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Tight Places & the Expansive Goodness of God

Birds, canyons, and trees can handle the sheer volume and silliness that seeps out of eleven and twelve-year old boys far better than restaurant-eaters and theater-goers. As such, and in an unabashed effort to fight the tyranny of the screen, we find ourselves hiking and exploring more outdoors. In this process, I have a newfound love for slot canyons.

Last Spring, we drove to the Anza-Borrego desert with friends to explore an extensive slot canyon.  The strange combination of desert heat with shadowed slots was the highlight of our break.

This past week, we drove up to North County to explore Annie’s Canyon, a much smaller, but no less beautiful slot canyon.

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It seems strange that we would drive multiple miles to put ourselves into tight places when we expend so much effort to avoid their real-life counterparts.

Walled in on either side, shuffling through a narrow passage-away, you find yourself literally stuck between a rock and a hard place. In a slot canyon, one finds it beautiful and compelling, whereas in real life, such tight places make one feel hopeless, powerless, frustrated and claustrophobic.

Tight Places, Biblically
Years ago, when studying the Hebrew words in some of my most visited psalms, I noticed that the same word kept coming up again and again.

The word tsar, often translated as distress or adversary, is used prolificly throughout the Old Testament.  Its root word more literally means narrow places or straits and conjures images and feelings of crowding, anguish and constriction.  Perhaps the modern idiom “Stuck between a rock and a hard place” captures its original connotation to the modern mind.

When Balaam was headed where he ought not have gone and God condescended to use his donkey to get his attention, we see the word tsar show up.

Then the angel of the Lord went ahead and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. Numbers 22:26.

Here the word is used to describe a literal tight place; however, the same concept is often transferred to the soul’s situation, emotionally or spiritually, particularly in the Psalms.

O Lord, how many are my foes. Many are rising against me. Many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God. Psalm 3:1-2. 

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer! Psalm 4: 1.

In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. Psalm 18: 6.

You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Psalm 32:7

Tight places, Experientially
The list goes on and on, but you get the idea. Scripturally and historically, God’s people have been well-acquainted with tight places emotionally, phsyically and spiritually. In their squeezing places, situations, seasons and relationships, they cry out to God for deliverance.  It would not be too much of a stretch to say that tight and constricting places were the rule, not the exception, of their seeking earnestly after God.

Tight places wean us from entitlement and ease. Tight places whet our appetite for broad places and freedom. Tight places train us to cry out to God in dependence reflexively. Tight places magnify to us the elastic ever-presence of God with us.

After one of his many experiences of tight places, this time, being stuck in a besieged city (talk about cabin fever),  David remembered how wonderful God had appeared to him in  such a hard, helpless place.

Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was in a besieged city. I had said in my alarm, “I am cut off from your sight.” But you heard the voice of my  pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help (Psalm 31:21-22).

Another translation says, “He has made marvelous His goodness to me in a besieged city.”

God’s expansive goodness being all-the-more revealed and appreciated in tight places.

Madame Guyon knew a bit about tight places and an expansive God. A French mystic of the 17th century, she was imprisoned in the Bastille for over seven years. Her crime: writing a small book about prayer.

Yet, imprisoned for seven years,  she wrote poetry about the sheer wonder of her God.

My Lord, How Full of Sweet Content
My Lord, how full of sweet content;
I pass my years of banishment!
Where’er I dwell, I dwell with Thee
In heaven, in earth,  or on the sea.

To me remains nor place not time,
My country is in every clime;
I can be calm and free from care
On any shore, since God is there…

If you find yourself in a tight place, be it financially, emotionally, relationally or spiritually, may you learn the expansive goodness of God that is often best seen in the slot canyons of the soul.

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