“Is this more of a yahoo or a boohoo breakfast?”
This was the question my girlfriends and I asked each other years ago while crowded around a Panera table, half an hour after Kindergarten Drop-Off Day One. Believe me, there was a range of emotions that morning, from giddy freedom to downright despair!
Fast forward and I’m helping (ok, mostly watching) my oldest pack for college drop off and realizing I’m going to need a new Yahoo/BooHoo moment with friends.
Once again, range of emotions.
As my son packs up everything from COVID-19-preventing masks to an ancient mini-fridge, I’m keenly aware of all I still want to tell him about adult life. I keep slipping words of wisdom into conversation—today, it was about budgeting and not forgetting to tithe. He is being very patient with me, and I’m trying not to lecture!
The achy joy of this season might explain my fascination with parents in the Bible who wrote down godly wisdom for their kids. There’s the brilliant queen mother in Proverbs 31 and Solomon’s compositions addressed to his sons in Proverbs 1-7. The past few days, though, I’ve been soaking up Psalm 37, a Hebrew alphabet acrostic by King David.
No shocker perhaps, that David wrote Psalm 37. After all, he was “the sweet psalmist of Israel” (2 Sam 23:1) who wrote much of that book of praises, laments, and hymns of thanksgiving. However, Psalm 37 is different. It reads more like the wisdom literature of Proverbs than other psalms, more like a personal letter in poetic verse from parent to son. Older and looking over his life, David wrote down the ABC’s—or more accurately the Aleph א , Beth ב, and Gimel ג —of wisdom gleaned from trusting God. See why it’s drawing me in?
In future posts we’ll unpack some of that wisdom—it’s applicable to all of us when the world turns upside down. Today, though, I’m thinking about the letter I want to hide in one of those dorm-destined boxes. Even if your daughter or son isn’t heading to college, they likely ARE moving into a new season, and you, too, may be thinking of words of wisdom you’d like to tuck into a personal note. Let’s take our cue from three characteristics of Psalm 37 to create something meaningful!
1. Memorable – David began each verse with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Though our translations render Psalm 37:1 as “Do not fret because of evildoers,” in Hebrew the phrase starts with the word ’al (meaning “not”) and thus, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, aleph (א). Yes, an acrostic is a poetic form, but as Dr. Lewis, one of my TBS professors, points out, acrostics are great memory tools, especially important in a society that transmitted lots of information orally. David crafted wisdom into a form that could be memorized and treasured. Now, unless something comes to me in a dream soon, I’m not writing a brilliant acrostic, but I, too, want my son to remember whatever I write. I plan to remind him of a favorite family memory we both treasure and tie that rich experience to the encouragement I’d like him to remember.
2. Theological – No brainer that David wrote about God, right? I mean, this is the Bible. But when David wrote this psalm, would he have known you and I would be reading it as part of Holy Scripture? David wrote about the wisdom of trusting God not because he was preaching a sermon, but because he had experienced God as trustworthy. He witnessed God bring forth righteousness and judgement (6), sustain His people over the long haul (17), and hold godly people securely so that when they stumbled, they weren’t “hurled headlong” (24). I can give a lot of advice—lock your doors, pay attention in class, choose friends carefully—but the best wisdom I can share is about the character of God and His promises to His people.
3. Personal – I was oddly moved when I learned that the verbs and pronouns in the opening ten verses are singular. OK, bear with this English major mama: what the commentator meant was that David penned these words personally directed to an individual. This was not David addressing the crowd as king. This was David the “graybeard” (The Message 37:25) talking to a specific someone whom he wanted to see flourish in life and faith. When he says, “Cease from anger and forsake wrath; do not fret; it leads only to evildoing” (8), David is every parent counseling a beloved young adult, “Reacting in rage is never going to be the answer. Rise above the anger before it’s too late!” In fact, much of this psalm is about trusting God when the world says be angry, frustrated, and despairing, which makes me wonder what David noticed in his particular listener that needed specific, individualized encouragement. In the same way, I know my son, and that’s why even though I could pull some inspirational quotes from far more clever writers, I want to be personal in what I say because I want this particular person to flourish in life and faith.
So, whether you add a few post-its to lunch boxes, drop a letter in the mail, or leave a note on a laptop for a kid beginning online school, I hope you’ll be encouraged that your words DO mean a lot. And come back next post, because I bet you, too, could use a little encouragement and wisdom during the strangest season many of us have ever faced. I’ll take a closer look at Psalm 37 with a series on seven ways to stay calm and carry on when the world goes a little nuts. Until then, let’s hang on to these words from Psalm 37:23-24:
The steps of a man are established by the LORD,
And He delights in his way.
When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong,
Because the LORD is the One Who holds his hand.
Photo credit: Álvaro Serrano on Unsplash