In 2001 I was bedfast for three months with a broken leg, crushed knee, and deep fatigue after a serious accident on the freeway. At that very time my family was in dire need of my assistance. The week after my accident my daughter-in-law, Heidi, was ordered to bed, threatening a too-early delivery. She and my son Mark had two other tiny children and they live only three blocks from me. My grandsons and their mother desperately needed my care and comfort, and I was unable to walk or get out of bed, and too weak to even care for myself.
The baby was born nine weeks early and spent six weeks in newborn ICU, necessitating Heidi’s absence from the home. Many Relief Society sisters took turns caring for my precious grandsons when I wanted to be the one caring for them. When they finally brought the baby home, you can imagine how much Heidi would have appreciated another pair of hands. Her own mother who lived in another state was unable to come.
I related to the Prophet Joseph’s feelings when he was incarcerated in Liberty jail at a time his family and his people needed him desperately. Not being able to help was much worse than my physical pain. I began reciting favorite scriptures, desperate for comfort.
Too weak to get up, I had plenty of time to think about it. I remembered a quote from Colleen Harrison’s book, He Did Deliver Me from Bondage, “You don’t need to do more. You need to ask more, receive more, be more.” I was in a perfect position to put that advice into practice. I was doing less than any time in my life since I was an infant, but I could surely “ask more.”
So I pondered and prayed and asked. One of the scriptures I asked to understand on a deeper level was the 23rd Psalm, which had long been one of my favorites, and I wanted to understand more of its implications for me personally. In my mind I recited each phrase and asked for deeper understanding. Many thoughts and answers came.
The Lord is my shepherd,
I thought of a picture of the Savior hanging in my family room. He is gazing tenderly down upon the little lamb He is cradling in His arms. What a joy to think that the Savior sees me as one of His lambs, and is looking down on me with the most tender concern. I thought of His tender concern for my children and grandchildren. He knows each of His little lambs by name and has compassion for every pain, every injury, every trial. He set the perfect example during His time on earth as a shepherd who loves and leads. He invites me to follow, to be one of His sheep.
I shall not want . . .
But wait–there are all kinds of things I DO want and may never have in this life. Perhaps He means I shall not want for anything I truly need for my best good in my mortal journey. That may be a very different thing indeed. I think back on a whole lifetime of the Savior’s intervention, gently leading, gently guiding, always supplying my wants, and I marvel.
Digging deeper, “I shall not want” could mean I shall not desire things not for my best good, physically or spiritually. To want what is not best for me is to pit my will against His. The solution: to say in all things, “Thy will be done” and really mean it.
How interesting to contemplate how I have been blessed in this regard–my wants, my desires, are steadily changing. I am losing the desire for things of this world, but my desire for spiritual growth, enlightenment, and strength steadily increases. When the Lord is guiding my thoughts and desires, I do not want to give in to my weaknesses, I do not want to judge or label others, I do not want to eat or drink substances that harm my body, I do not want to participate in anything that would drag me down spiritually. “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.”
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures . . .
Green means growth and I had always felt I had to be up and moving in order to be growing. Once I was “made” to lie down, I learned that having the opportunity to stop and ponder and pray and ask for understanding and wisdom were my green of pastures of growth.
The Lord never forces, however, so how did He make me lie down? How did He humble me, stop me in my tracks, create sufficient motivation for me to cease my constant running and hurrying and pushing and stressing and overdoing? He allowed the natural consequences of my choices which often brought me exhaustion and illness, such as chronic fatigue that slowed me down terrifically. When I still wasn’t sufficiently teachable (I would use my down time to create new and lengthy to-do lists) He allowed an accident. I chose to be in the exact place on the freeway at the exact second that two cars ahead of me crashed and one was spun sideways directly into my path. He “made” me lie down, and the pastures have, indeed, been green.
So many times since then I have been made to lie down in green pastures by various illnesses and physical limitations. In retrospect, the benefits are many. I have received much of the inspiration of my life in the enforced quietude of such situations. I wish I didn’t have to be “made” to lie down in green pastures. Jesus didn’t. He chose to.
I’ve often thought about how Jesus set the example of voluntary choice to lie down in green pastures by withdrawing, taking himself apart to quiet places where he could rest and commune with His Father.
He leadeth me beside the still waters . . .
I read some time ago that sheep cannot drink from fast-flowing, troubled waters. They will die of thirst with water all around unless their shepherd can find them a calm, still pool to drink from. In my case, I have often been the problem, not the water. When my life has been too fast-flowing and troubled, I have not been able to drink of living waters and have thirsted spiritually. The scriptures were always right there, the possibility of communing with the Lord was always there, but I was sometimes moving too quickly to drink. Whenever I am still, however, my shepherd leads me to drink of living waters.
To the woman at the well, Jesus said, “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” (See John 4:10-14, emphasis added.) As we drink deep from Jesus’ living waters we shall never thirst again—our temporary telestial obstacles vanish, and we see the perfectly provided path to everlasting life.
He restoreth my soul . . .
“Restore” means to bring back what was there before. What does He bring back, when I am still enough to listen and drink of living waters? Does He bring back memories of premortal truth that once I knew so surely, but have since forgotten? I know He brings back memory and sure knowledge of spiritual experiences on earth–of times the veil has been thin.
The Spirit brings to my remembrance the times I have known the Lord was near, and sensed in a still, sure way His love for me and the beauty of His plan. My soul is restored when I remember.
When Stan Winchester reviewed this article, he added: “Many years ago I restored antique cars for a hobby, and part of a restoration is to remove damaged parts, dirt, grease, old paint, remove rust (cut out whole sections of rusted body parts and weld in new whole sections), rebuild, repaint, reupholster, and more. This process included making sure everything was brought back to the original factory condition down to the smallest detail. So restoring my soul would involve His healing my broken heart and troubled mind, restoring faith, building testimony. It also includes feeling the Lord is near, feeling His love, appreciation for His plan, as you infer.”
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake . . . In every righteous thing I do, the Lord leads by example. In the Savior’s mortal ministry He led the way and said, “Come follow me.” How well am I following? I do know that when I follow Him by listening to promptings, I am led in paths I would never have found or even thought of myself. An example of this might be the promptings I received to write a book of comfort for those who have lost a loved one to suicide. I bear witness of the Savior many times in that book, so I can safely say it is “for his name’s sake.”
Why “for his name’s sake?” As I am born again, I become a child a Christ, a part of His family, and covenant to take upon myself His name and honor it by doing as He would do. What He would do is offer comfort.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me . . .
I have learned for myself through hard but glorious experiences, that the Lord is with me in the valley of the shadow of death. The Comforter was there when a family member was in a life-threatening accident, the Lord poured out His blessings at the time of my mother’s passing, and I felt and bear witness of His love. I have been grievously ill, and have been in accidents that could have taken my life, and I have felt with great power His protection and comfort and care. More recently I have felt the Lord’s loving care when me son died. The Lord protected me from the evils of blame and despair and pulled me out of paralyzing fear for my son.
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me . . .
I see the rod as the rod of iron–the word of God. I read an article in a Christian magazine that suggested the rod was God’s protecting arm that fights our battles and saves us from perils, that saves our lives when our mission has not yet been completed, and that His staff, with its crook reaches out and draws us back to him whenever we stray. There is great comfort to me in each of these ideas.
He preparest a table for me in the presence of my enemies . . .
Why in the presence of my enemies? I can’t imagine my appetite being good with my enemies surrounding the table. Perhaps the enemies He is speaking of are my inner enemies that I can never get away from–my weaknesses, my sins, my false programming, the false traditions of the fathers, all of which keep me from the spiritual growth I so desire. The table He prepares could be the spiritual food I need to give me the strength to overcome all these inner enemies.
He anointest my head with oil . . .
Even in these latter days, the anointing has great spiritual significance. My head has been anointed with oil whenever I’ve received a healing blessing, such as the one that saved my life from a terrible burn when I was eighteen months old. Those who have received their endowments in the temple will think of another example of anointing. Jesus was called “the anointed one.” I think anointing implies great blessings and great responsibilities. The pure virgin olive oil used for such anointings represents Jesus’ atoning sacrifice with His precious blood. Gethsemane means, oil press. The oil is extracted from the olives by great pressure. When I am anointed with oil, I can think of the sacredness of the press upon the Son of God, even to His limits that He bled from every pore. (See Mosiah 3:7.)
My cup runneth over . . .
I could live for days without food, but not without drink. The drink I need to sustain my life, both physically and spiritually, I am given in greater abundance than I need. The Lord is an abundant God. He is not miserly. He does not scrimp or withhold from me. When I pay my tithing He opens the windows of heaven and pours out a blessing so great I cannot receive. And when I sit at His table and receive His anointings, He does not fill my cup half full, but overflowing so I have all I need and plenty to share. When He fills my cup with His Spirit and His goodness and love and mercy, it is not for me alone, but to bless all those around me.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life . . .
Goodness shall follow me–from what source? Who is good? According to Jesus, none but God. When I accept Jesus as my Shepherd every moment, the goodness of God shines upon me. And mercy? How I need mercy. Justice would condemn me, a sinner. But the mercy of the Atonement washes me clean. I will continually seek the grace of God to make up the difference for what I am too weak to do for myself. Here, the promise is that all the days of my life these blessings will be available–the goodness and mercy of God will follow me wherever I go. I suspect it is up to me to recognize my great, great need and open my heart to receive what is continually offered.
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
The great desire of my soul, of every stalwart believing soul, is to return “home.” I am a child of God and have ever been homesick for my Heavenly home. As I am born again, I take upon me the name of Christ and covenant to act as a member of His family. I want more than anything to return to the family home, be greeted as a returning family member after a long journey, be granted my family inheritance and the blessed companionship of not only my Savior, but my Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. There is nothing more than this to seek, nothing more to want.
“The Lord is My Shepherd. I shall not want.”
Many times I have thought back on that experience after the accident when I was “made to lie down in green pastures.” In retrospect, it is one of those examples that the Lord truly makes all things work together for our good, no matter how hard the experience seems at the time. It is so easy to get caught up in demands and busy-ness, and I often need reminding that the spiritual underpinnings of my life are far more important than physical strength. When we hold still and are quiet and listen to the Spirit, the Lord is always willing to teach and nurture and edify. He truly is Our Shepherd. He truly leads the way.
Note: To learn more about Darla and her books, Trust God No Matter What! and After My Son’s Suicide: An LDS Mother Finds Comfort in Christ and Strength to Go On, visit her website: darlaisackson.com