“When you are disturbed, do not sin;
ponder it on your beds, and be silent. Selah.” – Psalm 4:4
“Well, I sinned with my husband just last night!” I once blurted to a Bible study group studying Psalm 4. Everyone blushed and giggled a little. But I didn’t mean That Kind of sin. Instead, disturbed over some slight infraction – in those tender moments in which you can either prepare for the intimacy of shared sleep or leap into a petty argument – I had unwisely gone for the argument.
“Don’t go to be bed mad” was at one time considered solid relationship advice. Now it just seems like a milquetoast-y invitation to repression. In the early years of my marriage, I pretended not to be mad so everyone could sleep. As you can imagine, this met with limited success, resulting in more clenched teeth than resolved conflict.
Comedian Phyllis Diller countered, “Never got to bed mad. Stay up and fight.” This may seem better to those of us who want to practice showing our feelings, but I’ve done this one too, and in reality it just leads to the exhausting, tearful recounting all of all the wrongs that have ever been wronged.
The psalm, though, suggests neither seething repression nor impetuous confrontation. Instead, the psalm suggests that everyone take a moment. Breathe. Ponder. Take a big selah.
The meaning of selah is disputed, although it is probably a direction to the musician leading the psalm. But it might mean pausing to consider, to enjoy a moment of silence and stillness. Sure, the psalmist says, you might feel disturbed. Don’t try to push that away. But you don’t need to jump to argument either. Shhh. Just selah for minute. I’m guessing if you do, you’ll all sleep better.
Holy One, Thank you for the gift of selah, the carefully chosen pause. Amen.
Jennifer Brownell is the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Vancouver, Washington, and the author of Swim, Ride, Run, Breathe: How I Lost a Triathlon and Caught My Breath, her inspiring memoir.