“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2
Jeannette Walls tells an intriguing story of her grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, in her book, Half-Broke Horses.
Set in the southwest in the month of August around the early 1900s, Lily was bringing the cows in from the pasture with her younger siblings Buster and Helen. While they were still a ways away from home, they begin to hear a faint and low rumbling – a flash flood was racing towards them and there was no chance to outrun the rush of waters that would overwhelm them, if Lily did not take action immediately.
The cows bolt away in fear, and Lily guides her siblings to a cottonwood tree. She hoists them into the branches and tells them to climb higher and higher to escape the ever-rising tide of water. After an hour the sun had set and the water showed no signs of receding. Lily had to work to keep her sister and brother awake all night so that they would not fall asleep and plunge into the waters below and be swept away.
Having used all her tricks and strength to keep her sister and brother alive, when they were finally able to walk up the hill to their home, Lily expected a hero’s welcome from her mother. However, once she stepped proudly on the porch steps, her mother told her to drop to her knees and pray with thanksgiving that God have helped and saved her and her siblings from the flood. Lily was indignant, and refused to pray. She reasoned with her mother that the way she saw it, there were only three of them in that tree and that she had saved her family not her mother’s prayers or some guardian angel.
In some ways, Lily’s protest resonates with all of us. We all have an almost allergic reaction to being helpless, dependent, and needy. We all want to appear strong, capable, resourceful, creative, skilled, and going places. The thought of needing help strikes us at best as a nice warm thought and Christian truth, and, at worst, offensive, a crutch for weak people who can’t ride out the storm.
Psalm 121 pictures a pilgrim on a long journey to worship in the city of Jerusalem. Verse 1 exposes his look of longing, anticipation, and anxiety as he sees the mountains he must cross to get to his destination. The “hills” are full of threats, potential harm, robbers and thieves, and dangers known and unknown. He sees the huge mountains, realizes the threats and dangers, and wonders where his “help” will come from to get him safely through the mountains.
While we hate that we are people in deep need of help on the one hand, we still find ourselves asking in quiet moments of anxiety and fear the exact same question on the Psalmist’s heart: Where will my help come from? Who is my helper when I cannot help myself?
Too often the answer echoes back from our culture: you are your own helper! Your shoulders, your education, your gifts, your abilities, your hard work, your self-control, your commitment, your sweat, your experiences are enough to help yourself! Something in the answer appeals to us – that we can muscle and struggle our way through without any reliance upon others; something in the echoing answer scares us and betrays our self-reliance because we know that our resources are not enough for all that we face in life.
What if today, instead of listening to the voices of your own ability and strength, you listened to the answer Psalm 121 provides: “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!” Today you will need help. If you are brave enough to admit your need, let the LORD – the maker of heaven and earth – come to your rescue with his gracious help – his help alone can get you across the mountains, through the threats, and safely to a place of trust and joy!