Welcome God into Your Out-of-Control Moments
A few months ago, I was relishing in the onset of Spring. Warmer weather meant fertile ground for tilling and planting the garden. The hope for new life was poignant and inspiring. But now we’re in the dog days of Summer. Flowers have blossomed and veggies have grown. Unless, of course, you have deer and rabbits scouring for food. My wife told me recently, that she found a hoof mark in the garden. It doesn’t take a detective to know who’s responsible. The truth is we can do everything possible to help our garden flourish, but when we lay our heads down to sleep, we don’t have control over what critters are up for a midnight snack.
On the news these days, there are all kinds of reports of people doing everything they can to stay in control, but facing the hard reality that much of life is not in our hands. Simone Biles, the infamous Olympic gymnast, was confronted with her own lack of control when she had to bow out of several events due to her mental health. Biles said, “That was really hard because it’s like, I trained my whole life. I was physically ready. I was fine,” Biles said. “Then this happens, and it’s something that was so out of my control.” Although she had been training and competing for years and was physically at the top of her game, something changed and she knew she was not in the right headspace to perform the death-defying moves she was expected to. I can’t imagine how difficult that decision was for Biles, but she knew that she couldn’t just press through, she had to take a break. She had to let go of control.
We live in a culture that teaches us to press on, even in the hard times, but living a full and happy life requires us to slow down, listen, and respond with empathy to what our bodies our telling us. Like Biles, we need to know when to stop. Bethany Dearborn Hiser, a chaplain and social worker, writes that burnout is rampant in caring professions because of an unwillingness to address the unexpected needs that arise in the midst of stress. She shares about her own work in social work and how she never took lunch breaks or even bathroom breaks because she was so focused on helping everyone else. She didn’t want to take time for herself; she didn’t want to let go of control. So, she pressed on day after day until she was in crisis and had to take an emergency week off of work. She burned out and was forced to face the reality that she couldn’t do it all.
Whether we are tending the garden, participating in athletics, or caring for other people, we often come in contact with the uncontrollable. It’s inevitable. From our health, to our relationships, to our hobbies, we need to be able to find ways to live well when we don’t have a grip on our circumstances. We may not be able to control everything, but we don’t have to be out of control.
Across the spiritual and religious spectrum, prayer has been a unifying practice, even for people of no faith. There is something within us that knows we need to cry out to something greater than ourselves. This looks different for each spiritual tradition. In my tradition, prayer is understood as not only talking to God, but also a means of hearing from God and receiving his presence. In Bethany Dearborn Hiser’s book, From Burned Out to Beloved, she offers a prayer practice that welcomes God’s presence into the midst of our negative emotions. When we feel like we don’t have control, many negative emotions can arise, which we can be quick to want to get rid of through self-medicating in some way. Hiser suggests an alternative, instead of trying to escape the emotions we don’t like, we can welcome God into our midst and rely on his presence to sustain us until the emotions dissipate. When it feels like we are in the midst of the storm, we can choose to jump ship or stay at the helm of life trusting that God will bring us through it. This welcoming prayer exercise can help each of us to learn how to stay at the helm in the midst of the storm.
1. Notice and allow your feelings. Pause, breathe, and invite the Spirit. With love and curiosity, begin to notice what you are feeling and allow yourself to feel it. Don’t judge the feelings you notice. Accept them as they are.
2. “Welcome” Consent to God’s Presence. After allowing ourselves to feel, the second step of Welcoming Prayer is to consent to God’s presence with us in our feeling, emotion, thought, and experience. We let the feeling be an invitation to receive God’s love. We aren’t welcoming anxiety but rather welcoming God’s movement in us as we experience anxiety.
3. Let Go: Release Needs to God. Now that we’ve let ourselves feel what we feel and welcomed God’s presence in us, we can release our desires and needs into God’s hands. Contemplative Outreach encourages letting go through saying: “I let go of the desire for safety and security, esteem and affection, and power and control. I embrace this moment as it is.”
Welcoming Prayers is a way of saying, “God, I need you. Come be with me in this. It feels awful. Hold me.”
It feels satisfying to be in control, but we need tools for when we feel out of control. We need to have way of connecting spiritually with our body and God, so that when the feelings of fear, anxiety, and powerlessness come up we are not overwhelmed. Instead, we can be drawn deeper into our relationship with God and experience life more fully in his presence.
Peace be upon you,
Chaplain Travis Jamieson
 Bethany Dearborn Hiser, From Burned Out to Beloved: Soul Care for Wounded Healers. Intervarsity Press; Wheaton, IL. 2020.
 This exercise is found on pages 102-105 of Hiser, From Burned Out to Beloved.