Is it a need or a want?” Mom asked when my siblings and I begged for something more. Mom explained that a need is something necessary to survive. A want is something we desire, but would be able to live without.
Her question helped us make good choices, even though we didn’t always like the answer. I passed Mom’s wisdom onto my children and often still ask myself the same question.
Perhaps through the verses of Psalm 23 God invites us to discern between our never ending desires and our true needs as we reflect upon the question, “Do I have everything I need?”
Most versions of the Psalm say, “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.” But I have lots of wants. I want world peace. I want inner peace. I want to lose ten pounds. My wants don’t seem to go away.
Psalm 23 in the Good News translation of the Bible provides a much different perspective. “The Lord is my shepherd. I have everything I need.” Those words seem more realistic and reflect my mother’s wisdom.
“Do I have everything I need, not want?” becomes the question we can ask ourselves.
When I check in with Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I realize I have food, water, shelter, and people who love me and whom I love. I am safe. Secure. My relationship with God continues to grow and unfold. I have everything I need.
Not everyone can say they have their basic needs met, so it reminds me to be grateful for what I have and to use God’s gifts to serve others.
If we unpack the language of Psalm 23 we can give it some skin to apply to our lives.
“The Lord is my shepherd” acknowledges a profound trust in a higher power to provide and care for our needs. This trust leads to a sense of contentment as we acknowledge we have everything we need, which can then foster a peaceful and grateful attitude toward life.
“My shepherd,” is a metaphor for God that implies a sense of guidance, protection, and care. Just as a shepherd tends and watches over their flock, we find assurance knowing that God is watching over us and guiding us through life’s challenges.
“I have everything I need,” emphasizes that we are spiritually complete. God has given us a soul, which is our lifeline to the Divine. This spiritual relationship with the Source of our Being is far superior to any material possessions we might have or want.
“He lets me rest in fields of green grass and leads me to quiet pools of fresh water” is a metaphor for God’s invitation to enter into the depths of our souls where we connect with the waters of Divine grace. Through daily meditation and taking time during the day to pause and reflect, we enter the quiet of our hearts so we can hear the shepherd’s calming Voice of Love.
“He guides me in the right paths as he promised.” These words point us to the Divine Wisdom that God provides when we stop and ask for directions in life. The Creator provides “good orderly direction” as we practice discernment—the wise practice of asking God what the Creator thinks we should do before we do it, and noticing how life works out much better when we follow God’s guidance.
“Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, Lord, for you are with me. Your shepherd’s rod and staff protect me.” These phrases remind us that God does not protect us from life’s trials and tribulations because we’ve been given free will. Instead, the Creator sustains us with protection and guidance as we move through the dark valleys. Like the Father transformed Jesus’ suffering and death into the resurrection, God transforms our suffering into inner peace and growth as we learn the lessons tough times teach us. Whether we like it or not, suffering is the pathway to inner growth as we die to our false, mind-made selves and rise into who we truly are.
“You prepare a banquet for me, where all my enemies can see me; you welcome me as an honored guest and fill my cup to the brim.” These words invite us to seek inner fulfillment by looking within ourselves and our spiritual connection for meaning rather than seeking it in external achievements or possessions. God fills our souls with the abundance we need to eat and drink life to its fullness through Divine grace. When we join the Creator at the table of our souls, we find a feast of spiritual gifts. We receive what we need to live a life of joy and inner peace. We thrive.
“I know that your goodness and love will be with me all my life; and your house will be my home as long as I live.” God’s loving presence is always with us. We simply need to awaken to it. We’ve been given an inner sanctuary in our hearts, a refuge where we can go to whenever we need. There in the quiet of our hearts, the Creator sustains and guides us day by day, moment by moment, until we enter the Other Side.
When you get anxious, or have a nagging sense of wanting more, consider pausing and asking yourself, “Am I safe? Do I have everything I need?”
If the answer is “Yes,” you might lift your hands to the heavens, open your lips, and proclaim, “The Lord is my shepherd. I am safe. I have everything I need and then some.”
I never got that kiss with Teresa. But as I reflect on that long-ago night, I realize Sister Carmella shared two pieces of wisdom I’ll never forget: to leave room for Jesus and the healing power of a smile.
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