There was a time in my life when I arrogantly decided that Psalm 23 was so overused that it had become a Hallmark card cliche. Then I realized it embodied a deep and profound call to seek justice.
Here is my own paraphrase of the Psalm written as a prayer that attempts to highlight this beautiful call.
Shepherd me, Lord, through all my longings and wants. So much seems so broken, and without your shepherding, I am often left exhausted, drained of hope.
You know me, and you are nudging me to green pastures and still waters! Your shepherd’s heart knows that my soul needs to be restored. Thank you! Grant me grace to relinquish my sorrow shaped by brokenness, to relinquish it into your hands so that I may be receptive to your provision of life-giving pastures and waters. I feel driven by the impulse to anxiously perform. You command me to rest and receive.
As one receiving your restoration, guide me now in your paths of righteousness and justice. Am I ready to embrace those hard roads again? I think so, but Lord, you know how inadequate I feel. Your shepherding grace is sufficient, and your power is made perfect in my weakness.
But, among those paths of righteousness, there is one path that is especially difficult.
You don’t need to remind me: I know that your paths of justice will always include the one that leads through the valley of the shadow of death, the shadow of many deaths: the death of “success,” the death of my plans, the death of easy answers, the death of wounded ones, the death of my starry-eyed idealism, the death of assuming that my justice-seeking partners and I will always see eye to eye, and those terrible days when even hope appears to die.
In this valley of grieving I strain to hear the sounds of your rod and your staff, and I do know that you are here in this valley with us even when all the evidence seems to shout that you’ve abandoned us. Grant me the eyes and ears of trust to continue to know deeply that you are there where your children weep with those who weep.
But you do so much more than show up – you prepare a table in the midst of all these enemies, including the enemies in my own heart! Thank you! You know so well how destabilizing this valley is, you know how we your children can easily forget who and whose we are, and you anoint our heads with oil, declaring through its oozing flow that we belong to you body and soul, in life and in death.
The table and the oil have strengthened my eyes and now I can see it! I can see beyond the valley, I can see your love and mercy pursuing us all the days of our lives, and I can even glimpse the house, the house where we will walk paths of righteousness in your presence forever, the house where the resurrected Lamb will be our Shepherd.
Thank you, great Shepherd of Life.