But you have raised a banner for those who fear you— a rallying point in the face of attack. Psalm 60:4 (NLT)
Scholars tell us that Psalms 54-60 were placed together for a reason. The seven psalms form a cluster that fit together like a literary word picture in the Hebrew language in which it was originally written. Think of a mountain. Psalm 54 is an individual’s plea for God’s help. On the opposite end is Psalm 60 which is a nation’s plea for God’s help. The Psalms on either side lead up to a pinnacle in the center, Psalm 57, which contains two sets of seven lines (notice the repetitive theme of seven?) containing a refrain calling for God to be exalted.
I find it interesting the contrasting opposite ends of the cluster of psalms. The plea for the individual and the plea for the nation. This morning I’m weighing out in my mind the amount of time I spend thinking about and praying for myself and the amount of time I spend thinking about and praying for our nation. The scale I have pictured in my head tips quickly and decisively with a loud “thunk” on the side of the self-centered prayers.
Today I’m reminded that, no matter the country we find ourselves living in, God calls on us to pray for our leaders and our government. There is so much trouble in the world. We need God’s help to navigate the troubles of the nations just as much as we need His help to navigate our own personal journeys.
Listen to me, O royal daughter; take to heart what I say. Forget your people and your family far away. Psalm 45:10 (NLT)
When it comes to family, I have come to believe that our life journey is a never ending process of separation and union. We get this picture at the very beginning of God’s Message when it says a man will leave his father and mother, the woman will leave her home, and the two will become one. Two individuals separate from their respective family systems. They cut the apron strings. They join together in spiritual, emotional, relational, and functional union and begin the process of establishing their own family system.
I have observed over time that many (if not most) conflicts and struggles in our lives, marriages, families, and communities can be traced back to a failure to get this process right. The system becomes over protective and possessive of the individual, and refuses to let the child go. The individual becomes to dependent on the system or the system becomes dependent on the individual. There is a refusal (often an unconscious one) to fully separate. Subsequent union with another individual can’t successfully be accomplished because one or both individuals are still entangled in their respective family systems.
Separation is not, however, alienation. It was never intended to be. As an individual, differentiated from my family system in a healthy way, I am now even more capable of returning and creating a new and different union with my family which is critical for that family system’s growth and continuous development. I am able to help the system continue the never ending process of refinement because I can approach it with a new, objective and healthy perspective.
From the time our daughters were young, I can best describe my approach to fatherhood as: “catch and release.” I sought to captivate my daughters’ with my love, but it was always with the knowledge and intention that I was preparing them for Father God to captivate them with His perfect love, and perhaps for another man who might someday captivate them and take them away from me. Despite my strong desire to cling and not let go, I realized that this was the way God designed it. For a critical stretch of their own journeys I was there to catch them in their stumbling and falling away. I was also there to constantly instill in them the truth that they were lovable, valuable and capable of more than they felt or knew, and to release them into the world to discover the truth of it for themselves. My job was to release, to launch, and to let go with the knowledge that they would return to me as even more capable individuals and we would both be the better for it.
Believe me, I have not been perfect. But then again, neither have my children, or my wife, my parents, my siblings or my in-laws. The process of separation and union inherently creates conflict, but my wife reminded me yesterday that conflict is not a bad thing. Conflict is a healthy part of the process of both individual and relational definition and development. It is the inescapable reality of living together and walking this journey together as imperfect people in a fallen world. Our shortcomings and failures in the process are a constant reminder of our need of both receiving and extending grace and forgiveness. We separate a loved one from their failures and embrace them with unmerited love. Separation and union. Catch and release.
Into this day, the process and the journey continue.