I Shall Not Want (Psalm 23)

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Chris grew up with the 23rd Psalm.  She had to memorize it in church growing up and her mother used to have a picture of a shepherd on the wall of their living room with the words inscribed on it.  All those years exposed to that scripture and this was the first time it ever meant anything to her.  Ironically the meaning dawned on her while she was lying on the ground looking at her reflection in a puddle at the Green Pastures Treatment Center.  She couldn’t help but laugh.  Maybe her escape plan worked too well.  She might actually be crazy after all. 

“You make me lie down in green pastures.  You lead me beside still waters… What was the rest of it?  Oh yeah.  That’s right.  You restore my soul.”  Was that what was happening here?  Was her soul being restored? 

When she came up with her plan to walk away from her life, she had not actually thought about her soul.  She just wanted to spend the rest of her life without anymore responsibilities or the pressure of living up to other people’s expectations.  No one expects anything from people who lose it.  Not only do they get sympathy, people know that they have a breaking point and no one wants to be the one to push them over the edge.  Once she checked out of this place, Chris would have all of the space she needed.  She would have her own certified “get out of jail free” card.  Not only that, she would be set for life.  She was debt free, her stock was vested, her prenuptial agreement was solid, and she had residual income from two products she invested in.  And if she played her cards right she may get a book deal out of this “breakdown”.  She would never want for anything.

Hold on. What was that? She would not want.  Was this the twilight zone? “You are my Shepherd, I shall not want. YOU lead me…” Wait a minute?  That can’t be right.  No one led her here.  This was her plan.  She came up with this idea herself.  She remembered the day clearly.  For the first time in years, she had actually gone into a grocery store.  Somehow the maid had forgotten to restock the milk.  Ever since she was a child she drank warm milk before bed.  Everyone knew that.  This new maid was messing up already. She should never have to pick up her own milk.  But now she had to get in the car and actually drive to a grocery store.  It took her 10 minute to even find the dairy section.  As soon as she found it she headed straight for the checkout.

While in the line two gentlemen who looked like they should be Ultimate Fighting Champions were actually discussing the latest celebrity gossip.  It seemed that yet another pop sensation was displaying erratic behavior and would likely lose favor in Hollywood and eventually disappear from the public eye.  That was nothing new.  Chris saw little interest in keeping up with the lives of people in show business.  But what did catch her attention was what one gentleman said about the life the actor might have after his star had faded.

“Well, I guess his career is over,” said the man in the Red Sox jacket.

“Who cares?  Do you know how much they paid him on his last film?” asked the man in the Bruins jersey.  “The studio will probably pay him to walk away from his contract and he’ll be sitting pretty for the rest of his life.  Give it a year and people won’t even remember what he looks like. He’ll have his life back and never want for anything. Not bad for a five year career if you ask me.”

“I might sell my soul to be sitting pretty like that for the rest of my life,” interrupted the cashier with the Patriots sweatshirt.

It was that conversation that inspired Chris to make her escape.  The plan was simple.  She would start planting thoughts in the mind of the board that she was no longer capable of running the company.  She would encourage rumors that would lower the stock price. That would get the investor’s attention.  She would get a little wild at the company party and “open up” about her personal relationships to the new employee in accounting.  Then for the next few weeks she would call the new accountant every other night very late.  It wouldn’t take long before people would start saying she lost it. What was it that Jesus said?  “Those who lose their life shall gain it?”

Pretty soon she’d be negotiating a severance that she had already prepared.  Then for the grand finale.  She’d have an emotional breakdown at her going away party, leave early, disappear until everything was settled with the lawyers, and then check herself into a relaxation center.  When she reemerged a month later she would tell her husband that the time away helped her clear her head and that she realized that they were better off as friends.  She took care of him for years while he tried to make it as an artist.  He was very talented, but she could not carry the burdens for both of them any longer.  If he was good with the money he’d agreed to in the prenup he could still just focus on his art.  He didn’t need her for that.

Not even forty and she would be set for life.  If she wanted to gain attention again all she had to do was write a book about her “breakdown” and blame it on the pressures of society.  It would be a guaranteed bestseller.

It took her more than a year to execute her plan.  Everything went smoothly with only one exception.  Instead of checking into the relaxation center she had picked out complete with all organic foods, a full spa, yoga, personal trainers, medical staff, and spiritual counselors she ended up in Green Pastures.  It turned out that one of their celebrity guests extended their stay by a week and was willing to pay double the normal $17,000 per week rate. Chris might be playing crazy, but she wasn’t insane.  She checked into Green Pastures for a week at one-fourth the price.  She had negotiated for the cost of a month’s stay at La Maison de la Liberté as part of her severance and was going to keep the difference.  She was one month away from the perfect life.

She felt like she was unstoppable.  That was until she looked into that puddle of still water and saw herself for perhaps the first time in probably two decades.  All of a sudden she felt like Tolstoy’s character Ivan Ilyich.  She had done everything right, but now she was wondering if her whole life was wrong.

For the next hour she stared into the water with barely a blink—just thinking.  Was it possible that God had led her to this moment?  She wasn’t even sure if she actually had a relationship with God.  She went to church and supported it financially, but she never actually thought about spiritual things.  The last time she even remembered talking to God was one time in college when was implicated in a cheating scandal.  She promised that if her career survived this setback she would never again allow herself to be tempted by taking the easy way out of anything.  She’d rather earn her failures than steal her successes.

For twenty years it looked like she had kept her promise, but in the end here she was.  Maybe her soul did need restoration. When she looked back on how easily her plan fell into place she became suspicious.  What were the chances that on the first time in 8 years that she went into a grocery store she would overhear the conversation that triggered her plan?  Why did every person who could have made it difficult for her comply so easily as if they were in on the script she had written for them?  Why did she lose her reservation at La Liberté only to end up in Green Pastures staring in a puddle of still water?  Why did that Psalm dawn on her?  Was God really the Shepherd who led her here when she thought she was in control?  And if so, why?  She had to get to a Bible.

She ran to the facility’s library and picked up a version of the Bible.  She had no idea where to look.  She hadn’t actually looked in a Bible with any interest since she received one when she finished CCD.  But wouldn’t you know that she opened right to the page with the 23rd Psalm on it and there she found her answer to why she had been led to this spot.

“You are my Shepherd, I shall not want.  You make me lie down in green pastures.  You lead me beside still waters and You restore my soul.  You lead me down the paths of righteousness for YOUR NAME’s SAKE.” She repeated the words to herself.  You lead me down the paths of righteousness for YOUR NAME’s SAKE.” 

“What does that even mean?” she asked out loud but not actually expecting an answer.  And then she heard a Voice that was so close that she turned around suddenly only to find that no one was there.  The Voice had answered, “I lead you down the paths of righteousness because I am Righteousness.”  She didn’t know why, but that simple answer was enough for her.  She continued to read.

Even though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I won’t fear evil because You’re with me. 

The Voice followed: What you call death is the shadow you cast on your soul when you turn your back on the Light of your True being. I am that Light.  I am always with you.  You have nothing to fear.

Your rod and Your staff comfort me. 

Again the Voice followed: Be comforted in the Laws of Love and its expression in this Creation.  This is My rod.  Lean on My staff of justice and you will find that all is well.

You prepare a table for me in the sight of my accusers. 

The Voice: Those who cannot see the invisible hand of justice will not see the wisdom in trusting My Laws, but in due time you will be fed with the fruits of this labor and will be filled with joy and those who doubted will see the Truth revealed in you.

You anoint my head with oil.

The Voice: All that you do in Love will be blessed and be a blessing forever.

My cup overflows.

The Voice: There will be no end to your abundance because Love is the Source of all Creation.  I am that Love and I am Eternal.

Surely Your goodness and mercy will follow me for the rest of my life and I will dwell in Your House forever. 

The Voice: The Love that I am and that you are, are inseparable.  When you come into this knowledge you will see that goodness and mercy have always been Present in your life and always will be.

Amen.

The Voice: It truly is as I have declared it to you.

And then there was silence.  But this wasn’t just an outer silence as in the absence of sound.  This was an inner Silence.  It was the Presence of Peace.  Chris’s soul had been restored.  She hadn’t even been in Green Pastures a full day, but she immediately checked out. 

When she returned home she told her husband her experience and he cried.  He had been praying for her.  When he asked her what she intended to do now, she was honest with him.  She did not know where she would end up, but she knew where she was headed.  When she left her company she left behind a lot of souls that needed to be restored.  She wanted to work toward that so she decided to take the money she received from her severance and invest it in building Still Waters Center for Inner Reflection.  She asked her husband to be her partner in it. He quickly agreed.

Within a year they opened the doors for their first guests.  When they entered, the first thing they saw was a beautiful mural of green pastures and crystal clear ponds that look so real you wanted to drink from them and on the right in gilded letter Chris’s husband had inscribed the words:

“Love gives everything yet wants nothing.”

© Copyright 2011 Pedro S. Silva II

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