Firm Footing for Life’s Landslides

Few things are more beautiful than Southern California after a heavy winter rainstorm. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, the crisp, clean Los Angeles basin is embraced by snow-coated mountains. However, when the mountains and hills are saturated with water, dangers are not far behind.

Years ago, one specific winter was exceptionally stormy. The LA area was inundated with one rainstorm after another, saturating the normally semiarid terrain. As one storm blew past, another was right on its heels. The land into which Los Angeles is nestled is very diverse—mountains as well as valleys. Coastal and sandy seaside communities are connected to desert-like vistas. Those who choose to live on steep or hilly terrain accept that the land may slide when storms come. And that year, as the rains continued, the serious concern about landslides became reality. Sure enough, the inundation of water soaked into the earth, loosening the structures and foundations homes were built upon; and people watched homes and whole communities tumble into mountainous heaps of muddy debris. Within seconds, people lost homes, families lost loved ones, and lives were changed forever.

In the following months, surveyors announced that the landslides were not a result of storm intensity but storm constancy. The deluge of rain had softened the firm earth, causing it to become muddy and loose. The underground, knotted root systems that fix beautiful landscapes to the earth had no firm mass to keep them in place. Of great concern were those homes surrounded by big trees. Known for their unyielding strength, the deep roots of the old, rugged oaks and elongated palm trees had nothing firm to grip, causing them to tumble over without warning.

Like the waterlogged hillsides and compromised foundations of Southern California that winter, the storms of life often lead us to slip away from being firmly secured to the Source of unshakable strength, our God. The incessant pounding of pain, ongoing grief, or extended wintry seasons of life saturate our souls, causing our lives to slip down into murky, dark valleys of doubt and despair. Those who are battling multiple life-changing situations at once often encounter what’s called “complicated grief.” What a tsunami is to the beautiful coastline, complicated grief is to one’s mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

When life’s landslides occur, the spiritual battle grows fierce. Some people begin to question truth, to doubt the reality of sustaining faith in Jesus Christ and the promises found in His Word. Some lose a sense of purpose in life, which often leads to blaming, resentment, and lasting bitterness. Often, storms make it difficult to contain one’s emotions, bringing about a disregard for others and a negative perspective about life. If you have met a person religiously disenchanted, emotionally embittered, or relationally sarcastic, it’s likely that somewhere along life’s path the floods of pain or grief caused him or her to disengage from the Foundation of hope and strength. . . . Perhaps that person is you.

The homes that fell into a pile of wreckage that wet, stormy winter were slowly repaired and rebuilt over time. People who had lost everything were able to create a new life after their losses. Just as physical, emotional, and community reconstruction occurred in California, the same thing can happen in every human soul. Sorting through the rubble of pain and anguish is nothing new to the God of heaven who created you and who knows exactly where you are in life right now. Nothing is beyond repair with our consistent rock of strength, the Lord Jesus Christ.

This truth is clearly defined in one of the grandest chapters of the Bible. Chapter 1 of the book of Psalms thoroughly addresses the truth of an unshakable life. Those new to the Psalms will find the book very candid and comforting, as it offers vivid, emotionally infused realities about the human pilgrimage. In it we find a picture of people who traveled life’s uncharted landscapes and encountered aggravating assaults, extreme injustice, unfair and unending irritations, and horrible circumstances. Some of the Psalms are loaded with intense emotion—expressions of explosive and seething anger, heated revenge, burning disgust, and total loss of hope are combined with passages that are intensely worshipful, peaceful, empowering, and in awe of God. The late Ray Stedman wrote, “There is no book like the Psalms to meet the need of the heart when it is discouraged and defeated, or when it is elated and encouraged. . . . The Psalms are helpful simply because they teach us how to find our way through many types of problems.”1

The book of Psalms is not directly focused on “doing life better,” although that happens for those who integrate the wisdom it offers. Psalms is a meditative book about those seeking steady ground while slipping and sliding down the unreliable and tremulous hillsides of life. The great gift of the Psalms offered to any reader is a direct and unabashed honesty about life’s challenges, combined with the timeless truths and words of wisdom. It is not surprising then, that this book about life and reality begins with the theme of where one may enjoy happiness and contentment throughout life.

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3)

The term “blessed” (1:1) could be used interchangeably with “happy.” “Happy” is the man or woman who chooses a way of life as outlined in Psalm 1. Happy is the one who chooses, in thought and action, to seek God and to know God and to obey God. Or as the psalmist put it, a happy person is the one who does not walk, stand, or sit with those who do evil. These three words represent a downward progression, a sliding away. “To walk” refers to a casual relationship with ungodliness. “To stand” conveys the idea that there is agreement with sin. And “to sit” communicates participation in mocking the things of God.2 In other words, the steady person’s life “is characterized by positive things. He is selfless in his motivations, obedient in his actions, cherishes the laws of God without adopting the role of a critic. His demeanor is cheerful and acceptant of whatever comes as coming from the hand of God.”3 Like the ticking of a clock, the meditations of truth found in the Word of God are a steady cadence in the heart and mind of this man or woman (Psalm 1:2).

Psalm 1:3 compares this person to a tree firmly planted, who produces fruit because his or her roots are thick and snugly wrapped around the unfailing structure of God eternal. The statements below reflect characteristics of a firmly rooted person. Perhaps it would help to ponder the statements below and personally investigate what your “roots” are clinging to.

The individual is firmly connected to the truths of God, which are everlasting.

The individual is deeply acquainted with the Spirit of God, who is empowering.

The individual is securely fixed upon the laws of God, which are directing.

The individual is greatly assured of the promises of God, which are enduring.

The individual is firmly rooted in the attributes of God, which are sustaining.

The individual is fully equipped by the strength of God, which is fortifying.

The individual is humbly surrendered to the ways of God, which are transforming.

The individual is tenderly embraced in the unconditional love of God, which is comforting.

Does finding steady ground sound impossible? It’s available to you, every moment of every day. My friend, have you sought to know the truths of God, the Spirit of God, the laws of God, the promises of God, the attributes of God, the strength of God, the ways of God, and the love of God? Therein lies the pathway to a “happy,” or “blessed,” life.

The storms will come and go, and the pain will ebb and flow; that is reality. But one who is captivated, firmly rooted, and clinging at all times to the person of God will never be easily shaken or moved again. He is where comfort and strength are found when life hands us landslides.

  1. Ray C. Stedman, Folk Psalms of Faith (Glendale, Calif.: Regal Books, 1980), 1.
  2. Allen P. Ross, “Psalms,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1986), 790.
  3. Stedman, Folk Psalms of Faith, 6.
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Colleen Swindoll Thompson holds a bachelor of arts degree in Communication from Trinity International University as well as minors in psychology and education. Colleen serves as the director of Reframing Ministries at Insight for Living Ministries. From the personal challenges of raising a child with disabilities (her son Jonathan), Colleen offers help, hope, and a good dose of humour through speaking, writing, and counselling those affected by disability. Colleen and her husband, Toban, have five children and reside in Frisco, Texas.