The Challenge of Learning to Rest in God
In Psalm 131, David presents a beautiful image of a soul at rest: “I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.”
A weaned child resting upon its mother is a lovely thing. It is a mother’s greatest happiness to hold in her arms a resting, contented child. It is a child’s deepest joy and peace to rest contentedly in its mother’s arms.
Melinda Cousins remarks, “A weaned child…lies in its mother’s arms not for food, but for relationship, content purely to be held and know the peace and security that comes from being loved.”
Getting a mother’s milk is vital for the health of a growing baby. But getting, and basking in, a mother’s love is the best of all. It is vital for the health of a child’s soul.
What we have to face, though, is that getting to the point of a contentedly weaned child on its mother’s lap is not an easy achievement for the mother or the child. A baby wants passionately and demandingly and expressively what a baby needs! What a baby needs is its mother’s milk. If the baby doesn’t get it, the baby cries with a piercing and painful shriek that seems to have been designed by God to be one of the most irritating noises in the world, guaranteed to grab our attention. When a baby wants milk it cries; it screams; it grabs; it demands. But as a child grows, it must learn that it does not always get what it wants when it wants it. It is only after going through a painful deprivation process that a child is weaned and becomes content to sit upon its mother for love more than for milk.
Ray Fowler comments, “Weaning is a child’s first experience of loss. It is a difficult but important lesson that you can’t always get what you want in life, and that you can’t always have your own way. Unfortunately some of us are still trying to learn that lesson. You’d think we would have learned it back when we were weaned! But weaning is a process. It’s a battle to wean a child, and it’s a battle for God to bring us to this place of quiet contentment and rest.”
Since weaning is a challenge to a child that involves the child giving up the illusion that it will always get what it wants when it wants it, what makes us think that it will be easy for us to develop a restful soul? We only develop a peaceful soul by going through the same process as a weaned child: By learning to give up our demand at getting what we want when we want it, and by learning to come to God to rest in and to bask in God’s overflowing love for us.
Artur Weiser puts it this way: “Just as the child gradually breaks off the habit of regarding his mother only as a means of satisfying his own desires and learns to love her for her own sake, so the worshiper—after a struggle—has reached an attitude of mind in which he desires God for himself and not as a means of fulfillment of his own wishes. His life’s center of gravity has shifted. He now rests no longer in himself but in God.”
David, the psalmist here, seems to have a sense of humor, though. He ends the psalm with the plea, “O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore.” He invites Israel to enter that peaceful realm of resting contentedly in God’s arms. But the name Israel comes out of a wrestling match between God and Jacob. The name is a continual reminder that God wrestles with His people for His people. As a child learns to be content on its mother’s lap only through the challenging process of weaning, so we need to recognize that we will come into God’s peace only by the wrestling God does with us for us, and the more we learn to surrender to God, the more peace we find.