Psalm 121:1-8 (New Revised Standard Version)
I lift up my eyes to the hills — from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.
At the very beginning of his reign as King of Israel, David has already had his share of adventures. He had been secretly anointed king by Samuel, then had to return to his old life shepherding his family’s flocks. He was called to play music for a depressed King Saul, defeated the giant Goliath, was banned from Saul’s court and chased by assassins, led an army to victory, and spared Saul’s life. Now Saul is dead and David is king. And… it is only just beginning.
One of my favorite movie quotes is from Parenthood. In it, Steve Martin’s character is complaining about how complicated life is. Grandma walks in and tells a story…
“You know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster. Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride! I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.”*
Life as a roller coaster is not a new metaphor, but Grandma’s little story has stuck with me. There are times we yearn for the simplicity of the merry-go-round, and times we look forward to the wild coaster ride. Sometimes our lives seem to be going along on a long, straight, comfortable path — no obstacles in the way, everything smooth. But other times we seem to be on a neck-breaking pace rushing down a steep hill into the unknown. And, oh!, sometimes there are loops in life that turn us upside down, completely disorienting us, leaving our hearts racing.
It’s all part of life.
Our scripture today reminds us that throughout it all — every moment of every twist and turn, every plateau, every ravine, every mountain — God is there, guiding us and watching over us. Verse 8 in The Message paraphrase reads: “God guards you when you leave and when you return, he guards you now, he guards you always.”
Do you wish that your life right now was more like a slow, calm merry-go-round, or are you longing for the increased excitement of a roller coaster?
* To those of you who know the movie: yes, a confused Grandma climbed into a neighbor’s car after telling this story. But it’s still a lovely, wise quote.