(Attributed to Bartolonus da Novara, “Saul offering his armour to David”, fresco, ca 1450-60, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
1 Samuel 17:31-49:
When the words that David spoke were heard, they repeated them before Saul; and he sent for him. David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.” 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. The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.” But David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”
When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.
The story of David and Goliath is one we most likely have heard since before we could read, if we ever were read to from a book of Bible stories, or attended Sunday School as a small child. But it was only as an adult that I discovered the "other story" in this passage--what happened before the big showdown.
Saul was trying to be helpful, offering David his armor and sword. I'm sure in Saul's mind, there was no way to face Goliath other than being armored up to the nth degree. The size differential between the two alone must have been formidable. How could anyone possibly take on this behemoth of a warrior without those items, and then some?
However, the more David clanked around in Saul's armor, the more he knew this wasn't going to work. Fortunately, at the last minute, David went with his gut and it turns out he was right.
One of the most incredibly difficult things we do as human beings is when we discern to go against the advice of those we care about, or what the majority tells us to do, when we are pretty sure we are hearing the "small, still voice" loud and clear. Granted, that doesn't happen very often, but most of the time, when it does, it's pretty unmistakable, and that voice may be small and still, but it is very, very persistent.
I think back to the times people loved or cared for me very much--and their advice was as wrong as wrong could be.
"This is what you MUST do to pass your specialty boards." It wasn't. I failed them the first time out. I got more objective advice from professionals, and stuck to it, and was rewarded with success the 2nd time.
"You can't go home again. Moving back to Kirksville is the dumbest move you'll ever make." It wasn't. I did go home again--but with new eyes and a new awareness, and my heart was transformed.
I could go on, but those are the two biggies.
There are times when we recognize our feelings are more than feelings, and our choices are bigger than ourselves. The small still voice, usually elusive, suddenly becomes a gnat that won't leave us alone. It makes us uncomfortable--not just in its persistence, but in what we hear it telling us to do. What it tells us in these times is often exactly the thing we do not want to do--at first it seems flatly counter-intuitive--and we can't even imagine ourselves doing that thing. It often asks us to approach the giant seemingly vulnerable, disarmed, and un-armored. We may well recognize that a great risk is involved. Yet, over time, it works on us.
On the other hand, just because a feeling seems strong, the strength of the feeling does not guarantee accuracy in our ability to assess the situation. That strength of feeling could come from obsessions or compulsions. It could come from old patterns in our lives that are no longer applicable. If the strong feeling is laced or rooted in fear, it is most likely an inaccurate feeling, although there are notable exceptions to that.
How do we discern these moments of "strength of feeling?" How do we move beyond feelings and our will to allowing ourselves to be instruments of God's will?
These things require prayer and, when possible, time. They require self-awareness. They require overcoming our default mechanisms of craving sameness and avoiding the siren song that these things will result in the fulfillment of self-expectations. I have found for myself that there is a difference in hearing the gut that is tied up in knots (a sure sign that I am reacting to an old trigger--one that I need to be awakened to what that trigger is) and hearing the gut that is calm, but very persistent all the same.
What do we hear, when we listen to our gut? What do we see, when we open our eyes to possibilities beyond what we think we know, or what those close to us swear to be "the way to do it?" What happens when we wait on our decisions to unfold, rather than to force them with our wills?
I only have one bit of advice--pray on it and find out!