The One Where I Don’t Know What I’m Doing

Today was not my first Lenten service. But it was the first one that made me cry.  I used all the tricks at my disposal when I felt the tears welling up. I quit listening to the minister and told myself a story. I stared at the floor. I counted all the spotlights over the left side of the church (16), and all the chairs in the center row that I could see without turning my head (ten across, six deep). I even went through the alphabet using the Bible verse projected on the screen (It contained 17 different letters. Am I the only one who does this?). I was mostly successful, I think.

The storm didn’t abate when I got home, either. It broke over me, and I locked the bedroom door and sat in my closet on my Bertie Botts beanbag chair (don’t judge; you know you wish you had one, too) and cried and prayed for a long time. I was blindsided by the depth of my feeling, and the kicker is, I’m not even sure what that feeling was. It was far too tangled to parse, and it wasn’t just one emotion. Anger, frustration, fear, a profound hopelessness all blended with an unhealthy mix of mystery ingredients.

And what spawned this whole mess? A Bible verse that I’ve known for a lot of years. It’s the focus of our Lenten devotions. It would make perfect sense if it pertained to sin, and guilt, and hell. Yeah, not so much. The verse? Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.” Not the merest whiff of hell fire therein contained.

One of the most difficult admonitions that I know of.

One of the most difficult admonitions that I know of.

Be still.” That phrase right there is what got to me, shocked me, rocked me to my very core. Be still. It is terrifying in its  simplicity. How do I do that? I don’t even pretend to know. I’ve heard this verse a thousand times. Why is it so earth-shattering now?

The verse holds even more meaning when taken in context with the verses immediately before and after. Imagine the ground crumbling into the sea, mountains imploding, the world as we know it turning literally and figuratively inside-out and upside-down. God says, even then, even in the midst of complete and utter chaos, we’re to trust Him.He’s got this. He can speak the Word, and the world will melt. That’s an image, isn’t it?

That picture of the world? That’s me, inside my head, every minute of every day for the last year or so. Inexplicable anxiety chews me up, as if I can change the world by worrying about it. My brain moves at about a thousand miles an hour, my thoughts ricocheting off one another like pin balls. Those thoughts dash away from me, leaving me empty-handed, forgetful, to the point where I am completely ineffectual as a wife, a parent, an employee, and I despair of ever getting back on the right track. What if this is as good as it gets? That thought right there is enough to send me right on over the edge, friends.

What if I just spend Lent sitting here? You can buy your own thoughtful place here.

What if I just spend Lent sitting here? You can buy your own thoughtful place here.

Stillness is not the same as paralysis. I’m often stuck in the latter, so many weird useless worries drawing together, it’s like all four of the Stooges trying to cram through a doorway at once. Things get blocked up in a jam that’s only remotely funny from the outside.  How can I be still when I can’t even seem to move forward? If I were any more still, I tell myself, I’d be going backward. I’m full of self-love like that.

Being still feels like giving up any hope of productivity. The image in my brain is a tortoise sleeping through the winter. They barely move, the very picture of stillness. I mean, they don’t even poop. Being still maybe means not dropping projects on my to-do list, but instead handing over all the things I am not actually in charge of , demanding of myself that I quit trying to steer the ship when it ain’t my ship. I am not a fan. Can I separate what is mine from what is God’s, or my husband’s, or my church’s, or my kids’? What if everything falls to bits because I take my foot off of the gas? How do I wait when I don’t trust? It’s not God that I don’t trust, it’s the humans into whose hands He has put his work. Potato, po-tah-to. Not my ship. Not my ship. Not my ship.

As long as you can't see me, I'm asleep!

As long as you can’t see me, I’m asleep!

I gave up two things for Lent: sweets, and backseat driving. The irony that I am willing to let my husband navigate the Buick without my input but I’m struggling not to micr0-manage God is not lost on me. Stillness is a foreign concept, and the notion of consciously seeking it during this season of Lent is overwhelming. Already I feel like I have no control over so many things, so how do I just turn over the reins? My honest answer: I don’t know. What I do know is that I want to try.

The what-ifs pile up, thoughts to chew on in that stillness – what if I discover my head is really just full of tumbleweeds? What if this downward spiral of mind and body is the beginning of a terrible end? What if Windows 10 is the best that Microsoft will ever do? But maybe I can counter those thoughts with the tiniest glimmer of hope. What if I didn’t have to be in charge of it all? What if I can sit in the stillness and have peace?

My thoughts are too big to fit into a single blog post. I’ve already sailed past my personal maximum and had to slide this into the long-reads category. Imagine how long it would be if I hadn’t whittled some stuff out. But this idea of stillness is just way too big. It also reaches well beyond religion, and doctrine, and creed? Stillness, giving up steering other people’s ships, might be a good prescription for anyone.

How about you? When is the last time you quit backseat driving the universe? Was it difficult or liberating? I really want to hear about your experience. You can answer in the comments, on Twitter, or just email me.

19 thoughts on “The One Where I Don’t Know What I’m Doing

  1. Thank you for being candid about your anxiety in a most descriptive and inoffensive way. But more than that, thank you for admitting that God has it all under control. Isn’t it hard to leave all your crazy thoughts and worries with Him and claim His peace? Very difficult to silence the mind, but this is part of growing in your faith. If you had all the answers and had it all under control, you wouldn’t need Him! Can’t wait to see how this all works out in your life. And you never lose – never regret – never dry up and turn into dust when you hand it all over and walk away. Trust! Be still and KNOW. You really want to know, don’t you . . .

  2. I also struggle with anxiety. We sung a song at church yesterday that dealt with this verse and talked about “being still and trusting God” — something that I, too, cried over because I realized what a struggle that is for me. Before giving my life to God, I liked having control — despite never actually having in it. Now, I finally SEE that I’m not in control, but instead of that giving me immediate peace, in some areas of my life it makes me anxious not knowing what’s to come and when. I think God is also trying to teach me in this season that I need to be still and wait, by literally showing me that I don’t have the control over my life that I once thought I did because everything I’ve tried to do to rush certain decisions hasn’t turned up blank. Thank you for sharing!

  3. I believe that God wants us to put our burdens like health, finances, the world being in a mess, on Him. Our only burden should be spreading the gospel and making disciples. The Bible says this in Matthew 11:28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” I think this would equate with being still. Also, if we transition our minds from the things of this world to the things of God we “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness–and all these things will be added to you.” No worries!

    • Yes, the new verse for this week takes us from the Old Testament to the New. God has lots of different ways to say the same thing as He seeks a way to touch our hearts. It’s like He’s saying “Hey, I kind of mean this. How’s about you listen?”

  4. From, ‘that picture of the world’ to ‘Not my ship. Not my ship’ is so eerily familiar that I touched my fingers to my lips as if to make sure I hadn’t spoken your words out loud. I struggle every single day because I feel like I stumbled across the bridge to find it deserted and so I’ve taken up the wheel even though I have NO IDEA what I’m doing. You can tell me all you want, ‘it’s not my ship’ (my husband tells me that in different words all the time) Heck, I KNOW it’s not my ship…but there’s no one else here. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not making a metaphor about being alone in the universe. I believe there is a higher power. I believe he gave us this ship…there just doesn’t appear to be a driver or a flight plan….yeesh, now who’s rambling.

  5. When I was told to be still, as a kid, it meant stop making noise, because I was loud! Now, I have no problem, just sitting in a chair, staring off in space, not moving. Of course, I usually fall asleep after a few minutes. 🙂

  6. First, I have to say that I just love you. Know that you are not alone in being inexplicably gobsmacked by seemingly innocuous bible verses. There are certain verses and hymns that cut me to the quick like that too and it’s absolutely disarming. Like, DUDE, God!, what are you wanting me to do with this?! Being still is hard for me too, and I have far less on my plate than you. Maybe this Lent will be an exercise in giving up control. That’s certainly a lifetime goal for me too. Xoxo

  7. I won’t say I have ever felt the need to backseat drive the universe, but when something happens, like a sudden serious illness, you realize that you really are not in control. He is. At least I did.

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