If you’re like me, you know that not all “quiet times” are times of sweet prayer. Sometimes they’re a slow sinking into the muck and mire of fear or self-condemnation or anxiety, until we realize where we are and fight to get free. As I have a particular talent for this, I am choosing for today a happier story of an escape route that once blindsided me.
One winter night, ten years ago, I was wide awake and trying to decide if I should marry Y.
By that point in our relationship, he was very sure about me, and had made it clear. If I stayed, the road was going to lead to marriage. What do you do on the cusp of making a life-changing decision?
Me: think, and think, and think some more. “Agonize” is a word that was created to abbreviate the description of this process.
So I lay staring at the blank ceiling, “praying.”
Slowly it became clear I’d been agonizing for so long that I’d taken much of the excitement and simple pleasures out of spending time with Y.
I had my reasons: as a fallout from old failures, I’d been doggedly trying to make sure that everything in this relationship was good: a good start, good accountability, good reasons to continue. I wanted to tread carefully, and to be absolutely sure of my choice. Oh, I was afraid.
And I was trying so intently to follow God that I forgot to relinquish the lead.
On that December night, I noticed something was missing, and had been for a while: joy. Wasn’t love supposed to be joyful? Isn’t there supposed to be something to celebrate? “I’d like to be freer,” I wrote, “and just… joyful.” I asked forgiveness for jading both Y and myself, and asked for the help to set things right.
In all those months leading up to that grand decision, I’d been so sure the answer to the marriage question would come in the form of wise words from a counselor or an unmistakable revelation attained from the depths of prayer.
Instead, at that pivotal moment, this crux upon which the fate of my future plans and descendants and Thanksgiving dinners hung, I made a list.
A very simple one.
fresh flowers as a gift
the plumpness of a letter sealed in an envelope with a handwritten name
a good solid downpour of rain
the delighted chuckle babies make
watching other people like what they do
waking up to falling snow
the thought of God laughing
After a few lines, even the barrel of the pen in my hand felt different. I considered the beauty I noticed in the world outside my head, and the simple act of naming it began to pull me out of my own labyrinthine analyses. I’d very much needed to find a way to stop thinking about myself, to point my wilting face away from the grit of the ground to the glory of the Son, and this short list of enjoyed things was it.
Because as I wrote, it began to feel like a gift list, the kind you scribble down at a party for the guest of honor. All this wholeness, all this beauty — where does it come from?
…I have been looking and seeing lots of things different from before. It is like something changed inside me. It seems to me everything around me now cries out You are here. You have put Your stamp on every created thing. I can hear Mama from so long ago pointing out flowers and trees and birds and animals and saying how they are all gifts from You. She said to me once that You decorated the world from the depths of the sea to the heavens just for us.
Maybe I am wrong, but I do not think You did all that purely for our pleasure. I think now You did it so we could see You.
– Mary Kathleen, The Scarlet Thread, Francine Rivers.
There is a Giver from whom all good and perfect gifts come.
If these are gifts, and this is the Giver, and we are the recipients, then are we not loved enough to be led? “Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?”
I remembered, like a long-time traveler squinting at her own front door through fog, that I could trust Him.
So I let go. I made a list of items I believed to be completely irrelevant to the problem at hand, and I let go, and found joy that obliterated my tightly clenched concerns. I think Ann Voskamp might call this the process of eucharisteo.
The next page of my journal shows that I moved on to listing things I appreciated about Y. The entries then become clearer on this topic and less concerned with myself, right up until the peaceful July morning when, “Reader, I married him.”
This is a humble story indeed, but it highlights an avenue that leads from places of worn worry to rest.
Sometimes the way out of our own heads is a gift list.
A pause to remember the gifts — remember the Giver — and remember that His giving leaves us free to trust and, yes, enjoy Him.
So I close this post with a prayer that both of us will go about the will of God this week:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
– I Thess. 5:16-18, ESV
Rejoice always, thoughtful friend. If necessary, make a list.
This post is part of a 31 day series about Loving God as an Introvert.