During a season when I became more aware of how burdened I was by my attempts to prove my worth, my journals became canvases for my prayers—private conversations with God, my most honest thoughts, a place to ask questions and maybe get answers, but usually not. I was weary and longing for real rest, and journaling was a daily discipline that helped me process my thoughts. That’s what I found myself doing one morning at Starbucks in a tiny, tucked away booth with an open notebook and desperate soul.
I had my decaf Americano and probably a slice of pumpkin loaf beside me (because I love Starbucks’ pumpkin loaf ) as my pencil point met the page and began to reveal what my heart was feeling. The words flowed out in my scribbly half-cursive penmanship as fast as my mind could form them.
I am so burdened by expectations, I wrote. Self-imposed. Constant. Drowning. Deflating. Sinking. I lifted my right hand and pressed it against my chest. This was becoming a regular thing: An invisible lump sat right under the surface and just wouldn’t go away, and applying pressure with my open hand seemed to help. And then, like a movie, a scene played itself out in my mind, and my pencil moved quickly to capture it in my journal.
I’m paddling and paddling, trying to stay afloat. “I’m fine!” I say as I keep my head above water, smiling. But behind the smiling face, I am terrified. Under water and deep in my soul, it is dark, inky blue. I am faking it and getting so tired. My legs churn, treading water frantically. Jesus is there next to me, watching. Maybe he’s in a boat? Maybe he’s standing right on top of the water? I can’t tell. He’s waiting patiently, a white life ring held casually in the crook of his arm, the kind that hangs from a lifeguard tower. Reminding me, calling out to me. “I’m right here,” he says. “Grab hold,” he says. “I’m fine!” I reply. “I’m fine. I’m so glad you’re right there, Jesus. It is so good to know you are close. I see you. I trust you. I believe in you.”
And this is where it got strange. I felt as though my pencil was no longer controlled by me but by the Holy Spirit within me.
But do you depend on me? I wrote, as if God himself was speaking. Or do you just keep doing your own thing?
I closed my eyes to catch my breath. Took a sip of my drink. Then went back to the page.
I will give you rest, he continued. I will tell you who I am. Shhh.
And that was it: The picture of the water, the life preserver, and a struggling me disappeared. I closed my journal and carried on with my day, subtly aware that what happened in the notebook and within my spirit that morning was pivotal. Later that night when I looked back over what I had written in the coffee shop,
I thought for sure I would find the words, I will tell you who you are. That’s what I’ve always been after. Please tell me who I am, Lord! But instead, I found the answer I didn’t know I needed.
I will tell you who I am.
I wanted it to be about me, but instead, it was about him.
I knew a lot about God. I believed wholeheartedly in him. I was doing a lot for him. But maybe he was right when he wrote those questions in my notebook that day. Maybe I was depending on my own ways, my own ability and effort, more than I was trusting in his. It’s not like I was denying him; I believed in him and knew he was always near. I could imagine him right beside me as I did my thing. However, my lips formed a smile as if all was well—while the rest of me sank and grew weary from trying to stay afloat and present an “everything’s fine” exterior. I thought I was capable, but the truth was, reliance on my own vision of life was drowning me.
To release control, to give up comfort, to deliberately eliminate busyness, to train our eyes away from comparison, to finally see the weeds that are tripping us up and choking us out, and to begin the work of pulling them out requires complete trust. Before we can fully trust, we need to get to know the One in whom we’re placing our trust. When all I wanted was to hear Jesus tell me who I am, instead he invited me into real rest with the promise of telling me who he is.
He invites you into the same. Cautiously, eyes locked on his, we reach out our hands and grab hold of the outstretched life preserver. Lord, we’re listening. Tell us who you are.
Emily Lex is a watercolor artist and author. In whatever she does, Emily’s desire is to shine a light on the beauty, goodness, and truth all around us so that we might see more clearly who God is and who we are. She resides outside the Seattle, Washington, area with her husband and four children. Connect with her at emilylex.com and on Instagram @emily.a.lex.
Her book Freely and Lightly: God’s Gracious Invitation to a Life of Quiet Confidence details Emily’s journey toward becoming the person God has created her to be. Emily’s shares the lessons she’s learned to equip and inspire you in your own spiritual walk toward a Christ-directed life filled with profound purpose and meaning.