God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
We Will Not Fear
It has often been my practice to read Psalm 46 at a memorial service. I like it for such services because it presents the theme “very present help in trouble,” in the first verse.
If ever there is a time of trouble, it is shortly after the death of a loved one. Even a long-expected death triggers a grief that is not quite controllable. And if the death of a family member or friend is sudden and unexpected the power of the grief is even more pronounced. It causes ‘trouble.’ It causes disruption.
For me, perhaps the biggest trouble of grief associated with someone you know and love dying, is the dissonance between how you feel and what is going on. That is, when someone dies, the change for you is huge, but the world just keeps going on. It doesn’t stop. Stores open and close, people go to lunch and dinner, the sun rises and sets, everything else proceeds as if nothing has changed. There is a temptation to stand up and scream: “Hey world, don’t you know my whole world changed!”
It is here that another key phrase in Psalm 46 rings true: “though the earth should change.” For anyone, grieving, deeply grieving, the Earth changes. If it is a spouse, the grieving one has lost a partner, someone who has for a long time helped punctuate the days. And now it is as if all the regular markers disappear. Markers like time to eat, when to watch the news, take out the trash, call the kids — all such things change. And as it turns out the world is made up of such things as this. Indeed the “earth has changed.”
This leads to the best part of these short verses from Psalm 46, “we will not fear.” This is great because it does not say there is nothing to fear. In fact, when the earth changes, when everything falls apart, when there are troubles galore, there is much to fear. No, the psalm does not say there is nothing to fear, it simply says because God is our refuge and strength and a present help in trouble, there is a hedge against fear. Fear is there, but it will not overtake us. It is possible to take a breath. It is possible to believe that the overwhelming power of a present grief will not last forever. It is possible to imagine a changed world might still be a world in which one can find a home, rediscover new routines, calm down, settle in.
If you know grief that is overwhelming, reflect on how you were able to move from ‘trouble,’ to a new calm. Even if you have not known the grief of losing someone you love, you may know the overwhelming power of your whole world changing. Reflect on this as you prepare to pray.
God, we place our lives in your hands. Please know how much is at stake for us, O God. We say with the psalmist that we may find refuge in you. We say with the psalmist that you can be our strength, especially in those times when all the strength we can muster is barely enough in a changing world. We place our lives in your hands. Amen.