The answer? Everything! Most people have heard of Psalm 23 ("The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want..."). At least one of my kids seems to be memorizing it in Awana every year. So recently, as I going over the psalm again, and studying it in Hebrew (how fun is that?!), I remembered a story from my childhood that shed some extra light on this famous Bible passage. It happened like this:
To my five-year-old eyes, it was a thing straight from heaven. Beautiful, wondrous, and all mine. I clutched the string in my hand and gazed at the shimmering pink balloon. It was the biggest one I’d ever had – fat with helium and formed in the shape of Mickey Mouse’s head. And best of all, inside was a second, smaller balloon of purple, my favorite color.
I tugged on the string and watched as the smaller balloon danced inside the big one.
A hand touched my shoulder.
I looked up into the face of my Grandma.
She smiled. “Don’t let go of the string, Marlo. You don’t want to lose it. We can’t get another one.”
I nodded and rubbed my thumb over my wrist where the string made a loose loop.
For thirty whole minutes that wonderful balloon bobbed over my head. It followed me to the merry-go-round, to the bathroom, to the lunch line. It watched me eat my hot dog, carefully with one hand on the bun and the other on the string.
Then, the unthinkable happened. I was running to see a group of swans swimming across the pond. My hand loosened. The string slipped. The loop around my wrist came undone.
And the balloon was gone.
Breath snatched from my chest as I watched it rushed toward the sky. Further, further. And then it vanished from my sight. My face twisted in a sob. Tears blurred my eyes. “Nooo . . . come back.”
Grandma’s hand again touched my shoulder.
My lips quivered as I spoke. “Bring it back, Grandma. Please.”
She drew me close. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. We can’t get it back.”
There was something so final, so awful, so heartbreaking about those words that they have stayed in my memory all these years later. Even now, I can’t forget that day, nor how it felt to know that my beautiful balloon was gone forever.
That image was renewed for me again not too long ago as I sat in my Hebrew class and listened to the professor talk about Psalm 23. I fiddled with my pencil, half-listening. After all, what could be new about Psalm 23? I’d read it hundreds of times, not only in my Bible, but on plaques and cards and calendars and a dozen other trinkets meant to sooth and comfort.
The professor came to verse 3. I glanced at it in the Hebrew, and then in the English of my NIV translation. He restores my soul.
“Look closely at the form of the verb there,” the professor said.
“You see how it really means that he brings back my soul.”
So what? I doodled on the edge of my notes and yawned.
The professor paused. Then, he told a story. He told about a day when his son lost a balloon.
I stopped doodling.
He told about the look on the boy’s face. About how the balloon floated up and up and up in the air and no one could bring it back.
I stopped yawning.
He said the verse again. “He brings back my soul.”
I stopped fiddling with my pencil.
He wrote the verb on the board.
And in that moment, I grasped anew the wonder of Psalm 23. We have lost our souls, to sin, to brokenness, to hurt and pain. We have lost something more precious even than a fat Mickey Mouse balloon. And there’s nothing we can do to get it back.
But God does the impossible. He brings back the balloon. What this world robs, he restores in His love. Who I really am inside, who he created me to be, he brings that back.
I have been hurt. I have chosen poorly. I have sinned. I have slipped away and flown into the sky.
But that is not the end of the story. I am not lost forever in the clouds. God restores my soul. He restores my hope. He brings me back to the place I really belong, to the hand of the One who loves me.
And now, forever, I need no longer to fear. No matter how far off I've flown.