Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18, NIV) This verse is commonly used as a comfort for people who are grieving, but sometimes it seems to fall flat for encouragement. Scripture promises that in grief, God is close to the brokenhearted. How can we better understand this verse when we’re crushed in grief or supporting our grieving loved ones?
Applying Psalm 34:18
Have you ever transferred or removed a car seat? You will inevitably find all sorts of crumbs and unidentifiable particles underneath. When I’ve had to move car seats to a friend’s car, I always feel embarrassed and a bit inadequate. This is especially true if they are past the crumbs-everywhere-stage and their car is clean. It doesn’t matter that almost every other parent on the planet has, or had at one time, crumb-infested places courtesy of their toddler. The crushed-up, cheesy carb crumbs reveal my flaws.
I shouldn’t let my kid eat in the car.
When did my child last eat a vegetable?
Is my little one surviving only on animal crackers?
These thoughts race through my mind. I can laugh at the memes on social media referencing this exact situation, but at the moment it becomes personal. I can’t measure up.
Crushed Beyond Recognition
My car used to be clean. When I was a teenager and then a single adult, I regularly washed and vacuumed out my car. Even though I almost always had a change of clothes or extra pair of shoes in the car, it was tidy. I enjoy a clean car, especially because I have always spent lots of time in my car.
When I got married, my husband and I shared one car for about five years. Understandably, my car became a bit messier. Two people were using it and lots of time was spent commuting between our jobs on opposite ends of town. Then we had my son. For a while, the car stayed about the same, but as he hit toddlerhood my car became covered in a fine layer of cereal crumbs as well as littered with toys and board books. It only intensified when my daughter came on the scene.
It can be defeating. Much of the house and car maintenance is. As soon as one thing gets cleaned up, another is messed up. Some days, if I’m perfectly honest, the same feels true for my life. I have felt like the crushed-up food underneath the car seat. Circumstances and grief have collided in a way that have worn me down and made me nearly unrecognizable. As soon as I recover from one mess, another life punch is thrown. Who I was seems like a distant memory. Will I ever get back to the “old me?” Maybe you too have felt this way. In moments of deep loss, we feel crushed by the weight of all the feelings. I have good news!
God is With Us in the Crushing
I have heard Psalm 34:18 quoted countless times, but I discovered the depth of this encouragement just a year or two ago. The word for brokenhearted in Hebrew is sabar and means broken or shattered. Crushed is the word daka which means crushed to a fine powder. This verse is saying is that the Lord is up close and personal with us even when we feel shattered and ground up like the car seat crumbs.
It’s wonderfully encouraging to hear that God is willing to get close to the crumbs of my life. He doesn’t turn up his nose and distance Himself. He also doesn’t come in with soapy water, a sponge and shop-vac to make it sparkle again. Sometimes I wish He would, but honestly, it’s kinder that He doesn’t, because what He actually does is sweeter.
When I get in my best friend’s car or vice versa, we don’t have to say “excuse the mess.” She has three kids and I have two. Messy vans are part of our realities. She may shove stuff off the passenger seat, or she might let me do it myself. I might brush the crumbs off her seat before she sits down, but I may forget. Sure, we could try to clean out each other’s vans but we know it wouldn’t be a permanent fix.
We’re okay with each other’s messes. Why don’t I feel the need to impress my best friend the way I might someone I hardly know? We talk about everything. We live in different states, but I know what she’s having for dinner most weeks. I know if she bought new clothes, and how many times she’s almost melted down over this motherhood gig. When I know someone that well, little things like crumbs don’t impact my relationship. I don’t have to try to fix any issues; instead, I’m there in the middle.
If I don’t understand God or have a deep relationship with Him, I may feel like He’s judging me like an immaculately dressed, Mercedes-driving mom at school pick-up. However, as I grow in my relationship with God, talk to Him and tell Him about the highs and lows of my life, I come to understand that He’s not looking at me with a critical eye. As I offer honesty in my prayers about how hard grief is hitting or how lonely I am, I will begin to recognize that God is sitting next to me in the crumbs.
The Lord is close to you, and He understands.
Isaiah 53 is a prophetic passage foretelling the crucifixion of Jesus. The same word for crushed in Psalm 34 is used to describe what Jesus suffered in Isaiah 53:5. He was betrayed by a follower, beaten by religious leaders and estranged by His Heavenly Father. Jesus was crushed for our behalf. Now, He sits with us and comforts us in the middle of our messes. Whether you have a van filled with crumbs, your life feels like car seat crumbs or maybe a combination of both, you are loved and not alone.
Rachel Schelb is a writer, speaker and podcaster of the Loving Well on Purpose podcast. She lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, and two children. Having experienced many “beauty from ashes” moments, she’s passionate about helping people love well on purpose, being intentional and offering hope and encouragement to those around them. rachelschelb.com IG @rachelschelb