If you’re like me, your calendar was hemorrhaging long before the holidays showed up. In fact, the pace we keep is a cultural phenomenon of sorts—one that most of us aren’t equipped to handle well.
Our ever-present phones make us daily, instantaneously available to hundreds, even thousands, of people. Our “commuter-style community”—since friends and family no longer live together in the same village or neighborhood—demands Herculean time and effort. (You know that coffee date with your friend? The one that took you 17 texts and three reschedules and a 45-minute drive? Case in point.)
Electricity allows us to stay up long past sundown (when our bodies are naturally wired for sleep), and a stealth little lie tells us that the more we do, the more we’re worth. As if that’s not enough, our world is under the curse of sin, so our work is difficult, people expect more of us than we can deliver, and sudden crises make wreckage of our well-plotted calendars.
Quieting my anxious heart
In the past, I dealt with this reality in a variety of unhealthy ways—two of which were as Lady Failure (“Everyone expects so much of me, I can never measure up!”) and Self-sufficient Savior (“I’m their only hope! I have to save them!”). My attempts to satisfy endless expectations and demands only succeeded in making me anxious, resentful, or withdrawn. I was keeping a lot of people happy, I was getting a lot done, but I was regularly running on fumes emotionally and physically.
But in recent years, I’ve been learning the skill of quieting myself in God’s presence, of perceiving him with me smack-dab in the middle of life’s pressures. This isn’t pie-in-the-sky talk. This is rubber-meets-the-road truth that is changing the way I think and feel and act. You’re already familiar with these, but take another look at a few of the Scriptures that talk about God’s “with-ness”:
- Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger, for you are with me (Psa. 23:4).
- But as for me, God’s presence is my good (Psa. 73:28).
- So Joseph was there in prison. But the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him (Gen. 39:20-21).
- The Lord your God is with you; he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you. He will quiet you with his love. He will rejoice over you with singing (Zeph. 3:17).
“God with us” is our good, our confidence, our peace, and our salvation. We may not be able to slow life down to a snail’s pace; we may not be able to circumvent exhaustion or avoid pain—but we absolutely can keep a quiet heart when we live in the keen awareness of God’s presence.
How I’m learning to be aware of God’s presence
Let me give you an example of how I’m learning to do this on a daily basis. I typically wake in the morning with my mind racing through all the messages I haven’t returned, the work deadline ahead, the places we need to be today, the people we’ll be connecting with. Then there’s the inevitable: Do I have snacks for my son’s school event? What gift am I going to take to the shower? Did I fill out that paperwork for my next doctor’s appointment?
Perhaps in our own acceptance of weakness and dependence, we will show someone else how to go to God.
Just as my stomach begins to tie itself into a nice little knot, I stop and remind myself that God is with me. I say to him, “God, thank you for being with me and giving me everything I need in order to do what YOU want me to do today.” Then I thank him for a few simple things: the time with sweet friends last night, my husband’s amazing forgiveness, the anticipation of my morning cup of coffee. Finally, I bring a Scripture to mind. This isn’t the deeper Bible study I’ll get to later today, but it’s still meaningful truth that directs my heart to God.
And now? Now I can sense him with me, and the weight of today no longer rests on my shoulders—it’s on his, where it belongs. Inevitably, I’ll need to revisit this practice (prayer, gratitude, truth) many times throughout my day. But that in itself is a beautiful thing, is it not? We never stop needing him. And the more we go to him, the greater our peace and joy.
Here’s another simple way I quiet myself: I follow Elisabeth Elliot’s advice to “do the next thing.” If I knew everything that the month will require of me, I’d probably just stay in bed with the sheets pulled over my head. But I’ve been given extraordinary provision to do what’s right in front of me, this very moment. I can wash another sink of dishes, have a difficult conversation, or drive through traffic to another doctor’s appointment—because God is with me, and he has everything I need.
I love how Andrew Murray wrote of this in his book Humility: “The life God bestows is imparted not once for all but each moment by the unceasing operation of His mighty power. Humility, the place of entire dependence upon God, is from the very nature of things the first duty and the highest virtue of His creatures.”
So when my day finally comes to a close, I can leave unfinished business at the feet of my Lord, trusting that he is God and I am not. Maybe I let someone down (someone I really wanted to care for). Maybe my phone is still full of unreturned messages. Maybe my to-do list is laughing at me. Can I rest in that? Do I trust that God can work out these tasks and these relationships far better than I can?
How about you? Is someone deeply disappointed in you for not being available to them right now? Do you have more tasks than you do time? We are gloriously limited creatures—and it is a difficult but beautiful thing to be weak, to be utterly dependent upon the One who “bears our burdens day after day” (Psa. 68:19). Perhaps in our own acceptance of weakness and dependence, we will show someone else how to go to God.
As we seek the presence of Jesus, our limitations are not laziness, nor are they a means of self-preservation. Rather, they are divine invitations to experience the Spirit’s power in and through us. We are called to lovingly lay down our lives for others, but the life we lay down must flow from Christ in us—and not out of guilt or people-pleasing or self-sufficiency. When we practice God’s presence and ask him for moment-by-moment wisdom to “do the next thing,” we get to experience his joy—and his joy is our strength (Neh. 8:10)! On the contrary, when we frantically try to “do ALL the things” and keep everyone happy, we ultimately fail at loving people well and redeeming the time.
I have many miles to go in learning how to abide in God’s presence in the pressures of life, but I’m so grateful for the journey. And it’s liberating to finally understand that busyness isn’t my enemy; it’s an opportunity to turn to God and experience his nearness.
“Do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not be afraid, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you; I will help you;
I will hold on to you with my righteous right hand.” —Isaiah 41:10