitting still makes me jittery, like I’ll pop out of my skin, so I have to stand and pace. My thoughts are racing so quickly I can’t even articulate what they are—no words, just ideas, worries, angst, fear.
This is a pretty raw peek into my frantic headspace when I’m faced with a reoccurring issue in my life that triggers fear and irrational thinking.
Sometimes I can deal with it, blow it off. Sometimes my defense mechanism of sarcasm kicks in, and I say something snarky as a means to protect myself from these hard emotions. Of course, then I immediately feel guilty for saying something unkind. If I’m in a room with other people when this happens, I walk out, go to the bathroom, get a drink of water, anything to distract myself. It’s a Psychology 101 reaction. When we feel like we’re in danger, we respond with fight or flight—meaning we either kick and scream and attack or run away. If someone I love is in danger, I’ll fight for them. Every time. But if I’m the one who feels threatened, I choose the latter—flight.
In these moments a single thought repeats against the din of my internal alarms clanging and reminds me that God is my calming force. I need to intentionally seek Him, and I need to do it pronto.
God, I need you.
Reading Psalm 16 can be the perfect prescription for me in this scenario. Its words give me something to focus on, to take me away from troubling memories of the past and concerning what-ifs in the future. When I can’t even put my emotions into words, the opening lines of this psalm are my heart’s cry:
Keep me safe, my God,
for in you I take refuge. (v. 1)
It’s as if King David, the author of this song, knew how I feel. Because this is exactly what I need right now. Safety. Refuge. Please, God.
I keep reading and the words are the words I would speak on my own if my brain was rational, but it’s not. I’m frightened, like hands-balled-in-fists-stomach-clenched-eyes-bugged- out frightened. But I’m sitting in my family room. I know that I am actually safe. But still, past trauma makes me feel vulnerable, unprotected. The lines of this psalm remind me of what is true.
I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord;
apart from you I have no good thing.” (v. 2)
My breathing becomes less shallow, more normal. The thoughts that terrify me feel less oppressive. God feels so much closer. It’s not that I’ve been able to process and dismiss my fears one by one; it’s just that I’m reminded that God is good. And He is my Savior. And those two truths ground and center me. I get through a few more verses, slowing my pulse.
LORD, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. (v. 5)
Yes, Jesus, you are what I need. You keep me secure when I feel unstable. You are like a flagpole holding me in place when I flap wildly in the wind. And at the same time, you calm the wind itself, allowing me to exhale, stop flailing, and be still. Which makes sense. This isn’t the first or last time you’ve calmed the winds.
The gospel writer Luke tells of it:
A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.
The disciples went and woke [Jesus], saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”
He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. (8:23–24)
That storm subsided.
My mental storm is subsiding too. That doesn’t mean there won’t be more storms. This will happen again. I mean, I’m in a boat, and storms will come my way out here. But Jesus can calm all of them.
You, Jesus, have the power to calm raging waters and keep me from drowning. This thing that has my stomach in knots has no power over you, Jesus. None. When the winds start blowing again, you’ll calm those waves of fear. I can trust in you. And now that I feel this storm settling, Lord, as I feel your safe arms around me, I see that the fear was unnecessary. You keep me safe. You always do.
When I read in Psalm 16:6 that “the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places,” I’m reminded that here within God’s boundary lines—in the places that God has given me and you, that He has planned for us—the life He promises us is pleasant. His grace is lavish.
I don’t ever want to jump out of the boat into the storm without you, God. Here with you? It’s delightful.
So I will do as King David did as he wrote this song to you, God:
“I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken” (v. 8).
I feel this, Father. I feel you here beside me. You guard all that is mine (v. 5). I won’t be shaken. Because I have you to keep me safe. Because you keep me strong.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure. (v. 9)
The thing that happens—that makes me anxious—isn’t the real issue here. It’s how I handle it. Actually I completely freak out, and our good and gracious God gives me a way out of the fear and into peace.
He offers this to you too. God can be your portion and your cup. He wants to put you in pleasant places. Even if you don’t know Him or trust Him, Jesus offers this to you. Will you accept? He wants to calm your storms and keep you secure. He has the power to quiet a squall— both the kind that rages on the surface of a sea and the kind that wreaks havoc on our hearts. Even when the cold, salty waves sting our eyes and the tossing boat knocks us off our feet, Jesus says to whatever is attacking us, “Be still!”
And if we look at Him, the One whose love never ends, then we can regain our footing, see more clearly, and breathe in and out again without fear of gulping mouthfuls of briny water. We can find the peace and strength in Jesus that we need to continue.
I don’t know what your storms are, which things cause your thoughts to spiral, your palms to sweat, your heart to beat too fast, your instincts to either lash out or retreat. But I do know whatever they are and whenever they happen, our faithful, loving God can keep you safe. All you have to do is call out His name—Jesus.
This article is an excerpt of Restore My Soul: The Power and Promise of 30 Psalms used with permission
from Our Daily Bread Publishing. © 2022 by Laura L. Smith All rights reserved.
Laura Smith is a popular Bible teacher and best-selling author who has written books for adults, teens, pre-teens and kids, including Restore My Soul: The Power and Promise of 30 Psalms and How Sweet the Sound: The Power and Promise of 30 Beloved Hymns. A fan of coffee, chocolate, music, books and travel, Smith lives in the picturesque college town of Oxford, Ohio, with her husband and four kids. There, you’ll find her running the wooded trails, strolling the brick streets, teaching Bible study, shopping at the Saturday morning farmer’s market, or going on a sunset walk with her family.