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Finding Hope And Comfort In The Psalms — With Laura Smith

By August 1, 2022No Comments

In a world being torn by political and cultural wars, economic fears, isolation, anxiety, and grief over loved ones lost, the emotions and experiences expressed in the Psalms are as real, essential—and necessary—as ever. Songs, poems, prayers, laments, pleadings, praises, and confessions . . . the Psalms are all these things and more. Countless people around the world turn to these ancient “songs” for hope and comfort in their times of personal suffering as they have for centuries past. Bestselling author Laura L. Smith shares how her own brokenness drove her to the Psalms and offers comfort and hope for those of us who are feeling broken and scared in today’s world. May our conversation with Laura inspire you to hide your tears in the pages of these ancient holy words, trusting that God is near to you and hears the cries of your heart.

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Finding Hope And Comfort In The Psalms — With Laura Smith

Where do you go when your heart is tender and in need of comfort? How do you connect with God when you’re lonely or confused? These are questions that a lot of us are facing right now as we look at current events and listen to the news. Even navigate some of the own challenges in our own relationships, lives, and families. In this episode, we are talking about one of my very favorite books of the Bible. A book God has used to heal me and speak to my deepest grief and also has used to encourage me in my joyful moments.

That is the book of the Psalms. We have with us the bestselling author and speaker, Laura Smith. Laura’s new book is Restore My Soul: The Power and Promise of 30 Psalms. She is here to share with us her journey and what this book of prayers in place offers us no matter where we’re at in our lives now.

Laura, we’re so happy that you’re here. Welcome.

Thank you so much. I am so excited to be back on the show.

It’s so awesome. Laura and I were chatting a little bit before we started here. Laura, your prayer, even coming into this show, it’s so clear that you’ve cultivated a powerful prayer life. I’m excited to hear more about that as we talk. I’m hoping that you will start us out by sharing a bit of your story with us so we can understand what your highs and lows have been and how you’ve encountered God in your own life.

I was born to a church-going family in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio. From the outside, we looked like the all-American family, mom, dad, brother, and sister, me being the sister. I repeatedly had friends who said we looked like Leave It to Beaver, which was the Quintessential family but inside the house, things were different. We did go to church every Sunday, and we prayed like God is good before we ate. Now, I lay me before we slept, but we didn’t talk about Jesus in the house, what he was doing in our lives, or how real he was.

My dad left our family several times while I was growing up. He had multiple affairs and left her home. As a little girl, I internalized all of that he was leaving me. I clearly didn’t have the capacity to understand that he had his own issues he was dealing with. I thought that I could try to earn his love. If he came back, I would be like, “What can I do to make daddy stay?”

I don’t think that I processed it fully like that as a girl, but I was like, “If I kept my room clean, maybe he won’t get angry. If I don’t say anything at dinner, then I’m not interrupting him and I’m not bothering him. If I could get not just A’s but all A-pluses, maybe that would make him proud enough to stay.” It turns out you can’t earn love. He would continue to leave and I would continue to feel like I wasn’t enough.

I carried that lie from the enemy that I wasn’t enough very much into high school and into college. I became a complete people pleaser, but to terrible dark extents, I would basically do anything to make you love me. It would always work for a while but then that never lasts. As I would like to do whatever it took to make a certain guy love me and have this boyfriend, if we broke up then, to me, that was, once again, I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t lovable, and the same with school. I work my tail off, get a great grade in one class but then take a class like Accounting, which my brain does not process at all. I’m a words girl, not a numbers girl. I do poorly in it and think to myself, “I’m not good enough.”

WOMA Laura L. Smith | The Psalms

Restore My Soul: The Power and Promise of 30 Psalms

I had the enemy screaming into my ear that I wasn’t good enough. It seemed that was the reality to me then God changed all that. He came in and taught me that I’ve always been lovable, as is every person reading because he created me and you. That makes us lovable from the get-go. It’s not about our grades, how we clean our rooms, decorate our homes, the meals we prepare, the shows we watch, the things we listen to, the way we act, or any of that. It’s just God loves us, period, as is, right now, right where you are, and that’s not something we’re supposed to try to earn or achieve.

It’s counter-cultural because everything in culture is like, “If you do this, then you’ll get this promotion. If you do this, you’ll get into this college. If you do this, you’ll make this team, then you can be the captain,” but that’s not how he operates. He loves us because he loves us. When God has taught me that, it changes everything. I’d be lying if I said that I fully get that every day because the culture, the world, and Satan will still lie to me.

It’s taken a lot of counseling and a lot of time to deepen the Bible. Honestly, the love of my husband, who reflects Christ’s love to me all the time to help me unlearn all that past, but I see God’s goodness and what he wants to offer all of us, joy, hope, love, and peace. That’s what he wants for us, not punishment, earning, or striving. It’s changed everything.

He loves us because he loves us. It is such a journey, isn’t it? Part of your story echoes some of mine. God has worked with me a lot through the Psalms and also through these images that he’s given me to help me and support me in my journey towards believing. As you said, I am good enough. Like now, who he made me to be. Not anything I need to do or perform. That trap of performance is something that resonates with so many of us who are here.

One of the images that he gave me was working with a counselor. I would repeat this thing in my head. This question of, “What’s wrong with me?” God spoke to me so clearly, “There is nothing wrong with you,” and gave me this picture of his hand over my heart. Whenever I’m feeling I need to strive or there’s something wrong with me, I need to be great, perky, entertaining, or whatever the pressure is, his hands are over my heart. Thank you for sharing that with us, Laura.

No, thanks for sharing what he told you. That’s so sweet.

Your new book Restore My Soul is about how God loves, protects, and provides for us in all of our emotions. I love how you state this in the book description, “The beautiful, wonderful moments and the gut-wrenching, terrifying moments.” This is my favorite, “How he never leaves us.” I want to hear from you how the Psalms have shaped or expanded your understanding of God. Maybe even God as Father.

God loves you as is right now, right where you are. And that's not something you're supposed to try to earn or achieve. Click To Tweet

There are so many truths about who God is in the Psalms. Even when I was in middle school, Psalm 121 was one of the first pieces of scripture I ever learned. Is it okay if I read it now?

Please.

This one was my dad had left and junior high is the worse anyway. The worst time of a person’s life is so much self-doubt. I don’t think I had any language to put to who I was or what was going on, but I know that I was scared a lot. I’m scared of uncertainty, being even liked or accepted, and this Psalm was so beautiful to me.

It said, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains, where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip. He who watches over you will not slumber. Indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you. The Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun will not harm you by day nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm. He will watch over your life. The Lord will watch over your coming and going, both now and forevermore.”

He’ll keep us from all harm. He will watch over our lives. Somehow, to me, not the sun by day nor the moon by night was like this. There’s never going to be a time that God leaves us. He’s the night watchman who never sleeps. He never stops watching over us. When I felt like no one was watching over me, I was like, “God always is.” That is so powerful to me. It’s crazy awesome. The Psalm says that his love endures forever. Again, it’s not a love that expires or runs out. There’s nothing we can do that cancels that subscription. His love endures forever. These truths are plastered all over the Psalms, but those are some that come to mind.

It’s only the Lord. The fact that you’re reading Psalm 121 and that was what he spoke to you growing up gave you so much comfort. It’s interesting because when I was a little girl, my grandma passed away, and she was like a mother figure in my life. My mom was just remarried. I had moved locations to a new home. There was so much going on. I was sitting at her Memorial service, and that was the Psalm that was on the program. I remember as a little girl that my heart is searching for God. It was in Palm Springs so the mountain range was right in front of me.

I will never forget reading that Psalm and looking up to the hills and thinking, “God, I lift up my eyes to the hills.” I lifted my eyes to God and God is with me. He is here with me and will carry me through this. What’s so special about the Psalms is how the Psalms, as you were saying, can meet us in whatever emotion we’re experiencing. My experience has been, especially in my grief.

WOMA Laura L. Smith | The Psalms

The Psalms: The enemy is screaming into her ear that she isn’t good enough. And it seemed that that was the reality to her. So then God changed all that. He taught you that you’ve always been lovable, as is every person listening because He created you and me.

I love that. That 121 is special to both of us, and God had us bring it up. I could have talked about any Psalm. God, you’re so good. Thank you for that. He lets us mourn and cry. He lets us dance and doesn’t want us to put on a good face or clean ourselves up before we come to him. That’s not who he is. He’s a good father who has his arms stretched out to us. He never says any of that. I think there’s so much false perception based on society. Even sadly, within the church, we have to clean ourselves up before we come to God. That’s not what Jesus says or does.

Jesus went up to people who were in their darkest, most outcast moments and was like, “Let’s have dinner. I want to hang out with you.” God wants us as we are. He made us as we are. He’s not surprised that we’re sad by something. He gave humans sadness and joy. He doesn’t want us to hide, stifle, or temper our emotions for him because he put all of that in us. Why would he give it to us if he didn’t want us to feel it?

As you’re saying that, I’m curious. What is your process as you’re using the Bible or praying and bringing your emotions before God? Do you have a practice? What words of wisdom would you offer someone who wants to bring their emotions before God?

I think the best thing to do is to talk to him like he’s right there because he is. You don’t need fancy words. If you are struggling for words, the Psalms are these gorgeous prayers. Use these and pray these out loud, but I pray all the time when I wake up and when I’m on the run. Also, I spent fifteen minutes a day in my closet with the lights out and the door closed, where I had zero distractions. I talk to God about everything. Anything I’m worried about, scared about, excited about, or thankful about.

Otherwise, those things don’t always come out. I had a friend text that she had had a test, and it came back good news from a doctor. I was able to in my closet, like, “Thank God for that.” When she texted, I was like, “Praise Jesus. That’s great news,” but I was able to spend time thanking him for his goodness for that. Our family is getting ready to go to the beach. I love it because I love vacations and family vacations so much. It will also be all of our awesome personalities in the same space for two weeks, which is fantastic, but I’m praying for great conversations and grace for each other that we really listen and see each other.

Instead of getting to the beach and be like, “I can’t believe we’re frustrated with each other.” I can pray into it ahead of time because that’s something as a mama of four kids that’s on my mind. Taking all of it to God, anything that’s on our mind, and literally setting aside time to do that. He does know our hearts and Psalms even tell us that even if we don’t pray, he knows what’s on our minds but to talk to him like a good father so he can comfort us, calm us, and lead us to the right things. We have full access to the creator of the world. I don’t know why we wouldn’t access that.

As you’re saying that, I want to repeat back to things you shared that are so resonant and true. That is, God doesn’t need any fancy words. He doesn’t need any eloquent. Raw honesty is a form of worship. I heard somebody once even talk about repentance to God as being honest with him, which is so awesome. He doesn’t need like, “I’m sorry,” or anything like that. “This is how I feel. This is what happened and what I’m worried about.” That is what he wants from us. That removes any barrier so that we can hear his voice and experience his spirit because we’re taking down our defenses in our wall.

The best thing to do is to talk to God like He's right there because you don't need fancy words. Click To Tweet

I love how some people say, “God is a gentleman. He’s not going to force us.” For him, he’s waiting there right in front of us. Our honesty is us opening the door or pulling back the curtain, then he’s like, “I’ve been here all along. I’m super glad that you pulled back the curtain.” I love that, and then I love what you said about you having this sacred fifteen minutes of alone time with the Lord that is a practice in your life. I can only imagine that that must be a restorative, refreshing time for you where he fills you up. Will you share a little bit more about what that practice has done for your life?

In the mornings, I always read my Bible and journal. That is an amazing time too. I found throughout the day that so much happens in a single day. Even if I’m reading my Bible or journaling, I could be interrupted at any time by the things going on in our home, your phone buzzes, or whatever, but there’s something very tangible about closing the door and turning out the lights. It’s like me and Jesus. Here we are. I can tell him anything, as you were saying, how you can be so honest, raw, and how it takes down the curtain.

It’s like when you go to your very best friend or the person you can trust most in the world, and you know if you tell them something that’s real with you. They’re going to listen well. They’re going to give you good advice because they love you. That’s what happens in that closet. Some days, I’ll think about what I read in the Bible that morning, and I want to be like, “I read about the wedding piece at Canaan and how much wine God made from water. God, you’re a God of abundance.”

I might focus on the fact that he’s a God of abundance for fifteen minutes or I might have a laundry list of things on my super tangled brain and want to get it all out. If I don’t get it out, it’ll be stuck and fester. There are days like that too. Some days, I’ll be like, “What do you want for me? How can I serve you better? Where do I need to grow?” Sometimes that’s quiet and I don’t necessarily hear him. On some days, I hear him clearly but it’s always super peaceful.

I can tell the days that I don’t do it. Let’s be honest. Nobody is perfect. You’re going to miss a day somewhere. God’s never mad at me for that but I feel not as inner peaceful and calm when I don’t do it. I love that God gives us all these opportunities to find peace in our life. Everyone in the world seems so stressed out, overdone, and over-scheduled, and Jesus offers us this piece and we don’t accept it. To me, this is one way of accepting this piece that he offers and tapping into it. Psalm 23 is all about this. He leads us to still waters and he makes us lie down in green pastures.

I love that because we won’t lay down at him ourselves sometimes. God’s like, “You have to lie down. You must rest.” I think this time in my closet is something for me that gives me that rest in that restoration. As I said, even if I don’t have words that day, it’s quiet time with him, and that never returns void. I never come out more stressed or more worried. It’s always the opposite. Even if I don’t have some big revelation or even any resolution, I am always more at peace and reminded of who he is.

I love what you said, “He’s never mad at me, but I realized in myself that I don’t feel as peaceful or as grounded.” Isn’t that what we need in our lives now to be peaceful and grounded? Otherwise, how can we have anything to offer the world or even ourselves, friends, or anybody if we don’t first have that peace and grounding? You’re right. I think so often, maybe we get inspired, and it’s good things on our schedule, but it also feels a bit frantic. We’re running on empty a bit. What would it give us to carve out fifteen minutes a day? How would that transform our lives with that discipline?

WOMA Laura L. Smith | The Psalms

The Psalms: If some of you are analytical, critical thinkers, that’s how He wanted you to be. If some of you are super emotional, that’s how He wanted you.

I know that there are women reading, myself included, who are in need of comfort and want to pursue further healing or are confused about current events. The war in Ukraine, the shooting in Texas, and all of this coming through COVID. Now, there’s a whole wave of it. There are so many things in our world, and that’s the headlines. It’s like zoning down into our own lives, relationships, marriages, college experience, careers, and all these things. I know that’s a lot that I put out there. Do any Psalms come to your mind now as a good place for us to start meditating on the scripture amidst all those things?

For the news and the current world situation, Psalm 37, and then I’ll explain that in a second. For more of our inner mental health and maybe emotional stability, Psalm 40. Psalm 37 reminds me, first of all, that what’s going on in the world is horrific and painful, and we should grieve it, but it’s also not new. Three thousand years ago, when the Psalms were being written, King David had the same emotions because the same things were going on. He starts with like, “Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong. For the grass, they will soon wither and green plants will soon die away. Trust in the Lord, do good, dwell in the land, and enjoy safe pasture. Take the light in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

There is awfulness going on around them. There’s evil going on, and people doing wrong. David reminds us, “These are terrible things, but Jesus wins. The only way we’re going to get through everything that’s going on in the world is to be still with the Lord or trust in him.” Racism is heinous and horrific. The war in Ukraine is tragic and awful. These school shootings break my heart, but I can trust in the Lord and stay with him. I can be still before him because when I spend that fifteen minutes in the closet, I come out not distraught and tangled.

I come out sometimes with like, “I can pray for those people. I could send money if that’s something for you or volunteer if that’s helpful.” Whatever God calls you to do. If you can find that it’s not as overwhelming and he is bigger than all of it, we’re still before him. Again, it grounds us. It brings us peace in the midst of all this worldly turmoil. I think that King David, who is King, felt the pressures of all that. All of this word stuff that is going on, he’s supposed to be in charge of it. He could turn to God in that. That’s such a good reminder that we can do the same.

You can pray that whole Psalm because it’s beautiful. I think Psalm 40 is one when I feel desperate. It even starts with the Psalm saying, “I waited patiently for the Lord. God, I’ve been praying about this,” and I don’t see it fixing, healing, and ending how I wanted it, then it says he inclined and heard my cry. Picture God, who created stars, crickets, and lilacs. Him bending down to us like a good father bends down to his little child, scoops us up, and holds us. He inclined and heard my cry. He picked me up, put my feet on the rock, and made my footsteps firm.

When we’re slipping, when we feel out of control, and we don’t know what to do, God is bending down because he loves us so much like a little kid who fell off their bike. He picks us up, scooped us up, and he hold us real tight until our heart stops and then he sets us on something firm that we’re not going to slip on. He even says that he puts a new song in our heart. it’s a song where we can praise him.

Maybe we’ve been struggling with something like depression or infertility, or we’re single, and we wish we were married, or whatever the situation is. He is going to be able to show us stability in that situation and ways to still praise him because he is so good, enduring, and faithful no matter what our circumstances say.

He leads you to still waters and makes you lie down in green pastures. Click To Tweet

This truth that you bring up of throughout the ages, there has been turmoil in the world. I love how you pointed out that King David is like being the CEO of the company, except it’s a country, with all that pressure, and yet, in the midst of that, he found God as his refuge. How wonderful that he wrote so many Psalms that can be our prayers. As you said, maybe when we don’t have the words, we can sit down and read through some of the Psalms.

This other point that you made of that God inclines His ear to us. That is what gets me in the Psalms. It’s like, “I cried out to you and you answered me,” and that is the promise of God that when we cry out to him, he will answer us. That’s so comforting. I think about you sharing your story of how Psalm 121 was his protection and comfort over you as a little girl with all of this heartache that was connected with your dad.

How intimate the love of God is in our lives to put that bomb over each part of our heart that needs to heal. As we come to a close here, Laura, we have all ages of readers that join us for these conversations and think back to different stages in your life. If you could have coffee with your younger self and share some words of encouragement or wisdom, how old would you be, and what would you tell her?

I like to talk to junior high Laura because that’s when I deeply remember not liking myself. I was thinking I was ugly and I was a book nerd. I’m a lover of books. That made me a writer, but at that time, that seemed too unlikeable and unpopular. I wasn’t athletic, and that was the cool thing to be. I felt like I had no value. As I shared at the beginning of the show, I felt like I had to prove myself or earn value. I would tell junior high Laura that you never have to compromise who God created you to be to earn love because you already have it. You already have perfect love from a perfect father and a beautiful savior that promises to endure forever.

As you’re sharing that, I have this curiosity. Are there any verses or things that God spoke to you that helped that truth settle into your heart and take root?

Ephesians 2:10 says that we are Christ’s masterpieces. I love that so much because I’m an art lover. To me, it resonates what a masterpiece is. If you don’t love art, think of if you love to cook the most amazing meal you’ve ever had or if you love music, the most phenomenal song you’ve ever heard. We aren’t God’s rough drafts or his sketches. He doesn’t think like, “This is a random idea.” He intentionally made us and think of any masterpiece, whatever that is. Say it’s a meal. The shopping list needs to be created ahead of time, picking up the freshest ingredients and simmering and chopping. How much intentionality got put into making it that way?

If your spicy, God wanted you spicy. If your salty, God wanted you salty. If you’re sweet, he wanted you sweet. That was always his intention. For me to be like, “I am Christ’s masterpiece. That means me being a bookworm is part of his masterpieces because he wanted me to be a writer.” That’s not something I need to hide or pretend I’m not. I’m not athletic. That’s fine. God didn’t want me to compete, but I do run and walk. I can still take good care of my body and enjoy that. I don’t have to be in a competitive sport. I don’t have a competitive personality. That’s not what he wanted for me. I am his masterpiece as is.

WOMA Laura L. Smith | The Psalms

The Psalms: Think about God’s fingerprint and then your fingerprints. And it’s like what you’re saying, it is who you are, and everything else can flow from that.

The name of your show, Wonderfully Made, is from Psalm 139. It says it got ended us together stitch by stitch. Again, it’s this whole idea of intentionality that he made me a little bit of this with a stitch and a little bit of that with it. That’s how he wanted us to be. If some of us are analytical and critical thinkers, that’s how he wanted you to be. If some of you are super emotional, that’s how he wanted you to be. He was all like, “This is amazing,” then it says, “We are fearfully and wonderfully made.”

That word fearfully means all inspiring. When we walk in a room, God’s like, “Christie’s here. I’m so excited that she’s here. I can’t wait to see what she’s going to add to the conversation. I can’t see all the things that I’ve given her that she can make this room and conversation a better place.” When I learned that word meant all inspiring, fearful was always a word that I was like, “I don’t even know what that means here.” He makes it scary. No, that’s not what this means.

All inspiring meaning like when any of you reading walk into a room, God says, “You have something to offer there that you inspire everyone else who was there if you’ll allow yourself your true self. You’re a child of God’s who he made you to be.” If you try to be like him or her, they never get to see the awe that you inspire. Those two verses to me have been the things I go back to over and over again and remind me who he says who we are. It doesn’t matter who anyone else says who we are because that’s who our creator and the lover of our souls and our savior says who we are.

Yes and amen to that. I think about God’s fingerprint and our fingerprints. As what you’re saying, it’s like, “It is who you are,” and everything else can flow from that. This idea of living into who we are without apology that we’re either analytical, introverted, outgoing, or whatever, just basking in the fact that that was on purpose by God. It’s so wonderful. What a thing to celebrate. Thank you for ending us on a high note of celebration for how God made us. As you’re sharing even Psalm 139, I love that verse, “How precious are your thoughts toward me? God, how vast is the sum of them? Where I had to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand on the seashore.”

We’re never forgotten. We’re never alone. God’s always thinking about us, and he’s always thinking good stuff about us.

That brings us to a close. I’m excited for your book, Restore My Soul. Thank you for joining us, Laura.

Thanks so much for having me, Christie.
 

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About Laura L. Smith

WOMA Laura L. Smith | The PsalmsLaura L. Smith has been searching her whole life for beauty. Not in the world—there’s plenty of that—in the crimson of a cardinal’s feather, in the sound of waves crashing along a shore, in the melody of a Beatles’ ballad, or in a Chagall stained glass window. The world is filled with beauty, but for her that was another story. It took her years to discover her true beauty, to fully grasp she is made in the image of her Creator, and therefore, she is beautiful. The incredible thing is…so are you. You were marvelously made by God to inspire awe. No matter what the world tries to tell you, no matter what you try to tell yourself. No one can rob you of the incredible true identity God instilled in you. Smith tells stories (through books, blogs, and speaking) in hopes of helping you discover what took her so long to see: your beautiful true reflection in Christ. Smith lives in the college town of Oxford, Ohio with her husband and four kids.