As an almost-40-year-old, I hate to admit that I am still scared of the dark. As a child, every night my sister and I huddled together in my twin bed to protect ourselves from roaming roaches. I recall pulling the covers tightly around my neck so no creepy crawly could find its way inside my sheets. Undeterred, the roaches squirmed their way around our legs causing us to jump, scream, and run for the light. The darkness harbored creatures which I could not see and therefore could not defend myself against.
I believed I had outgrown this fear and was surprised when it reappeared three years ago when my husband asked me to willingly walk into darkness—only this time it was the darkness of an unknown future.
After serving in China for seven years with our two children, God offered my husband a job that would inevitably send us back to America. For 15 years, China had been my vision, purpose, and calling. I could not see how we would make life work in America. Fear welled up in my stomach at just the thought of leaving China.
The cloud of God was moving regardless of my willingness, and I could either follow Him in faith to the unknown or stay behind. Despite my misgivings, I finally agreed to relocate to Michigan. As we boarded the plane with only six 50-pound bags of luggage, I wept in grief like the Israelites entering exile after the destruction of Jerusalem—mourning at the banks of Babylon as described in Psalm 137. Tears flowed over the loss of friends, purpose, and identity. I was in the dark of what the future would hold, and I was afraid.
In our new home, months passed without making a single new friend, without finding a church community, and without a purpose. Amidst the darkness in which I had willingly plunged, I felt suffocated until I finally heard God whisper, “Rest. Be in this space with Me. Be still and know Me.”
A NEW AWARENESS
Like fog breaking in the noonday sun, God began leading me from darkness to a keener awareness of His presence. He taught me to listen for His movements, to know His heartbeat, and to wait for the fullness of His timing. I began to experience Emmanuel—God with me.
David Benner quotes Richard Rohr as saying: “We cannot attain the presence of God. We’re already totally in the presence of God. What’s absent is awareness.”
Benner’s words struck my heart and changed my perspective when he wrote, “What God wants is simply our presence, even if it feels like a waste of potentially productive time. That is what friends do together—they waste time with each other. Simply being together is enough without expecting to “get something” from the interaction. It should be no different with God.” In that moment, God reached out and took me by the hand. I knew then that what I needed in this season was a friend—one in which I could ‘waste’ time with.
GETTING LOST IN JESUS
Sometimes my time with Jesus felt genuinely wasted, but I came to realize that I simply needed to relearn the delight of getting lost in Him—to set aside the prescribed outline and expectations for ‘accomplishing something’ and simply lose track of time with Him.
Surprisingly, our liturgical calendar gave me inspiration to enter into being present with God. The ebb and flow of the Church’s seasons offered me a guideline in which to center my heart on Christ. The most pivotal times for me were Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. Through these circular patterns of God’s story, our friendship flourished while my fear of the dark diminished in the awareness of His ever-present light.
My life slowed as I practiced various spiritual disciplines alone and with my family. Psalm 39:4-6 reminded me that our lives are but a breath, we are transient, and time is irrelevant because waiting with God is not wasted time, but rather invested time. When I began seeing Him as the reward, rather than the check mark in my daily to-do, everything shifted. I looked for opportunities to lose track of time with Jesus—getting lost in exploration of the joy in just being together.
Here are some ways I learned to get lost in Jesus:
Breath Prayer: A breath prayer is a short piece of Scripture or prayer that you say whilst breathing in and out. For me, I chose to pray, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” As I breathed in the first half of this prayer, it centered my heart with God’s. As I breathed out the second half, I received the promise of His gentle shepherding.
There are many prayers to choose from that encourage us to focus on the One who gives us hope. Some examples are: “Lord, have mercy,” “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening,” “When I am afraid, I will trust you,” or “Not my will, but Yours.”
What I loved about this spiritual practice was that I could do it anywhere and any time. The more I spoke it throughout my day, the more joy I experienced and the greater I felt God’s presence. Then, I began to notice how it encouraged me to look beyond myself into the lives of others and pray over them; at some point, I realized I was praying without ceasing.
Prayer Journal: A blank notebook in which to draw and write poetry or Scripture opened a left-brained act of worship for me when I struggled to commune with God. Sometimes, I simply wrote out my prayers and grievances, and in those moments, God stilled my heart. As my pencil flowed across the pages, I began to see His promises come to life.
I invited my children to join me in this practice. I made space in our home with colored pencils, stationary paper, scissors, glue, craft supplies, and blank notebooks. Each day, I reveled seeing my children commune with God in this way, freely expressing their creativity with Scripture. Though we tried this for Advent, I long to see them continue to practice this act of worship throughout the year. Our God creates, and one way to live presently is to create with Him—think of it like crafting with a friend.
Advent Wreath: Five candles wrapped in evergreen in the middle of our kitchen table made space in our home for my family to come each week and anticipate Christ. Each Sunday evening, we lit the appropriate candle—Hope, Peace, Joy, Love, and the Christ candle—read Scripture, and sang songs of praise.
Standing in the darkness while the light flickered off the faces of my children and husband brought me great joy and an awareness that even in darkness, I am not alone. God’s light pierces through even the darkest of times. This ancient liturgical practice is growing in our church communities and is the perfect spiritual practice to draw us together as God’s family in preparation for Christ’s arrival.
Attending: This is the spiritual practice of being aware. It gives us pleasure by pausing in our workday to take notice of the little moments passing by that often go unappreciated. For me, in this season of wanting to live more fully in the now, I knew I needed to stop letting the tasks of the day get the better of me. I needed to recognize God’s presence in all areas of my life, even the scary parts.
With this mindset, I began to observe God’s touches in folding laundry, reading a book, watching snowflakes float to the ground, short snuggles with my children, and the smell of the crockpot making my life easier. Instead of frantically rushing through the holiday season, I chose to pause in moments of cookie baking or seeing neighborhood Christmas lights to really appreciate them. Being aware and present in the mundane bits of my life revealed to me God’s gentle acts of friendship in each area.
Solitude: The bustle of holidays can cause me to lose sight of what matters as I become wrapped up in tasks. By practicing solitude, I learned to step away into a quiet place just to “be” present with God.
It is a practice we rarely participate in because, when we dare to jump into the stillness, we risk feeling the full force of our fears, hurts, struggles, and other hidden parts that we don’t dare release. It can be painful, but God yearns to release us of those burdens. The beauty of solitude is that you can take as little or as long as you need in that space, and it never fails to bring healing.
If you need to get away from your house, find a retreat center or hotel. Otherwise, a closet or closed bedroom may do the trick. Bring your Bible, courage, favorite beverage, candles, music, and open your heart to how God may want to speak to you. As I first practiced this, I didn’t know how to start, so I began with breath prayer until God took control.
GETTING LOST HELPED LIGHT THE WAY
Most of these practices centered around me. Being in a season where I needed God to restore me seemed selfish at first, but as I let God attend and befriend me through these practices, a light illuminated my way out of darkness and into life. The result of getting lost in Jesus was actually the awakening of my heart, mind, and soul away from myself to the needs of others—willingly just being without agenda. That is God’s goal—to restore our first love of Him so that we can then live presently with and for others.
The Latin meaning for compassion means to suffer with, or to be present with one when life unravels. Christ suffered with me in my darkness of pain, hurt, transition, loss, and struggles so He could then empower me toward purpose: compassion.
”Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5, NIV).
Life’s circumstances can easily get the better of us. We’ve all gotten caught up in dreams and lost dreams, or found ourselves in darkness from the twists and turns of life. It can happen without us even noticing—but that doesn’t mean we are lost. Christ’s compassionate nature means He searches for the one wandering sheep—that may be you. Wherever we’ve been in the past, wherever we go in the future, God remains Emmanuel across time and space. He abides with us in all matters of life; we may just need to slow down and take notice. This may be the season to reacquaint yourself with your Friend and Savior by making space to lose track of time and get lost in Jesus.
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