Psalm 20 verse 1 says “May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.”
Protection is a powerful thing. The harbor in my hometown of Marion, MA is incredibly well protected from Buzzards Bay and the larger Atlantic Ocean. Though we get our fair share of hurricanes, most days are calm thanks to the protection of the peninsulas on both sides of our outer harbor. My brother, two and a half years older than I am, has always been protective of me—not in a shield-me-from-anything-difficult way, but in an I-want-to-make-sure-you’re-okay way. He’s always been inclusive of me with his friends and activities, and he makes sure that I feel looked after. I’m lucky that my whole family is like that, too.
Armed with protection—the protection of a friend, or of something in nature, or of the strength of God—I find that those can provide the courage to take on new challenges. I picture a soldier who may lack armor, but whose protection from their fellow soldiers and the nobility of their cause encourages them to fight for good. While protection doesn’t give us the ability to avoid challenges, I think it can provide us with the strength to persist through those challenges and remind us why we take them on.
Once, I heard a story about an architect who was hoping to work on a project in Brazil for the Rio Olympics. Though he was competing with other architects, he and his partner left their presentation in front of the committee saying that they did the best they could; and if the committee decided to go another direction, that was okay. It seemed to me like he’d truly be okay if the committee chose another candidate; he recognized that trying his best was all they could do, protected from either outcome with the knowledge that he and his partner sincerely tried. That kind of protection provided an important source of strength and relief.
A neat thing about protection, I think, is that it has a lot of definitions. While this verse prompted me to largely think of protection in terms of the comfort of a certain mindset or cause to fall back on—“may the name of the God of Jacob protect you”—and the type of emotional or physical guarding someone or something may offer to another person or thing, there’s a depth to protection that leads to several definitions of what it means to protect or be protected—physically, emotionally, ideologically, spiritually.
While it feels like there’s plenty to fear in public health, world affairs, or climate change, I think that protection is something to embrace. Though it means different things to different people, it hopefully leads to strength, courage, comfort, and feeling connected to God and to each other.
Owen Sughrue is a junior at Harvard in Leverett House studying Psychology.