Writing is kind of like the weather; the ability to write is- more often than not- beyond the writer’s control. “At present, I can’t write a thing” Flannery O’Connor once wrote in her prayer journal, “I wonder if God will ever do more writing for me.” Anyone who has ever put the pen to paper- or, for that matter the brush to the canvas and chisel to the stone- in an attempt to grasp that spark of ingenuity knows it is like trying to sword fight with the beam of a flashlight.
Psalm 4 finds David in a state of “psychological anxiety.” From his angst, David compares himself with those whose “grain and wine abound.” The implication of such a comparison is that David’s kingdom wasn’t experiencing a plentiful harvest; combined with the level of distress David expresses (hear my prayer 4:1, who will show us some good? 4:4), it’s reasonable to assume that Israel was experiencing a severe drought. This was no small matter.
In the Ancient Near East, a plentiful harvest was indicative of having found favor with the gods. Famine or drought, on the other hand, resulted- directly and almost without fail- in a plunge in the confidence in leadership that people had in their king.
Of course, this is not much different than today. Poor fortune is, somehow or another, chalked up to ineptitude or immorality (sometimes both). Banks are hesitant to give a loan to someone who went bankrupt; reporters rarely ask the coach of a winless team about how much respect he gets from the players (usually because he’s too busy packing his office into a cardboard box to even give an answer); when I positioned my parents’ care atop a poorly placed collection of neighborhood mailboxes, they took away my license.
The times have changed but the assumption remains that someone who fails somehow, to some extent, brought it upon themselves. It doesn’t matter if the market was bad or the mailboxes in the rear view were much closer than they appeared. David’s kingly success was dependent on the weather, which he could not control. And yet, he was judged as though he could.
I’m not King David (no murders, no affairs). But I have been required to write papers. And stories. And articles. And sermons. And that one wedding toast which…well, nevermind. There have been deadlines. I’ve felt the panic of uncontrollables beginning to control my life: “Uh…hey God, I have like, literally, no idea what to write.” *snaps fingers*
So where is God in the writer’s block? The drought? Where is God when the uncontrollables suddenly begin to control our success or failure?
David’s answer is simple but profound: you have put…joy in my heart…for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. Despite the political unrest, despite the public faith in his kingship, despite all these things, David is able to rest in the assurance of God’s joy.
A high school classmate of mine is in a band that recently made it big. Like, really big. I hear him on the radio at least a few times a week. And I don’t have a commute. Each time it comes on, I’m been forced to ask myself: is my joy really greater than his?
On the flip side, it can be easy for David’s rest and peace in God to become a holier-than-thou badge: “well, you may be successful and all, but lookit me: I know God loves me without any worldly success!” This kind of resolution may help for a short time. But eventually I’ll have to deal with the fact that I still get jealous whenever his song comes on the radio. Joy cannot be created, connived or controlled. It can only be accepted, accepted as a gift from God.
If I ever become a writer (whatever exactly that entails), I hope that writing will become for me another reminder of how little control I have. I hope that writing will be to me as the weather, which can change in a minute and can ruin even the biggest, best and most important aspirations. A public personae easily being among them.
David sits in uncertainty. He rests in uncertainty. He sleeps like a baby in uncertainty (In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone…make me dwell in safety 4:8). He is able to do this, because his identity and his worth is rooted in something larger, something stronger, something much more permanent.
Unlike those stupid mailboxes.