What’s a Green Pasture?

Let me share with you some little-known, deep-track Bible verses I’ve been thinking about:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures;

he leads me beside still waters;
    he restores my soul.

Because I work as an editor and because of my basic personality, I spend a great deal of time thinking about wording and punctuation and stylistic choices, and so I get a little hung up on Bible translations; I had a near-meltdown a couple of months ago over three very different versions of one verse in Ecclesiastes that changed the meaning of the paragraph. Words mean things!!! Where did all these translations even come from? Who got to decide what was right? How are we supposed to trust any of this? (Edited to add that lately I’ve settled on the NRSV because I learned it’s the “academic standard.” So there’s some unflattering trivia about me.)

That’s deeper than I want to get in this post (but hey, have you heard about Mary M.?). I just bring it up to say that most of the “main” translations agree on the phrasing of Psalm 23:2; “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” A few weeks ago, a friend of mine emphasized this verse in a sermon: Sometimes God makes us lie down in green pastures. Sometimes God has to.

That resonated with me in the moment. I am not a still-waters person. I’m not a particularly ambitious person, either; I don’t necessarily want to be moving up, I just want to be moving. I told my therapist recently that I feel weird about my life right now because most of the main pieces of it are OKgood, even! Things are good. But also, if almost any of those big pieces changed tomorrow, that would be OK, too. She said that feeling was “contentment” and I should try to enjoy it for, like, a minute. Pfft.

The point is that I tend to have a hard time getting to good, peaceful feelings, and once I get there I have a hard time trusting it. So these verses keep coming back to me, whenever I feel itchy about still living in a town I keep threatening to move away from, or wonder if there’s something More I should be doing, somehow. God makes me lie down in green pastures. Just do it! Just lie down!!!

A few weeks ago, I met for the first time with a spiritual director. Spiritual direction, as described by her, is “more like coffee with a friend than therapy,” and over coffee you talk about God a lot. She is amazing and I am very excited and I think it’s going to be great for me. Only I was sharing this with her during our first conversation, and she turned it around on me: “What does a green pasture look like for you?”

Y’all, dang if it isn’t impossible to settle on feeling like you’ve got one thing figured out about Life And Stuff.

But OK, fair enough, great question. What does a green pasture look like for me? Am I in one now? With this job, at this church, in this rental house? During my self-enforced break from writing? Does any of that have anything to do with the concept of a green pasture?

If so, and if “this is OK but also not-this would be OK” is contentment, and if that’s what a green pasture is, and if that’s where God makes us lie down, then I still have questions. How long am I here? Or, to re-frame in a less ungrateful way: How do I know when it’s time to get up? 

“How do I know?” is one of my always-questions for God. And I keep forgetting that the always-answer is basically “you don’t.” I keep forgetting how to be OK with that. I keep forgetting that that’s kind of what faith is.

I heard Peter Enns speak recently, and one thing he said that set off the Oh, me too! alarm in my brain was, “In every moment, I have a choice: to fear or to trust.” So maybe it’s smaller and simpler than large-scale contentment with life circumstances. If I think honestly about what a green pasture looks like to me, maybe it looks like a moment when I choose to trust. It is certainly true that God has to make me lie down in those moments. And it’s true that trust can feel like rest. Trust can be soul-restoring.

I don’t think everyone’s green pasture looks the same, which is part of why this is hard. (All of this faith stuff is kind of hard, right?) Do you know what yours looks like? Do you know when you’re in one?

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