The Transylvania Times -

The Journey Inward: What Wisdom Can Be Found In The 23rd Psalm?


August 31, 2017

The 23rd Psalm carries a profound message about the rhythm of life. Sometimes our cup overflows; other times we walk through the valley of the shadow of death when we feel like our very self is on the line.

There are many people who know both sides in a very deep way. Sheryl Sandberg is one such person. She was living a life with all the fulfillments one could imagine. After a comfortable upbringing and education at Harvard, she worked her way up to become a vice president at Google and moved on up to become the chief operating officer at Facebook. Her life was charmed. However, no amount of professional accomplishments could prepare her for the sudden death of beloved husband, Dave, who collapsed on a gym floor.

Sandberg felt certain that she and her children would never feel pure joy again.

“I was in a void a vast emptiness that fills your heart and lungs and restricts your ability to think or even breathe,” she writes in her recent book, “Option B.”

Sandberg’s story illustrates how “walking through the valley” of grief is not easy in our culture where “getting your act together” is the norm. Not so for Sandberg, who completely lost her self-confidence.

“I just kind of crumbled in every area,” she said. “I didn’t think I could be a good friend. I didn’t feel like I could do my job.”

In a Time Magazine article about her book she recalls that people continually avoided the subject. Many people didn’t know what to say.

“Friends were asking, ‘How are you?’ but I took this as more of a standard greeting than a genuine question. I wanted to scream back, ‘My husband just died. How do you think I am?’” she wrote.

Through her journey, Sandberg began to learn valuable lessons as she walked through the valley, especially around three myths that make it harder for people to spring back from adversity. “The first is that they’re somehow responsible for what happened to them. The second is that sadness must carpet their lives from wall to wall. And the third is that they will never feel any better. Ever the communicator, Sandberg calls these mistakes the three p’s: thinking about adversity as personal, pervasive and permanent.”

As the preceding paragraph suggests she wants to express some of her hard earned awareness with others in a compassionate and considered way.

We too can find purpose and meaning, as Sandberg, when we take the journey through adversity. Our suffering can be a releasing to injured places from within we have not allowed ourselves to visit. For example, if you are like me, don’t we run from the pain of a wounded childhood until an adverse event catches up with us? Then we journey and discover our little boy or girl inside us who was exiled all these years.

When we experience the sensitivity of our childhood, we are called to welcome once again the stranger who has been part of us all along. Sandberg, for example, discovered her abandoned little girl when achievement no longer could dispel her grief.

Sometimes before I go to sleep at night I practice a method called “tonglen;” I breathe in any suffering I may be going through and that of the world. I breathe out compassion. Right in that moment I know there are people all over the world experiencing the same thing, in their own way, that I am. I hope their “cup runs over” and when they “walk through the valley” may they find “for I am with you” and the “green pastures and still waters.”

The 23rd Psalm is undoubtedly a comfort and support for many people; we are affected by the recognition in the Psalm that both pain and joy are part of the human condition. Can we surrender to that recognition?

(Dr. John Campbell is a semi-retired resident of Brevard)


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