The sign above the door said it all: Lake Rules: Relax, Relax, Relax. I had intentionally pulled away for a couple days of solitude. The use of the home, situated on a lake, was an unbelievable gift from friends, one that undid me as I walked in, taking in the beauty and stillness around me. I settled in and received the outstretched gift of time in such an extravagant place.
Just me and God. I’d longed for this and dreamt about it, as if the Lord Himself was beckoning, “Come away, my Beloved Daughter.” And so, feeling invited and pursued like a dear friend or love, I entered.
And yet, I was restless. What’s wrong with me, God? I’m relaxing, relaxing, relaxing, like the sign says, and yet feel so distant and discontent. In dramatic fashion, like Elijah, I insisted, “I have been very zealous for the Lord“ and even received the food and deep sleep God provided that first evening. Yet, there was still silence. It was unusually cold and the wind whistled much like I imagined it did for Elijah in the cave. I waited, expecting the wind to shatter the rocks or an earthquake or fire to suddenly appear (ok, maybe I’m glad there was still silence); like Elijah, nothing.
I grabbed my journal and began pouring out my heart. I was surprised by what began spilling out on the page – grief from the months’ events, confessions of dissociation and a realization that my discontentment stemmed from a place I hadn’t expected: a heart too easily pleased.
God, I clutch too tightly to my reputation. While I want to connect deeply with others, I often fail and instead settle for being known as a person who connects with others. The difference is so subtle I barely notice. My writing in prayer was taking me in a direction I didn’t anticipate. I continued.
Being known as a person who connects deeply with others is, in and of itself, not a bad thing, is it, Lord? But when I reach out to others out of a disingenuous motive, I am a shadow of the person You made me to be. A shadow, harshly said, is a hypocrite because I’m caring for others from an empty well. I’m settling for the quick fix of getting my ego stroked but it’s not soul-satisfying, the kind that fills my heart like only You can do, God.
My pen was shaking and I allowed tears to flow. This tendency to settle for less is a deep theme of my life story.
I learned early on to anticipate little and hope for even less.
That way, disappointment is kept in check and any crumbs are a feast. How could I relate to an extravagant God when I anticipate so little? Of course I couldn’t rest. In that moment, I sighed and put away my pen. A new kind of rest took over and my time at the lake house began to have a different pulse to it.
I stared out at the lake with the sun shining and wind blowing remembering my friends encouraging me to take the kayak out. Ha! I thought to myself, there’s no way I’d go out on the lake by myself.
But, in a strange turn of hope, it was as if God said, “Why not? What’s the worst that could happen?” Without any further hesitation, I charged to grab my jacket and dragged the life preserver and kayak out onto the water. Like a kid, I paddled out and relished the sunshine and cold wind of the day! It was exhilarating and I giggled in delight sensing my God beside me.
In my younger life, I’d been taught to be fierce – fiercely independent, fiercely committed to God, fiercely an advocate for the weak. This new fierceness to yield and anticipate extravagantly was unfamiliar and uncomfortable. It is a subtle passageway to rest, not the kind that causes me to collapse from exhaustion at the end of a long day. Rather, it is a soulful rest that only comes from saying “yes” to what is needed for the day and “no” to what isn’t. It leads to hopeful anticipation of what only God can do.
I kept the photo I took of the Lake Rules sign. It’s a tremendous reminder to not settle for being too easily pleased by the quick-fix of attending to others before yielding my own heart to God.
Natalie Sum comes alive and sees the face of Jesus when able to listen to the stories of others. While seeking to become all she was created to be, she finds herself setting the table or facilitating groups, implementing small business initiatives or advocating for others. Natalie has a Masters in Education, Bachelors in Social Work and received a Training Certificate in Trauma Care through The Allender Center (School of Theology and Psychology) where she is currently continuing Certificate Level II. She loves cruising on her bike, basking in God’s creation and playing her part with the women of SowThat. You can read more at NatalieSumResources.com
Natalie – What a beautiful story of longing, wrestling, and resting – thank you for sharing. The line, “I learned early on to anticipate little and hope for even less” resonated loudly with me. I, too, learned early on that my hopes and needs would not be met. I’m learning, as you are, to rest in God and I have been intentionally praying that He will teach me to dream – to long for – to reach for. I think it is going to be a life-long process of reprogramming – of daily renewing my mind. I’m glad you were able to relax and that you kept a picture of the sign – a visual reminder to RELAX and lean on Him.
Reblogged this on Roland Legge and commented:
Check out this beautiful piece by Natalie Sum on learning to accept yourself as you are and choosing to be the best you, you can be.
Natalie, Like you (and Barbara above), I, too, learned to keep my expectations low so that I could avoid disappointment. Paradoxically, I developed very high expectations of myself–not to disappoint others. Fortunately, God invites me to let go of unrealistic expectations–either too high or too low–and to accept every gift as it comes. Learning to relax into God’s abundance has been a life-long journey. Thanks for sharing.
Natalie, thank you for vulnerably sharing about your time at the lake. I resonated with the beauty and ache of these sentences in particular: “This new fierceness to yield and anticipate extravagantly was unfamiliar and uncomfortable. It is a subtle passageway to rest, not the kind that causes me to collapse from exhaustion at the end of a long day. Rather, it is a soulful rest that only comes from saying “yes” to what is needed for the day and “no” to what isn’t. It leads to hopeful anticipation of what only God can do.”
I love your invitation to understand and seek what is best for the day and what only God can do. Too often I look ahead and miss the joy and blessing of the now.