Reflections on Psalm 16 - Psalm One of the Tikkun HaClali
We fear pain.
We fear events that twist our hopes, catastrophes that strain our bodies, indignities that weary our spirit. When we suffer, our pain becomes all we can see, so that the best we can do is grind on, endure, make it from today till tomorrow.
We carry these terrible burdens on our backs like 100-pound weights and more than anything, we hope someone will help carry them, even if just for a little while. When nobody comes we feel alone, isolated. Even when friends and loved ones walk with us, offering to carry our weight, we find it cannot always be shifted or shared.
The Psalmist gives voice to this sense of abandonment, “My good fortune is not Your concern.” (טוֹבָתִי בַּל-עָלֶיךָ; Ps 16:2; translation, R. Harlan Wechsler). For the Psalmist, at least at this moment, God is utterly disinterested in the burdens we carry.
However, what if we didn't need someone to carry our weight, but a different way of thinking about the pain we unquestionably experience?
We know that a large part of healthy living is exercising discernment regarding how we choose to act. We don’t eat ice cream every time we have the impulse to do so and we don’t shout at people every time we are annoyed. Ideally at least, we exercise discernment and restraint regarding when to eat ice cream or shout.
Could we approach our pain in a similar way - acknowledge that it is real, but refuse to give it sovereignty over our lives? Could we be deliberate and discerning about when to allow pain to be front and center in our lives?
Later in Psalm 16, the Psalmist gives thanks to the Holy One, saying “You will not abandon my soul to the darkness; you will not suffer me to be overwhelmed in terror; You will teach me the path towards life.” (Ps 16:10-11; translation, Norman Fisher)
Darkness is real, Terror is real, but we need not be overwhelmed or lost in it. At the very least, we need not always be lost or overwhelmed.
Perhaps the path to life, or the path of life, is to let pain, even real, terrifying pain, occupy its rightful place, but not more than that. The place of pain may be a large place, but it need not be every place.