Reading Psalm 46 in reverse
About 20 years ago, my wife Erika and I lived in a house with a beautiful stream running behind it.
During that period, I was worried, couldn’t sleep well and felt far from God. One afternoon, I decided to go down to the stream with my Bible. My plan was to pray until I had peace in my heart.
But the sky felt like brass, as if God weren’t listening. Soon after, I wound up in the psych ward. God in his wisdom has left me only two memories of my psychotic dreams: fierce wolves snapping at me in utter darkness, and the heavenly choir surrounding me with all its glorious harmonies and dazzling light, praising God.
It was a long road back from the hospital to a point where I felt well enough to work full-time again. Erika and our daughters went through the nightmare as well, a nightmare that lasted four years.
Hope found in Scripture
Looking back, I recognize that Scripture – and particularly three imperatives found in Psalm 46 – helped return me to health. Most people rightly read the imperatives in logical order, so the last one serves as the climax. But in my case, the Holy Spirit led me to read them in reverse.
“Be still, and know that I am God” (v. 10). I’ve always thought this verse meant we must turn off all our media and sit quietly before the Lord so he can speak to us. But “be still” in Hebrew means “let go, relax, cease striving” (NASB).
Countless times, Erika reminded me to stop begging for God’s help when I prayed, to stop whining. I also received a word of wisdom from my doctor when he suggested I jog, rather than merely walk. I began to concentrate on how fast I jogged instead of worrying about everything.
“Come and see what the LORD has done” (v. 8). For the psalmist, one place to “come and see” was the temple. But I didn’t want to attend a church service; I had a panic attack just thinking about meeting people. My stomach would churn, and I couldn’t breathe. Often, I didn’t feel worthy to take communion.
But as I kept going, I realized people accepted me. Some approached me and asked how things were going. I didn’t have much to say, but at least they cared. Others greeted me with wonderful smiles that were healing in themselves. People in leadership came to pray for us during a heavy snowstorm. Busy friends drove more than 1,800 kilometres to get us home safely because I had a relapse at their place.
Finally, there came a day when I looked forward to attending a church service again to praise the Lord.
“Therefore we will not fear” (v. 2). It took me about 10 years after my visit to the hospital to fully experience 1 John 4:18: “perfect love drives out fear.” I had to learn the difference between angry tears and healing tears. When things look dark, Jesus invites me to have communion with him, and I can cry with healing tears because he’s so gentle.
1 John 4:18 has become my key life verse. There was a time I had panic attacks driving 33 kilometres to Chilliwack on my own. Now I enjoy the solitude, laughing aloud at the jokes on the radio. There was a time I found it difficult to reach out to other people. Now it’s natural for me. There was a time I was afraid to talk to others about Jesus. Now it’s a pleasure.
At the stream, I cried out to the Lord “from the depths of my despair” (Psalm 130:1, GNT). Now I find myself speaking out Psalm 18:19: “He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.”
Life is good again – still with many challenges – but enveloped in the joy of the Lord as my strength.
—Bob Sukkau is a member of South Abbotsford Church. He goes hiking and bicycling with Erika on their recumbent trikes.