Don't Worry, Be Quiet: or, How I Learned that Rest Is a Choice
In a poem called “Lost I,” Gottfried Benn talks of “the world thought to pieces.” I get that. I ruminate and deconstruct until my thoughts contort into what I affectionately term “pretzel brain.” The concept of a mind at peace has baffled me my whole life. When I shared this with my roommate’s friend, a marriage and family therapist, she suggested I try setting down my worry for a week. I lifted a skeptical brow. However, in need of relief from my over-thought thoughts, I was willing to try anything. I’d learned from writing that when a story isn’t working, sometimes the best thing to do is walk away.
It will come as no surprise that setting down my worry was hard. I had to force my mind away from my stresses and back into the present every five minutes. Okay, every five seconds. It helped to picture the worry as a gremlin—a physical being I could ignore whenever it started acting out. Still hard, but I kept at it, and after a few days of struggling, a funny thing happened: it got easier. What space my brain held when it wasn’t tied in a knot! I was more alert, more receptive to my friends, and not so tightly wound. To my surprise, the greatest change occurred in my prayer life.
I’ve never been big on meditation. I get too impatient and quickly fall prey to the volley of thoughts banging on my mind’s door. I do, however, pray daily, and I confess, my prayers often take the form of complaints and pleas. A week of not engaging with my worry meant not letting loose the torrent during prayer, so what was left? Well, gratitude, for one. I spent a good deal of time saying “thank you,” and when I finished and settled into the moment, something amazing happened: I experienced, for the first time in my life, simply being with God in silence. What’s more, the silence lingered and kept me suspended in its embrace. How was this possible?
In Matthew 11:28, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” We are called to lay our worries down at God’s feet, but what I only realized after laying my worries down period is that this requires action on our part. For pretzel-brains like me, this action is a constant, continual surrender. It’s a lot easier to rest when you’re not sobbing hysterically or yelling at God to fix your broken life. Of course, voicing concerns is part of prayer, but only part, and I had long neglected the other components. Prayer is, after all, a conversation, which means, if I want to listen to another’s voice, I need to stop using my own.
I’ve heard it said that God is far more willing to give than we are to receive. I think this is true, and I think it’s because humans are stubborn. Often, I’m so sure I have the answers, or if not, I’m certain if I try a little harder, a little longer, I’ll figure them out. Maybe I will; maybe I won’t. Meanwhile, I drive myself crazy and forfeit a peace that’s mine for the taking. Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. This is a choice. By setting down my worry, I stumbled upon a simple truth: in order to rest in God’s arms, I have to let myself be held.
Jessica Lynne Henkle has a BA in English and art history from Boston University and an MFA in writing from Pacific University. Her work has appeared in Northwind, Scissors and Spackle, and 1:1000, and she is a frequent contributor to Bookslut and ForeWord Reviews. Jessica is a writer, editor, and book reviewer who lives in Portland, Oregon, where she is in the throes of writing a novel. Visit her at http://jessicalynnehenkle.com/