Last week I was on the phone with an out-of-state friend, and I asked about her son’s new preschool teacher. My friend described her, a middle-age woman well-known in their community, a woman who’s “very intentional but doesn’t seem to operate with much freedom.” On paper, the woman is very inspiring – a remarkable gardener and excellent cook; a restorer of furniture with an inviting home; a person who’d cultivated many talents and utilized her resources very well. “But she comes across as kind of joyless, and her relationships with her children seem strained. It’s a bit of a cautionary tale for me.”
Indeed. I’ve thought about this a lot since. The tension between intentionality and freedom fits well into my thoughts about being overly assessment-oriented, and the “Stewardship-Surrender spectrum.” Because if you naturally score high on the intentionality scale (as I do), you usually don’t on the freedom scale. Look at Martha – extremely intentional about preparations and making things just so for when Jesus came to visit. But no capacity to let go, relax, and be with Jesus when he actually arrived. But it’s for freedom that Jesus sets us free, so Jesus corrected Martha. Her intentionality and bustling spirit had hindered freedom in her – and consequently hindered her relationship with Christ.
Lately I’ve been re-reading Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God, and it’s gotten me thinking about my throughout-the-day prayers. I pray them… I’m just not sure they’re the most helpful prayers for my personality type. Take the Jesus prayer: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” It’s a great prayer, and I certainly need Jesus’ mercy and grace every minute of every day. But this prayer mentally takes me to a next step that’s action-ordered: ‘have mercy on me, so that I can handle this situation well, in a way that glorifies you.” Usually in practice in emerges a “God, help me with this” prayer. I’m seeking to rely on him, which is good, but it all comes back to tasks and activities. It ends up as a Martha-mindset prayer, a prayer asking God to bless me in my intentionality.
I need a different kind of through-the-day prayer, a prayer of being and abiding. I need a prayer that let’s go of activity altogether and focuses me on resting in Jesus. So I started praying this prayer: “Jesus, I am satisfied in you.” This prayer helps convert my thinking to Mary-style thinking; it seeks rest and contentment in Christ. It’s a prayer that minimizes the importance of whatever task I’m doing… reminding me that whatever happens, whether it goes well or poorly, my satisfaction will remain in Him.
This shift may sound subtle or even trivial, but it’s effects for me have been anything but. Especially when I’m interacting with my children, these prayers have shifted my thinking and given the Holy Spirit a lot more opportunity to work. Praying this way has made me realize that my interactions with my children often play at the edges of idolatry. When things are going well I’m satisfied; when they’re going poorly I’m dissatisfied. Especially in correction this is true – when I correct bad attitudes or behavior in them and it ‘takes’ I feel good, as if I’m doing my job of child-training well. But when I don’t seem to penetrate, I’m discontent and frustrated. So in these situations, what are my hope and trust in? They’re in myself and my efforts. Even when I’m praying for God’s help throughout the process, my hope still rests in myself. The freedom of Christ is not present, and neither is the joy.
So I’ve been making a conscious effort to pray the “Jesus, I’m satisfied in You” prayer when I’m with my kids, especially in hard moments, and it brings me a tangible peace. I want my satisfaction in Christ to be present before, during, and after difficult moments in our household, moments that are bound to come a dozen or more times a day in a house full of preschoolers. May freedom and contentment be continuous, in spite of circumstances. Surely this, not an overly-intentional household, is where the presence of Christ will grow and grace can abound. May I truly know, and may I help my children come to know, that only “One thing is needed.”