This is the only modification I’m making to a talk I gave at the Wethersfield Evangelical Free Church’s women’s breakfast this Fall. For those friends of mine who do not practice any particular faith or religion, for those who find meditation in nature or within your own interior calm, I believe there is still a message here for you. Your desire for rest, your desire to experience alignment in your soul and body is the same desire people of faith experience when they seek their God in Resting Prayer. I hope some of my words can bring freedom to your heart, but if there’s just a little too much #jesus, please simply read this as a window into my soul. My journey has been rich with friends from many walks of life. I appreciate you and your unique path. I hope what I have to share will give you the nudge you need to seek rest, not as an indulgence, but as the most integral part of being grounded and centered in this life.
JERUSALEM TO NAZARETH
I used to work in ministry: music ministry, youth ministry, hospitality, administration, behind the scenes work, and prayer, LOTS and lots of prayer. I worked and lived in a Christian retreat center, and when we weren’t serving our guests, we kept prayer going in the sanctuary throughout the day. We used the Psalms to cast our cares before the Lord, reciting them out loud, speaking scripture into every moment of our day. From early morning until the evening I would pray in the chapel, work a couple hours, and then go back to the chapel to pray. It was a rhythm that I came to love. It was like I lived in Jerusalem, like Samuel in the temple.
But then my life took a different path, and I left ministry, returned home to Connecticut, got married, became a mother, and found everything I understood about prayer and drawing near to the Lord to be challenged and nearly impossible to achieve. In fact, I’m still working on getting the train back on the track! I am no expert, and my gratefulness in being asked to speak with you this morning is largely because it has forced me to my knees many times in the past few weeks. I have been inspired, re-inspired, and left humbled before the Lord who has trusted me to bring a word of encouragement to you today.
After becoming a mom, it became clear to me that my new life was Nazareth. Follow me in this imagery. I’m a writer, so I love speaking in metaphor. I was flung from ministry, from Jerusalem, back to Nazareth. How in the world could I pray when I was so far from the temple? I used to know how to measure my exhaustion. A long flight. A busy week at work. Then I became a mother and found I could not measure life in anything but NOW. Now the meal, now the question, now the mess.
But my problem is still that the Now, the List, can bow my head down low both literally and metaphorically. I can go hours without making eye contact with another human being. I’m not sure if that’s impressive or just plain depressing! At the start of this school year, my life was on a collision course with hitting the proverbial wall. If it wasn’t for the need to prepare for this time with you, I’m not sure where I’d be. One of my best friends lives in Maryland and is a therapist who works late hours. We were trying to align our schedules for a phone call to catch up, and with me working early hours, it was practically impossible. I texted her back that as much as I wanted to talk with her, my first goal was to make eye contact with my family! Eye. Contact. My eyes were literally buried in the LIST.
Oh, but there’s a fabulous app to help with this! It’s called Wunderlist---and you can create a list for everything! Right now, I have a list for movies to watch, ideas for the boys’ birthdays, menus, groceries, poetry ideas, travel ideas, gift ideas, meaningful quotes and scriptures that I want to reference at THIS breakfast. Oh, this app is so important, I would pull my phone out during Pastor Scott’s sermons, because I didn’t want to forget to add another idea to the list!
And I know I’m not alone in getting caught up in the list. We women prize productivity. In America, in the church, in the home, we find ourselves prizing productivity more than almost anything--as though we’ve welded it to the center of our Christian ethic. We strive to complete the day’s goals, get ahead of the list, serve our families, our schools, our communities. The Proverbs 31 woman, right?
And my question is this: how often does this striving translate to our walk with God? How often do we approach our quiet time with a list or formula like ACTS: adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, supplication, and we forget to stop and simply lift our eyes to connect with Him in stillness and love?
If, in our everyday lives in Nazareth, we stay on this path of striving, we may very well enter the great and sacred realm of prayer with simply another goal, another list, another state of striving to achieve. If we obsess or worship productivity, then the call to abide in Christ becomes a three credit course with assignments, a syllabus, a test. We end up replacing “Abide in Christ” with “Achieve in Christ.” We recite “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” and forget about, “One thing I have desire of the Lord, that will I seek, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.”
Ah Psalm 27, what a beautiful scripture. But it’s about the temple and we’re living in the always-someone-to-nurture corners of Nazareth. Does it still apply? Thank God it does! For the Gospel is ALL about Jesus becoming flesh and dwelling among us. It is about the Incarnation. God with us. God with us in the mess of Nazareth. God with us in the sleepless nights. God with us in the chronic pain, both physical and emotional. What I am proposing to you today is the HOPE of freedom. Freedom from striving, freedom from looking for results, & freedom from the need to be perfect in prayer.
The heart of Resting Prayer can be summarized in three stages. Seeing, Knowing, and Loving God, which (quite simply) is FAITH, HOPE, and LOVE. Because of my tendency to become trapped with my head bowed low, transfixed on the list, I like to call the seeing step of Resting Prayer, the GAZE. The term “gaze” is used quite often in the Bible to describe when someone’s sight is focused intently. The psalmist speaks of gazing on the beauty of the Lord. The disciples were seen gazing intently into the heavens when the Lord ascended. This gaze is both passive and active. It is the intention to see as well as WONDER in the Lord. This is the heart of resting prayer, the first step, and it’s SO important to first emphasize that this gaze cannot happen if our head is bowed low in trying to meet the ever widening tumbleweed of needs around us.
You might be saying, “But Dacia, who else is going to do what needs to be done while I stop to Wonder at the Lord?? I’m carrying this on my own!” Please hear me, what I’m presenting is not intended to ADD anything to your list, or make you feel you’re doing anything wrong. This is about Freedom.
SHAME INHIBITS RELATIONSHIP
So, high-speed busyness and striving are not the only obstacles to Resting Prayer. The other biggie is shame. In fact, the striving to be productive can often be rooted in shame. I want to share some of my testimony. It’s an ongoing testimony, as is the case with all believers. We come to a point of conversion and surrender to the Lord, but His work in our lives, His transformation of us, from day to day into His likeness, never ends.
I carry a core of shame deep inside me. I have gone through incredible healing and overcome many of the symptoms of this shame, but I can honestly say it is a part of who I am that crops up here and there and will most likely always play a part in my relationships this side of glory. This type of shame has been studied in both men and women and is the result of being abandoned by fathers at an early age. Mine left me at age three. This shame manifests as a chronic doubt in one’s value and abilities. It leads to depression, and often eating disorders or obesity. Some people call it the “Father Hunger.”
For me, the chronic doubt in my value as a human being has led to the compulsive need to please anyone and everyone I meet. It’s an EXHAUSTING form of striving. As a little girl, one of the only places I found rest and unconditional love was in a simple 20 minute program I watched every afternoon on PBS. Mr. Rogers--the most significant father-figure I had in my early childhood.
How many of you grew up watching Mister Rogers? This man connected with and taught children through the most simple television program ever produced, other than, maybe, Bob Ross. He made eye contact, spoke directly to the camera, and in doing so, assured the young viewers of their value each and every day.
Mr. Rogers was all about connection and engagement. When the world was speeding up, he was slowing down. He prized slow space, but never wasted that space; he filled it with meaning. He valued people. He believed you didn’t have to do anything sensational for people to love you. He created a space where he and his viewer could simply stop and enjoy each other’s company. Mr. Rogers taught me about about engaging, connecting, and being present in the moment. He taught me about love and relationship, which, in a nutshell, is the entirety of PRAYER.
You can never go wrong with stopping and making eye contact. When we stop to make eye contact, to SEE someone, we naturally slow down. The all consuming list is upended when we stop to see. Have you ever seen a child who knows they’ve done something wrong and they can’t make eye contact? Well, the shame of abandonment does the same thing. I spent the first 25 years of my life barely ever making eye contact with men, while my greatest desire in life was to be seen, to be known, to be understood, and to be loved. It really hasn’t changed much, but now I often go about it in the wrong way, by taking the route of productivity as a means to be seen, acknowledged, and loved. I am scarred, insecure, and yearning for love, but I’m learning the LIST NEVER SATISFIES.
This is where my heart has been. This is what is coming home to me in Pastor Scott’s sermons on building relationships through hospitality, through enjoying each other’s presence, finding our rest in Jesus, calibrating our prayer around God changing US…hasn’t this sermon series been particularly moving for you? We, as a church, have a distinct need right now to connect and have relationships in a way that forsakes all striving, simplifies life, and rests in the direct gaze of one connecting with another.
HE IS PRESENT
So, the first step of Resting Prayer is stopping long enough to gaze at one another, lift our eyes from the list and from shame, and to gaze at the Lord in prayer. But HOW do we gaze at the Lord in prayer? By recognizing the presence of God and entering into the God-With-Us moments in FAITH.
How many of you have been in nature and were overwhelmed with the presence of God? Not necessarily bowled-over, but you were suddenly STILLED. I want you to hold onto that moment, because that’s where I’m going. In order to approach the whole concept of Resting Prayer, we must be anchored in the truth of the presence of Jesus in our very lives. When we connect with the truth of God with us, we can begin. We can gaze at Him present in scripture, present in our worship, present in one another (for we bear his image), and reflected in creation which he wears as garment. Psalm 104 says “He wraps Himself with Light as with a garment.” I’m telling you, God’s got the greatest clothes!
I used to get depressed when I read about the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. I always thought the disciples had the greatest gift of anyone who was born---they could walk and talk with Jesus, and when Jesus ascended a huge void was left in their lives. But this abiding rest wouldn’t be possible if Jesus hadn’t ascended into Heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. Do you know that we are closer to Jesus than the apostles were before the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost? We are intimately connected to the Lord through the Holy Spirit. When we receive Jesus into our hearts, we are receiving His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is that beloved grace we sing about, that grace working in us. Our connection with Jesus is spiritual and intimate through the Holy Spirit everyday.
Prayer is relationship, but that relationship begins with the faith of knowing He is real, His Holy Spirit fills us, and He is WITH US. There are times I have struggled with my faith; I have doubted intensely the intimate nature of God’s love for me. In order to hold onto resting prayer and the faith He is with me, in desperation I have visualized Jesus as a tired, ragged housewife, sitting at the kitchen table with me, sharing a coffee with me, and LOVING me in that very moment. Maybe that’s irreverent, but it brought home to me that God is with us in every stage of life. The Gospels are testimony to that. They don’t just feature Jerusalem. They walk us through Gabriel’s message to Mary in Nazareth. They take us to Bethlehem, the escape to Egypt, Mount Sinai, the sea of Galilee, the Via Dolorosa, and into the skies upon which the apostles gazed intently. But friends, many, if not all of us are still in Nazareth and Nazareth can be daunting. As I was typing this up, the next part came out like a poem, so I left it that way.
Nazareth. Limitless needs. Lists derailed by urgency. Mouths open, prancing around my hips, begging for more while I scroll past posts on my phone, hoping for relief and connection. I find a fleeting laugh, but I need a glance. A gaze. When I finally give this to the small ones in my care, pangs of love and regret wash over me for having given or not given it before. Nazareth. Dirt floors. Cluttered corners. The soul squeezed by plenty, too much, not enough. Nazareth. The scooping of soft faces, jagged toys, and half-dreamt dreams. Nazareth. The waiting for age to fill out and forget me. Nazareth. After the promise of Bethlehem, the protection of Egypt, you are the preparation for Jerusalem, for death and resurrection. You are the place of work and rest, rest and work. You are closeness. You are simplicity. A banquet of love in little things, everything for His glory. Everything with meaning. Everything touched by presence.
As a side note, when Mike and I got past our awkward phase of dating (because as many of you know - life with an extreme introvert can be QUITE awkward at first), one of our favorite things to do was look back and play “This is what I see,” or “This is what I remember.” We would share what was really happening inside during all those stilted conversations or quiet glances. This reflection was essentially a form of resting and engaging with each other’s true self. When this type of activity is done with Jesus, through journaling, the writing of poetry, or simply prayers of gratitude, it becomes the fuel for resting prayer, it leads to adoration.
Sisters, take heart, what’s beautiful about resting prayer is there’s no waiting to arrive. You have arrived the moment you try. There is no “2 weeks of hard work, don’t skip a day, and I’ll arrive.” No. You arrive every moment you attempt resting prayer. You arrive with all your Nazareth mess, all your jumble, all the racing thoughts, all the head nods into dreamland. You arrive every time you recognize, and adore, and PAUSE before the God With Us.
THE MOMENT IS ENOUGH
We’re almost ready to take the next step into Knowing, but it’s important to address a sneaky way shame can present itself as humility and be a huge block to intimacy with the Lord. Resting prayer is not about reaching a goal. It is about accepting the moment and acknowledging God’s unlimited love and mercy for you. It is not about the rescue; it’s about relationship. Now, don’t get me wrong. The Gospel is all about being rescued from sin and death. I’m not discounting that in anyway. And there are times where focusing on self-examination and confession are critical for our growth in the Lord. But when it comes to Resting Prayer, we need to avoid the endless confession of our sin. That can be the result of intrinsic shame, and that can turn into striving. That can be our pride or our control trying to make ourselves acceptable to the Lord, when His grace, His Holy Spirit is what makes us acceptable.
In my walk with Jesus as a young girl, my intrinsic shame over my father’s abandonment translated to an obsessive need to confess my sins to the Lord. I would write out Psalm 51 over and over again. I was searching for connection with Jesus through confession. As I grew older, I searched for connection through through intercession and worship, through the rituals of Sunday and daily scripture reading. These connections DID take place. They were sweet and nourishing. But my head was still bowed low in shame. I did not feel I could merit even saying “I love you” to Jesus. Who was I to think I could really love the Lord?? I was over-thinking the whole relationship, but that was also from my core of shame. My prayers were essentially, “Wash me,” “Help me,” but never “Hold me.”
It wasn’t until July of 2002, when I was 24 and on quiet retreat by myself for a few days, enjoying the solitude, that I read a story in the Gospel, one I’d read countless times before, but I read it with fresh eyes. It was in Luke Chapter 7 “Behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil.” Now the story goes on how the Pharisees were shocked and debated with Jesus about this woman touching him “for she is a sinner,” and Jesus goes on to defend this woman, and (here’s the part that pierced me through) AFTER his defense, he says to her “your sins are forgiven.”
She had the bravery and love and audacity to ADORE the Lord with weeping and touching and tears and breaking open of a valuable gift - while she was still in sin. WHILE she was a sinner. She did not wait until she was appropriate or forgiven or perfect or had ticked off all the items on the salvation list. She adored the Lord as she was and He accepted and defended her offering.
That day, I was released from so much shame. I wrote in my journal, “It seems that somewhere, supernaturally, I have been given permission to abandon myself, unashamedly, into adoring the Lord.”
I found connection with Jesus when I stopped striving in prayer. This loving, intimate, “Hold Me” kind of prayer became the core of my faith. It replaced my core of shame. Resting prayer is a release of control, dismissal of our pride in productivity, and a healing of the fear that we, all by ourselves, are not enough for Him to love.
KNOWING AND BEING KNOWN
I think we’ve thoroughly covered the Seeing stage of Resting Prayer and can move on to the Knowing part of Resting Prayer (also known as HOPE).
While Resting Prayer can be practiced daily, given a special place in your schedule, or allowed to bloom in the unexpected rush of life (or all of the above), it’s important to understand that Resting prayer is just as much a posture of the heart as it is a practice or discipline. It grows with the intention to know and be known by God.
Have you ever been in a relationship, or had an acquaintance that thought they had you all figured out? You felt as though they’d already arrived at conclusions, and those conclusions were incomplete? It almost creates the feeling of being stolen from when someone boxes you into an image or persona that is only a fraction of who you are, right? But when you make an effort to get to know someone, when you approach them with the desire to learn who they are, you are acknowledging you don’t completely know them. And this is good. This is part of humility.
And this is the very posture we need to begin prayer. We do not fully know this great God whom we love and worship, nor will we ever completely know Him this side of Glory, but we can approach him with humility and a desire to know Him more fully. We can approach him with confidence in His goodness but not as though we know how this whole prayer thing needs to happen. There is no formula with God, nor is prayer about making something perfect. What we have in the moment is enough. God accepts me in this very moment. He is enough. I am enough in Him, even with all my mess and stress.
Jesus teaches us about Resting Prayer through his example of praying alone. He carried the needs of many while in Jerusalem, and at times he needed to walk away. In Nazareth, walking away can literally mean we’re neglecting our children. I’m not suggesting that! But we can remember that knowing God through Resting Prayer may not be a perfect 45 minutes of silence and solitude, but it can be a space, a moment of recognition that pops up while we’re washing dishes or making a bed. I like to call those micro-moments of Knowing God, the “nod” of the heart. These nods keep us connected, like a cord of HOPE tying our hearts to heaven. They are a perfect way to connect and reconnect, but for extreme stress, we need to set apart time to be renewed and healed. It’s just so important.
And maybe this is why I’m sharing this with so many of you today. Because we need each other. The shared meals, the help with childcare, the visits when we are sick---these are all part of the community we share with each other. But we also need the gentle reminders to get away with God. I have a good friend who is an unbeliever. We worked together and had babies at the same time. I’ll never forget one day when she told me, “Dacia, you’re really stressed and unsettled. You need to go sit in church and have some quiet. I know how much that makes a difference for you.” Maybe we can be that same loving encouragement for each other.
One of my favorite psalms, which I’ll share with you in a moment, was born out of the most prime example of stress I think I’ve ever read in the Bible. It’s the best example I can find where one of God’s children decided to hang up his badge. You know the one that says, “Stressed Servant of God?” Ever worn that?
In the second book of Samuel, we read about the drama between jealous King Saul and young David. Between chapters 19-22, we read that King Saul had thrown a spear at him, David’s wife advised him to run, his best friend advised him to run, so he ran for his life, ate holy bread because he was starving, played crazy to save his own life, and then hid in a cave. But that’s not all! While he’s in the cave his father and his whole family decided to join him! Because when you’re running for your life, what’s better than a family reunion??
Now that’s still not the end of it. My favorite part chapter 22:2 “And everyone who was in distress, everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him. So he became captain over them. And there were about four hundred men with him.” How many of you want to take care of 400 hundred discontent men while you’re “Blessed not Stressed”??
So out of this magnificent example of one person’s STORM of stress, we have the sacred, intimate, and most lovely of psalms, Psalm 63:
“O God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; my soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water. So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and Your glory. Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise You. Thus I will bless You while I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips. When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches. Because You have been my help, therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice. My soul follows close behind You; Your right hand upholds me.”
My soul follows close behind You; Your right hand upholds me. This close communion with the Lord, is it that we are knowing God or HE is knowing us? YES. For me, this Psalm is the perfect example of an agenda-less time with Jesus. It’s just all relationship, all adoration.
STILLNESS AND LINGERING (or LOVE, the final step in Resting Prayer)
Our minds are desperate to understand what our souls are experiencing, but this kind of Resting Prayer requires that we lay aside all work of the mind, all analyzing, we are to simply direct our soul, our gaze to our Beloved. We believe. God is with us. We are known by God. We may use simple prayers to redirect our souls, but this is not a time heavy with thought or the use of words.
This kind of lingering in prayer always feels like a luxury or an indulgence, or simply impossible. We make time for reading the Bible, Intercession, and then, “Woops, got to go!” Jesus is calling us to sit at his feet and simply experience his presence. Many of you know about Listening Prayer, but I would like to have you go one step further. Don’t have the intention of hearing anything. Don’t have the intention of walking away with a “word.” Simple enter into the “God With Us” moment you are having. Entering into the NOW moment with our Lord, the more it is practiced, becomes an anchor point for our soul. It becomes the rest from which all other prayer and work proceeds. It is the Abiding in Christ. The only striving we are called to do….enter into HIS rest.
Andrew Murray, author of the classic “Abide with Christ,” wrote in his book, “The Prayer Life,” “Our first work, therefore, ought to be to come into God’s presence not with our ignorant prayers, not with many words and thoughts, but in the confidence that the Divine work of the Holy Spirit is being carried on within us. This confidence will encourage reverence and quietness, and will also enable us, in dependence on the help which the Spirit gives, to lay our desires and heart-needs before God.”
Jesus taught us the Lord’s prayer and the prayer of quiet through his example of leaving the crowds to be alone. Yet there’s another example, which is rarely used as an example of prayer, but, to me, shows us MOST clearly about resting prayer. It’s when Jesus is asleep in the boat during the storm. (Mark 4:38-40)
While He sleeps, the apostles are offended! “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing!!??” Jesus then said PEACE to the sea, and addressed the apostles FEAR and lack of FAITH. So many times we’re in the midst of the storm, and we’re riding those waves, entering into the intensity of it all - the rush, the pummel, the push to keep going - when God wants us to take a NAP WITH HIM.
Resting Prayer, Abiding in Christ, Practicing the Presence of God - these are essentially the same form of prayer - our center point, the hub of the wheel. This REST is not an excess, or an indulgence that falls at the end of our Christian list of duties. It is not something we need to earn. It is not the reward after a day well spent with only a few noteworthy sins--didn’t gossip, was nice on Facebook, didn’t yell at my kids, OK, NOW I can enter His rest! It is the starting point, it is our home, it is the boat where Jesus sleeps in the storm of our soul.
This boat, this home is what kept my faith from being washed away. There was a time in my walk with the Lord that I suffered from spiritual abuse. By definition, spiritual abuse is control and manipulation at the hands of religious authorities. My spiritual abuse caused a tremendous amount of damage to my mind and soul, some of which I’m still wrestling with. After first leaving the abusive environment, there was about a five year period where I couldn’t even read my Bible. Now at the age of 30, I’d read my Bible cover to cover over six times, so this was a big deal.
It was as though my soul was asleep in the boat, but I never lost my faith, because I could look back at those years and I KNEW I had encountered Jesus in the times of gazing upon Him and letting myself be KNOWN by him. This exposure to toxic faith could have robbed me of my own, but it was my practice of Resting Prayer in the midst of the spiritual abuse that kept my soul anchored in Jesus.
I want to close with a poem I wrote during my 20s, while I was learning about all kinds of prayer. In the beginning of my prayer journey, I discovered that, for me, in order to still my mind, I needed to do the opposite of sitting still. I needed to quiet my heart while walking slowly but deliberately out in nature. It was a good fit for my high energy self. When I wrote this poem, I had experienced God With Us moments, but they were brief. I was still building up this prayer muscle in my soul. However, even as these moments seemed to quietly drift past me, they left me with with such serenity and awareness of God’s love, and that is my prayer for you.
I sought you, my king,
to touch your robe.
The scent of your garments—
a faint mist was my joy.
I sought you, my shield,
I ran to your heart
where I could hide within.
I sought you, my friend.
I walked your favored paths.
The trees swayed from presence,
I traced your stride.
I sought you, my love.
I feared not finding you,
when you visited
in a whisper
and left me
kissing the mystery.