Why are you cast down, O my soul?
[Guest post by Nicole Bernard: Have there been times in your life when you have been cast down? This is Nicole’s story on learning to depend on our Savior, the great Shephard.]
During the summer of 2011 I was well into my pregnancy. One Saturday as I was home alone exercising, I found myself in an awkward position. I’d just finished a series of left-side leg-lifts and attempted to roll over to my right side. I ran into a snag, however. I couldn’t complete the roll, and I found myself stuck on my back.
For a few seconds I was amused, but as I rocked back and forth, unable to free myself, the humor faded. I was good and sincerely stuck! That’s when the panic set in. The harder I thrashed, the clearer it became that I was not capable of setting myself right.
That’s when I stopped trying. I simply lay on my back, took a deep breath and perhaps offered a quick prayer for release. In that moment the truth dawned on me: I didn’t need to get to my side in order to become unstuck. I only needed to sit straight up. My panic had robbed me of my perspective and common sense. Rolling my eyes at my own foolishness, I sat up.
Though many people are familiar with the 23rd Psalm, which declares, “The Lord is my Shepherd,” few people truly understand the significance of that statement, or that many of David’s writings are influenced by his own experiences as a shepherd.
That summer my church was working through a series meant to increase our understanding of the psalms. Shortly after my exercising mishap I headed to church, and that evening’s teaching left me mystified. We studied Psalm 43:5 which states:
“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” ESV
Different translations substitute the words ‘despair’, or ‘downcast’ in place of ‘cast down’. But the phrase ‘cast down’ has a very specific meaning in shepherd-speak.
When a sheep falls onto his back, it is impossible for him to set himself right. This is more than feeling sad or overwhelmed; his very life hangs in the balance, and unless the shepherd is there to set him right, he will die.
Earlier, when I’d been exercising… I’d been cast down. It seemed more than coincidental that the day I’d found myself in that predicament that I should learn the depth of meaning behind those words.
Over the years I’ve recalled this memory, and always with a chuckle. Then unexpectedly, my perspective changed. One evening while out to dinner with some girls, and while looking at the mound of a pregnant friend’s belly, I considered my moment in the role of cast-down sheep. When the memory surfaced again the following morning, I realized something. All these years I’ve completely missed the point!
Looking back it seems clear that God was trying to get a message across; first, through the experience of getting stuck on my back, and later through the words of my pastor. And though I truly believe God has an awesome sense of humor, in retrospect, it seems doubtful that He meant this simply for my entertainment.
If I’m being honest, there have been times in my life when I’ve been ‘cast down’. Usually in my pain and confusion I search for ways to right myself; to make things better by my power; to find a way off my back and onto my feet. I’ve tried to be perfect, and I’ve berated myself when I didn’t measure up.
In short: I lived like I didn’t want to need a shepherd; like I didn’t want to need the Savior.
That was the true lesson I was meant to learn. I was created not to live this life flawlessly, but rather, dependent upon the care and provision of the Shepherd. I make mistakes and find myself stuck on my back as a result from time-to-time, but that’s OK. That’s why Jesus came. That’s why He suffered and died. And rose again.
All of this so that He could become the True Shepherd, so that we need never fear being left on our backs, stranded, alone and helpless.
Nicole has spent the past 3 years as a stay-at-home mom to her young son (and two hound dogs); and considers this time away from work to be an incredible blessing. This season at home has given her the space to focus on growing in her relationship with God as well as the time to explore her faith in writing. You can read about her journey at Faith Over Understanding. (If you are a dog lover, you may also enjoy her dog blog: Two Suburban Hound Dogs).