With quick, deft movements our daughter, Heather, enveloped her baby girl in a swaddling wrap. It was bedtime, their first night of a week-long visit from Washington State to our home in Florida. Our younger son watched the swaddling process, fascinated by the flannel and Velcro contraption.
“Now what do you do?” he asked his sister. “Hang her upside down?”
Sophie did resemble a bat, all folded up into a neat little package. You would have thought she’d be squirming in discomfort, but her sleepy, contented expression said otherwise. Infants love the cozy, confined sensation that simulates the womb.
But within months even the openness of a childproof play space isn’t liberating enough for many toddlers. Given their way, the little tykes would wobble off down the street—make that the middle of the street–confident in their abilities to handle life. Efforts to hem them in are met with raucous dissent.
Even as adults, when circumstances hem us in, we balk at the confinement, which negatively impacts our time, energy, and choices.
So when we read, “You [God] hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me” (Psalm 139:5 NIV), a person’s reaction might easily be: “I’ve got enough stuff in my life hemming me in—family responsibilities, long hours at work, financial obligations—you name it. I need God to free me up, not hem me in any further!”
But hemmed in by God IS freed up. According to Bible scholar, Warren Wiersbe, those italicized words in the ancient Hebrew of Old Testament times included the meaning, “to guard a valuable object.” ‘Brings to mind God’s protection, doesn’t it—being held in his strong, reliable hands. *
And don’t miss that adjective, valuable. God sees each one of us as precious. Otherwise, he would not have sent his Son to die in our place.
“Hemmed in” also provides imagery of loving affection. When Sophie was tucked snugly into her swaddling wrap, Heather or Tim would encircle her in their arms and hold her close until she fell asleep. Surely those moments of cozy contentedness were among the first when she realized Mommy and Daddy loved her very much.
Similarly, “The Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him” (Psalm 32:10b).
“Hemmed in” brings to mind peace as well, because the all-powerful God of the universe is active in our lives. Psalm writer, King David, says we’re enclosed “behind” (in the past) and “before” (in the future). As for the present, God has laid his hand upon us (139:5).
That means, behind us there is God, redeeming the hurts, mistakes, and sins of the past. Before us there is God, preparing the way for the future chapters of our lives, chapters he has already written (v. 16). In the present, there is God—attentive to our needs, guiding us through each day, and enabling us to thrive.
We are not hemmed in because God desires to control us in some self-interested power-grab. He is motivated by his gracious, loving kindness to keep us safe and content.
Thank you, Father, for hemming me in. What a relief to know that Someone much wiser than I am is in control. How comforting to contemplate your continual, unfailing love. Your hand upon me is not oppressive; it is restorative, as I learn to rest in your peace. You have freed me up to live in the joy of your presence, and I am humbly, overwhelmingly grateful.
(Psalm 73:23-24; 36:5-7; 63:7-8; 16:11)
* (See Isaiah 41:10.) Not that God surrounds us with virtual bubble wrap so problems and pain can’t impact our lives. Rather than insulate us from challenges and hurt, he most often brings us through them—with his strength, wisdom, and peace. He’s saving perfect bliss for heaven.