I often begin writing a new song—or even something as ordinary as a letter to a friend—because I have seen a spark, a shimmer of God’s renewal in the world. But sometimes I have to weather a few false starts. Some seeds we plant seem to sprout overnight, while others take time.
Much of life is like this. Recently, we had plans to take the family to a local concert. I was hoping the tickets might present an opportunity for family bonding or even a new tradition. But I had just returned from travel, and my idealized imaginings of a happy annual outing fizzled as we were all pulled in different directions: One family member needed dinner; another was not feeling well; one had a homework backlog; another had a last-minute school event.
We were about halfway to the venue, driving in the rain, when we gave up on the concert. I felt a mix of relief and disappointment as we turned toward home. When logistical tornados like this one swirl, my resolve goes soft and my commitment falters. Should we push through and stick to the plan? Or should we hang back to accommodate the needs of the moment?
When our plans become too much and our days too full, it’s easy to get stuck. We’re overextended, and we stumble into indecision like it’s quicksand. The harder we try to climb out, the more we sink down. We try to discern what plans to make or which priorities to keep by reducing them to something like a math equation. We ration out resources to our competing desires.
It’s a logical approach. So why is it so hard sometimes to figure out what the one thing is that really matters?
Maybe because—as happens often in such moments—none of the options we’re choosing from is the one that really matters. “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple” (Ps. 27:4, ESV).
Psalm 27 whispers wisdom into our small, overwhelmed moments. Many things come up in a day: a water leak, a medical bill that slipped by, a birthday card to send. But our anxieties can hold us hostage to vague ideas when we could be taking active, imaginative steps toward bringing about God’s beautiful plan for us and for his world.
“To inquire in his temple” sounds like a big idea. How do we go about that? It can begin small, maybe simply with the act of stopping to wonder at the beauty of God. When I stop to wonder about the thoughts God may be having today, in this moment, in real time, my own thoughts are reordered. My priorities change.
What does God think about the plans we’re making for dinner? What does he think about the local election coming up? What does he notice in the meeting at work that he whispers to me in my spirit? Who does he see in my social orbit today I might have overlooked?
These kinds of questions are not meant to put us into some state of overspiritualized paralysis. They are meant to free us from the other questions that do and to help us slow and still ourselves long enough to pay attention to God’s presence.
We want to create meaning in our lives, but sometimes we miss the main idea. Even after years of practicing this, sometimes I still don’t recognize the best decision until I’m halfway to where I was going and make a tearful U-turn.
This is not simply mindfulness. It is transformation by beauty. When my aim is delight, I am not as easily taken with distraction. If we delight in his plans over our own plans, we find alternate outcomes. When we have taken delight in his beauty and glory, we can rest when we need to rest. We take his freedom as our own. We don’t have to be enslaved to the demands of our desires or our relationships. We become lighter in spirit. A view of his glory turns our own plans and ideas into a truer reflection of his. We are free to be more than “pleasers” or to just put out the fires of the urgent requests of our day.
The more we gaze upon him, the more our lives are illuminated by the shimmer of his glory. It is like glitter in a preschool classroom: His glory goes everywhere. It stays, it sticks, it shines when you spend time near him.
Sandra McCracken is a singer-songwriter and author in Nashville. She is also the host of The Slow Work podcast produced by CT.
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