(Photo from Martin Young's photostream)
1 Samuel 17:37-40
David said, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you!” Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.” So David removed them. Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.
My online EfM class used this story for our Theological Reflection this week. Although the full text we used included the slaying of the Philistine, what our group seemed to focus on was the "prelude" story to all this, the text quoted above.
Perhaps it is because all of us in our EfM class are, in one way or another, at times, burdened by a growing spirituality that occasionally seems to have to "do battle" with an "inner Philistine"--the "us" we became resigned to that makes up our past or present difficulties and grief. Sometimes I think "all we came to accept" in our lives is a giant oppressor, and our own growing spiritualites are like the youthful David, full of promise, but fighting against the odds.
But much of the class really glommed onto the business of Saul's generous offer of all his armor--yet David came to realize it didn't "fit," and would actually harm his chances of defeating the Philistine. He trusted in what God and he had worked out to that point. He went with what he knew deep down inside was the best way to approach it. As we say around here, "he danced with the girl who brung him."
So when it came time to actually face the Philistine, that part of the story was almost anticlimactic. David had confidence and a serenity that was beyond focusing on "outcome."
I think everyone in my EfM class--myself included--is searching for that assurance that our relationship with God is beyond worrying about "outcomes."
How many times, as we think back to the things we have faced in life that were against the odds, was there a Saul in our lives? How many times was there someone out there who was absolutely sure about what we needed for this showdown, but the more we tried it on, the more we saw how ill-fitting it was, and how it was not bad advice, but merely advice that would not work for us?
Those situations are hard ones. I am absolutely convinced in our story above that Saul was well-meaning. I am positive he was trying to be a good friend to David. But I also always wonder, when David said "Thanks--but no thanks" to Saul's offer, as David walked off with his sling and five stones, if Saul wasn't thinking, "He's crazy. He's gonna get killed. Man, I wish he had listened to me."
If we continue on in the subsequent chapters of 1 Samuel, we discover that the relationship between Saul and David deteriorates over time. It gets really messy.
I know the Sauls in my life didn't always take it well. I also know I didn't say, "Thanks but no thanks," in the most gracious of ways sometimes. It has been the minority of times that the Sauls told me at a later date, "You know, you were more right about that than I was, and I'm okay with that."
More often, it estranged the relationship. If I succeeded, it more frequently somehow made that person resentful. If I continued to wallow in my battle, or if I failed, it created various forms of "I told you so" messages, or continued, more pointed forms of advice--some of it unsolicited.
Likewise, when have I been Saul in this story? One of the problems I constantly battle is that my quick mind sees things very readily at times--often before the other person even realizes it--and my ego suddenly feels compelled to point out "what the problem is." After all, I get paid good money to put names on diseases in my job. But I have never quite learned when to shut up outside the job there. Learning to keep quiet until other people "get it" on their own, and simply be a presence for them, is one of my most ragged growing edges.
The story of Saul and David is both a story about "hearing and following God's call to us despite the odds," and a story about "giving others room to do the same." It's about not being jealous when someone succeeds and we had the "wrong advice," and it's about recognizing when we go against the advice of those close to us, we still have to do what's right, even when the potential for estrangement is there. We can only control how WE feel about the situation. We can't control how others feel.
This broken world creates the potential for many battles, and even as peaceful people we have to face them now and then. But we need to face them in the way God calls us to face them--not in borrowed armor that makes us uncomfortable.