Yesterday was a long day. I left my children home with a trio of caretakers on shift for the next 48 hours so that I could fly to another state for the funeral of my childhood best friend. Normally, leaving home is a lot of work which requires much planning and preparation. Not to mention the time and energy it takes to convince the kids that they’re not being abandoned, and that they’re going to survive the time we spend apart.
I’ve done this enough times that, by now, I am pretty good at the whole process, and usually able to embrace the times away from home as opportunities to rest and reconnect with God, myself and my husband, if he is along for the ride. This time, however, the planning and preparation and situating of the kids seemed like a much heavier workload than normal, and I left home dreading, rather than looking forward to the time away.
Because death has freshly stained the landscape of our lives, my children, my husband and I are all a little – actually a lot – more fragile and therefore less able to do what we normally know how to do well. So I left the kids crying, which made my heart feel like an anchor I had to drag through the airport. I spent the time between arriving and boarding answering text messages from my little ones, encouraging them to pray and trust God, and promising them that we would all be together again soon. The whole process felt like torment to me, because soon is not soon enough, and I am an adult. I can’t imagine how far away “soon” must feel to them.
I forced myself to board the plane at midnight and face what I am dreading even more than the scene I faced at the terminal dropoff when it was time to say goodbye. I don’t sleep well sitting up, it turns out, and so I arrived at the hotel feeling somewhat like a zombie with a busted up heart. It was not a pretty scene.
The silver lining was that a nap awaited me before I had to show up and be social in a crowd of mourning people I haven’t seen in years. But as I laid myself down to sleep, the long-awaited nap seemed more like a prison cell than a promised reward for enduring the night before. Worry greeted me on the pillow, and I struggled to release it and rest the way I know I needed to. Thoughts of the funeral ahead, and concerns for my children and their sad little hearts consumed me. I tossed and turned and kept getting woken up by thoughts of the worst.
I found myself in a wrestling match of sorts while I was fighting for that nap. I wanted to let go of the worry, but every time it woke me up, it shoved itself back in my face, tempting me to pick it back up again. It reminded me of the way many people (myself included) tend to approach God and church. We so often drag ourselves to church, or to God in some form of prayer, because we know we need to be there, and we do our best to set everything aside in order to be present for the time that we are there. Or we drag it all in with us, and do our best to surrender it when the Pastor or God reminds us that we are supposed to. But as soon as we walk back out the doors, or out of our time of prayer, we pick up what we put down and start worrying all over again. Sound familiar?
Thankfully, I had two things in my arsenal to help me in the struggle to let go, trust God and try to rest. The first was a habit I’ve formed, by the grace of God, over the years of my messy life. I have learned to pray about everything, and that has made all the difference in every situation I’ve had to face.
Although I know, especially in times like this, that I really don’t have control over much of anything in life, I hate not having some measure of control. It’s a helpless feeling, and so it leads me to cry out for help. As I laid in the hotel bed, overwhelmed with thoughts of my children and our freshly broken hearts, I did what has become instinct to me, and I cried out to God.
Nothing eloquent was uttered. Just a simple, “God please help me. Help us.” And then I would fall back to sleep. It was somewhat of a tumultous process, as I was pulled in and out of rest so many times, but God was overseeing the process, and somewhere within it, He turned things around for me.
At some point in the five hour struggle to rest, the second tool became available. I woke up with a song on my lips. It was a children’s song we had learned at Vacation Bible School just a few days ago. Turns out all those little seeds planted grow something in the hearts of everyone, not just the children! The lyrics I found myself singing in my half-conscious state were these:
“Give all your worries and your cares to God, for He cares about you. Yes, He cares about you.”
At first it was like a fly buzzing around my head, making just enough noise to disrupt the atmosphere around me. But then I became aware of the message that was being aimed at my heart – at what God was reminding me of. He has carried me through many hard things, and I’ve overcome them all. This, too, shall pass. And until it does, I can lean in, like a little child, and give Him every bit of worry I am carrying, and trust Him to tend to the details for me. This is rest that no pillow or memory foam mattress can beat.
This is actually a promise in the Bible (see 1 Peter 5:7). Jesus told us not to worry, because He knew that we would be tempted to on many occasions. But He goes a step further, providing us with the instructions for when we find ourselves in a battle with worry. Philippians 4:6-7 says:
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”
Now, it took faith to believe this promise, and to therefore wrestle through to obtaining it. But the song He gave and the habit He has helped to cultivate in praying about everything both me reminded me that He was offering to be faithful, and that rest really could be my reality. He has pledged His tender, loving care for me, and that means He has promised to take care of the things I care about.
So, each time I was awakened by worry and began to pray, He swooped it up and carried it away. Although there were waves of it, eventually those waves of worry gave way to the peace the Bible talks about, and I experienced a rest that was much deeper than merely physical. A few text messages and phone calls after my nap revealed that, indeed, God had stayed true to His Word. My children were more than fine and had moved on to playing and trusting again, and my husband and I were positioned to walk through a grieving moment in our lives together, with the comfort and help of the God we have leaned into together. This changes everything.
Dear Woman of Breakthrough, I don’t know what you might be tempted to worry about today, but I do know that God wants to take that worry away. And in its place, He wants to give you an unshakeable peace, no matter what your circumstances are. This kind of peace defies any reality you will find yourself walking through, and becomes a testimony of God’s love and His power to keep you in the midst of even the most severe storms in life.
True peace, it has been said, is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of a person – the One Who is the Prince of Peace: Jesus. My circumstances haven’t changed. My children are still at home and I am still many miles away from them, preparing to face an awful reality. But my heart is sailing on smooth seas, because He has comforted me and because I know that, on the other side of this, He will still be with me. So my peace is not dependent on any kind of outcome. It is dependent on His presence, which is unchanging.
I pray today that you will both learn to pray about everything, and that as you do, you will discover the way to a stress-less and worry-free life. Even in your most difficult times, I pray that you will wrestle through and learn to leave worry where it belongs: with God. He is big enough to handle every detail of your heart’s burdens, and discovering that for yourself is a game-changer!