I’ve been working through this document put out by the Lead Stories Podcast on wrapping up 2016 and looking forward to 2017. One of the activities it leads you through is to read Psalm 139 and reflect. As I was reading, one particular verse leapt off the page at me, here it is in context:
O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.
-Psalm 139:1-6 (ESV)
Yesterday morning at church our kids dressed up to help us tell the story of Christmas. We had angels, shepherds and one cutie little cow. As I was helping hand out costumes I was making some last minute alterations to the costumes for our littler angels. Before you get too impressed – this simply meant I was cutting the fabric to make the dresses shorter. Nothing fancy, just a pair of scissors and a rough estimate of how much I wanted to take off.
For some of the pieces it was easy – make a snip and then tear it the length of the fabric. In other cases I had to cut through seams or hems. The former was easy because if you cut in the right direction, the fabric just tears in a straight line. The latter was more difficult because seams and hems are strong. Hems especially are meant to withstand some tension. They are made strong because of the style of stitching and folding.
So when I read this passage, the word HEM jumped at me. I thought about cutting the costumes yesterday. I thought about how hems are meant to protect our garments. Being hemmed in by God is an act of protection.
The whole psalm is about how well God knows us. How even before we were formed he knew the days of our lives set aside for us. This section at the beginning talks about how he knows our rhythms. As I read it I knew that God was saying to me: I know it all. I know the stress of this season, the busyness of your job, the movement and the stillness. Before you even call out to me, I know. I hem you in and I place my hand over you.
He has hemmed me in. He has sown an area of protection around me and inside of that he lays his hand upon me. He reminds me with his touch that he’s here. He’s always here. He is Immanuel – God with us. God with me.
I’ve often felt in the hustle of life that my life is uncharted. There’s no plan in place, everything I know and love can change in an instant. It all feels random how I’ve made it here, to this place. But today as I was reading this beautiful psalm, that I’ve read probably 1000 times, I realized that my life is not uncharted. It’s known. Not by me, but by Him.
And as the psalmist writes – that knowledge is too wonderful for me. Which means two things to me – this knowledge (my life plan) is actually too wonderful and too high for me to attain. I cannot know it all now, I must keep moving forward knowing that He has it mapped out. But also it brings up that joyful feeling when someone you care about shows you they care too. That God would love me that much. That he would know me that well. That is a feeling of joy that I simply cannot hold in.
So in this season of advent, I’m realizing what I’m waiting for. I’m waiting to see how my life will unfold. I’m waiting for whatever big thing is on the horizon – good, bad or indifferent. And for the next week at least I’m going to live into that waiting with the knowledge that it’s not completely unknown.
I’ve been hemmed in by the Creator of the universe. In all circumstances he is there and his hand is upon me. So I echo the line from Away in a Manger that I used as the title for this post –
I ask thee – stay close by me. Forever.