The Psalm 139 Challenge – Fridays with Robynn
I still remember the challenge that Debby gave us: memorize Psalm 139. For four years she was my dorm mother at our small “Nestled ‘neath the great Himalayas” boarding school, and for four years the challenge remained the same: see if you can memorize Psalm 139. There must have been some sort of incentive, high school girls rarely agree without one, but I can’t remember what that was.
You see, I find myself now the age Debby was when she dared us to take on the Psalm. I’m forty-two years old and I’ve recently stumbled again in to the arms of Psalm 139.
And I love it.
It’s deeply consoling and reassuring. And I think I finally understand Debby’s deep attachment to it all those years ago.
This psalm of David speaks repeatedly of how well the Lord knows us. It doesn’t merely mention it once or twice. Oh no. The Psalmist wants us to be certain,
“Oh Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord. You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head.” Psalm 139:1-5
It’s unnerving and overwhelming, even to King David who writes in verse 6,
“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand.”
But he won’t let it rest,
“I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your Presence! If I go to heaven you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me. I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night—but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you.” Psalm 139:7-12
To a room full of high school girls, such a Formidable Presence of a God wasn’t necessarily what we were looking for. The All Knowing God wasn’t our ideal deity. We had secret crushes, late night clandestine rendezvous (okay, most of them were in our dreams—but every once in a while we’d actually manage one)! We had serious doubts and relentless questions. We had our cliques and our dramatic divisions. There were sins, flirtations and temptations. There were hidden tears and muffled sobs. Insecurities, rebellions, deceptions played hide and seek in our souls.
We weren’t interested in a God who truly knew us. We didn’t like Him knowing where we stood, who we sat with, what words we were thinking to use but not quite daring to.
And we certainly shirked from the Psalms great climax:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” Psalm 139:23-24
However, we were quite happy to know the God which every graduation card and yearbook signature attested to. The God who, “(knew) the plans (He had) for (us)…plans for good and not for disaster, to give (us) a future and a hope”. The God of Jeremiah 29:11. That was a safe, promising God – a God of the Future and of a happy ending.
This other God knew too much. He knew way too much!
But now that I’m in my forties I think I understand. There seems to be a fresh round of horrors in the forties. Some of the same adolescent questions continue to haunt: Who am I? Who am I really? Where do I belong? Where am I from? Why am I here? Where am I going? What’s my purpose? For the adult Third Culture Kid our midlife crises are traced with the same old questions…only in this decade those questions seem louder and less easily silenced.
Now I read Psalm 139 and I am consoled. It’s no longer frightening to be found out—it’s comforting to let Someone else know me. When suddenly in my fifth decade I realize to my surprise that I hardly know myself—that I can’t make sense of the riffraff and noise in my head. When I can’t seem to see where duty ends and me begins—I find great joy and relief that God, who created me and formed me up—that He knows me. He understands. He gets it. All of it. Me. The hormones waxing and waning, the intentions, the dreads, the longings, the griefs, the perpetual insecurities (surely I should have outgrown those!?), the foibles, the faults. He knows me. All of me. He knows my story. Where I’ve been. Where I wish I was. Where I feel most at home.
And even more mysterious and maddening—He loves me.
Once when I was stopped at US Immigration and denied entry I tried to explain, “Can I just tell my story?” If the border guard could just hear how complex my comings and goings had been, I reasoned, surely then he’d have pity on me and allow me to enter. Imagine my pain when he gruffly replied, “I don’t care about your story!”
The God of Psalm 139 knew me. In fact He knew my whole story and He loves me.
And I realize something about Debby’s challenge—it wasn’t so much to us as it was to herself. And it wasn’t really about memorizing Psalm 139. It was about knowing the God of Psalm 139 and the sweet, sweet reality and relief of being truly and finally known by Him.
Debby, I finally get it. And even more amazing, He gets me!
10 thoughts on “The Psalm 139 Challenge”
Janet and Marilyn….did you ever memorize this Psalm? Just wondering…!
This is wonderful, Marilyn. I was wondering if you were going to learn it by heart (which is a little different mindset than memorizing). I may tackle it with you. My two Psalms are 91 and 103. After you learn it, say it at least five times a day for a month and it will become a part of you. (Bet you didn’t know I’m a Biblical Storyteller of the Network of Biblical Storyteller’s variety: http://www.nbsint.org/).
I had no idea you were a Biblical storyteller but it actually sounds really cool! I can’t wait to take a look at the link. And thanks for the tips on memorization -….it has been way too long since I’ve tackled memorizing any scripture. Time to get my lazy mind going.
Beautiful! I wonder if this 56-yr. old brain would be able to memorize Psalm 139……
So funny you say that… Want to challenge each other?? I have been thinking of this ever since I scheduled the post last night!
Marilyn Gardner Sent from my iPhone
Debby might join you both!!! She has a head start!
Okay, let’s go for it!
You’re on! I’ll email you and we’ll give each other tips – how much time? 2 years until the next reunion – hahahha!!