The Worst Words
This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.
You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’
Therefore you will flee!
You said, ‘We will ride off on swift horses.’
Therefore your pursuers will be swift!
A thousand will flee
at the threat of one;
at the threat of five
you will all flee away,
till you are left
like a flagstaff on a mountaintop,
like a banner on a hill.”
On Isaiah 30
I closed my eyes as I listened to my spiritual director read Isaiah 30:15-18. I had read those words so many times before. I knew as she read where I fit into the words. I was the person who would say, “No, we will flee on horses.” I knew that I, in my self-righteousness, eagerness, and impatience, so often took up causes and missions on my own and would flee with them.
I knew I was the one in those verses who would have “none of it,” none of waiting for God to move, to bring His strength and his rest and His salvation. I knew I was the one who heard words of promise from God and instead of resting and preparing with Jesus, I would flee and try to make them come to pass in my own time.
My Spiritual Director caught my attention and asked if I needed to have her read the verses again. Of course I did, my mind had just flown from focusing on those words to the memories of so many times I had said “no” and chosen to flee out on my own.
After she read again, she asked what stood out to me as I listened. I smiled and answered:
“All the worst words.”
The Worst Words
She smiled back and asked which words those were. She knew me enough to know what I was thinking but waited patiently for me to divulge those words myself, and I spoke them:
“Rest. Quietness. To wait for Him.”
Those were all the worst. I’m a person who longs to take action and make things happen. Tell me what needs to be done and I will continue on until exhaustion and brokenness.
And yet, she knew, and I knew that I have been on a pursuit of quietness in Jesus for the last year. It goes against everything my talkative busy do-gooder mind gravitates towards and yet that journey has filled me and has begun to give me deep peace. In the quiet this year I have not come to the end but rather, have started to see how much I have to learn.
My longing to find the next step brought me to learn about contemplative prayer, which is a type of prayer that focuses on just being with Jesus. I began investigating by listening to talks and immersing myself in books, filling my mind and my thoughts with this next quest.
The idea, the practice of contemplative prayer seemed illusive, made up. Impossible. Boring. Over the last few years I had gained considerable understanding in several kinds of prayers but this prayer where I wasn’t listening for answers or praying for things seemed like a huge waste of time and for as simple as it was, I really didn’t seem to be able to master it.
Finally, after reading and learning all I could about contemplative prayer I realized I had to just sit down and do it. I could read, learn, and discuss until I was blue in the face, but it would be nothing if I didn’t begin to practice.
So practice I did, and guess what? I fell asleep. And then I fell asleep again. During “prayer time” I planned my day and redecorated rooms in my mind, I prayed for people, and I asked God questions. I clearly was not a natural when it came to contemplative prayer.
This “being” thing didn’t get anything done. God wasn’t using me to further His kingdom and I wasn’t using Him in any way. I wasn’t requesting help for any of those in need who I knew needed prayer.
However, instead of throwing out the practice or condemning myself for failing, I followed the advice of books I had read and didn’t worry about my failures, but gently centered myself back into just being with God and focusing on one word I had chosen to focus on.
It still felt like a waste, all these moments dedicated to just being with God when there was so much to do. This is where those words in Isaiah met me: “But you would have none of it, You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses’.”
No, I was not literally on a horse, but my choice has always been to move and do… never to be, even in prayer.
Even though I was in agony that Jesus and I were not checking off His to-do list or mine, I remained quiet before the Lord focusing on the idea of “being” with Him.
I learned an important lesson.
Me for Me
Jesus wanted me for me. Not for what I could do for Him or even through Him. Not for the ways my gifts could be used to further His kingdom. He didn’t want me because I could pray for others or lead crusades. He simply wanted me.
I guess I knew that already. I guess. But, I don’t know if I’ve ever really believed it until now. Often, I find myself remembering and repeating it to myself: He wants me for me. He wants me for me. He wants me for me.
It’s a refreshing and beautiful truth to finally actually believe. Sitting and being with Jesus, without to-do lists brought me to see that.
Still the Worst Words…
As my mind again refocused on the words my Spiritual Director spoke, I knew the “worst words” are actually the best words even if it doesn’t feel that way. I knew that oh so frustrating prayer, was becoming necessary. Not only to the remembrance that Jesus wants me for me but that by Jesus’ Spirit, I am capable of maintaining that peace He gives no matter what emotions or events come and try to hijack my day.
I’m still using words like “quest” when I talk about contemplative prayer, but baby steps… right? As I pursue a new stance of quietness, rest, and waiting, I’m thankful “the Lord longs to be gracious to me and to show me compassion.”
1. Consider trying contemplative prayer for a season.
Example: Set aside 10-20 minutes a day for a month. Focus on one word (God, love, be, etc) and just being with the Spirit.
2. Consider learning more about prayer and contemplative prayer.
The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
Prayer by Richard Foster
The Cloud of Unknowing by Anonymous
The Contemplative Journey By Thomas Keating
Interior Castle by Teresa of Avila
The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of St. Francis by Richard Rohr