How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Psalm 84:1, 2
Alone in my hotel room, I washed snotty middle-aged tears from my face, gave into another good cry, then did it all over again. I was discouraged, having heard I might not be up for the challenge of the next day’s hike. The temptation to wallow in disappointment was fierce. I knew I had only two choices. I could either give into the temptation, which is my default mode, or I could wrestle against it in the only way I knew:
By every word that comes from the mouth of God.
I settled into a comfortable chair, fired up my Kindle, and scrolled to Psalm 84; a passage on which a number of us were meditating throughout the course of the pilgrimage. I figured it was as good a place as any to grapple with these ideas of frustration and longing. Or, at the very least, I thought reading the words of the psalmist might distract me from my royal snit.
What did it mean that he longed for the courts of the Lord?
I knew what I wanted; at least I thought I did. I wanted to hear that I had done a good job. I was up for the physical challenge. My hard work had paid off.
I wanted to know I was good enough.
I looked forward to going home and telling my friends that I’d done it—this physical wreck of a middle-aged woman had gotten her act together and conquered the mighty Alps. Instead, I was going to have to tell them I rode in the van. I was going to have to admit failure.
I felt exposed, revealed as a fraud. I don’t even like hiking. I had been hoping a sense of accomplishment might kick in, that my husband would be proud of me and my effort, and that we both would be able to enjoy this time together.
I found myself wanting to go home. I had no business being on this trip, simply taking up space.
I had not earned my place on this trip.
Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. Psalm 84:3
The psalmist longed, with mind, body, and soul, to be in the presence of the living God. Writing during the era of tabernacle worship he knew that, lawfully, the courts were as close as he could ever hope to draw near the Lord of Hosts. Only the priests were permitted to enter the holy place, the closest one could come to the presence of God.
But sparrows? And swallows? These were allowed a place at the altar of God? These common, messy, birds amounted to little more than flying barn rats. They bully their way into nesting boxes intended for songbirds. Why were these given a place of refuge near God’s presence? What had they done to merit such privilege?
Not a blessed thing.
God allowed them to draw near his presence, merely to build nests for raising more sparrows and swallows. They were doing the only thing of which they are capable, the only thing God had equipped them to do. And these simple creatures were permitted to dwell in God’s presence simply out of his pleasure and compassion.
Despite my many years of life professing faith in the gospel, it took only a single day on pilgrimage for me to lapse into performance-based thinking. One moment of disappointment revealed the depth of my longing to be considered good enough to be loved by God and well thought of by others.
And I’m not—no more so than is the common sparrow. I wasn’t on the trip because I had somehow earned it. I wasn’t hiking through the splendor of the Alps because I was somehow worthy. My husband hadn’t brought me along based on my ability.
And as it turns out my longing is and will forever remain to know, in mind, body, and soul, the truth of the gospel. Through Christ, God accepts me just as I am.
You’d think maybe somebody could write a hymn about that or something.
God had invited me here, given me the gift of ambling about in the splendor of this place, simply because it pleased him to do so. And I didn’t have to settle for hanging around in a courtyard on the outskirts of his presence; I was wandering around smack-dab in the middle of it.
How lovely is his dwelling place.
After dinner that first evening, we met as a group to discuss details about the next day’s hike. One of our members, a meteorologist, told us we were likely to be hiking in rain which could be heavy at times. He said he couldn’t rule out the potential for lightning. There was discussion about practicing lightning drills, learning how to crouch into a stance to minimize the potential for death by electrocution.
No one could predict the effect of the rain on the snow which remained at higher elevations. It was quite possible we could find ourselves post-holing our way across semi-frozen fields, sinking waist-deep into melting snow with each step. As one whose inseam measures a full thirty-six inches, it didn’t take much imagination to picture the amount of energy it would take to pull myself out of deep holes, step after step after step. I could already hear myself crying out, “Woe to me, that I sojourn in this mountain pass!”
Only using words one raised on the King James, red letter edition, ought not to know.
And lightning drills? These, I had not signed on for.
The group’s leader left the decision up to me, whether or not to participate in the next day’s hike. My husband affirmed his confidence that I could handle the challenge of both the increased distance and elevation gain.
I made my choice and rolled over to sleep that night, at peace with my decision.
And as I rolled I noticed something else, something quite strange and unfamiliar. Was it possible I was feeling quad muscles?
Next: The Way of the Pilgrim
Click here for Longing, Part One
(All scripture references taken from the English Standard Version)
Linking, for the first time with Duane @ Scribing the Journey: