Anyperson enjoyed singing hymns, and recently a line from one of their favourites kept coming back: ‘take from our souls the strain and stress’, from ‘Dear Lord and Father’ by John Whittier. Anyperson realised how much they needed the strain and stress taken away. Looking at what they strained after, Anyperson saw that their heart was seeking to be safe, to be liked; that they wanted to avoid being shamed by others, and put in a place of exile. Anyperson had little confidence in their ability to relate to other people, and needed to work hard, so hard, to ensure they were liked: for Anyperson knew deep down that they were horrible, and had to keep other people from seeing this.
Anyperson was always straining for something that was unachievable: if they felt that they were liked, they had to work even harder to ensure that they continued to be liked and appreciated, and that people didn’t see through the mask to how horrible they were. All this meant there was always a certain amount of stress around.
But that line ‘take from our souls the strain and stress’ kept coming back. Anyperson longed for that state where the strain and stress was no longer there. But now Anyperson realised what they were seeking, and they also saw how impossible it was. People might or might not like them, but so often that had to do with the other person: there might not be much Anyperson could do about it. Going deeper, Anyperson realised that the fact that they thought they were horrible, didn’t mean that they were, although they might always think so. But Anyperson also realised that they believed in a God of Love, that they were created and loved by God: so they couldn’t be completely horrible. Anyperson realised that they were seeking to do by themselves what they in fact couldn’t do: keep themselves liked and safe. Anyperson couldn’t control what others might do at any given point, and someone might be irritable with them simply because they got out of bed the wrong side – it might not have anything to do with Anyperson.
Anyperson started to laugh: they had spent a lifetime seeking to be safe and liked; they had also spent a lifetime following God. They hadn’t, till now, put the two together: that God was love, and that God, and God alone, could keep them safe. Of course, Anyperson knew that their life wouldn’t be danger free, just because they were a follower of God’s. God does not promise that we will never be in danger, or that our lives will always go smoothly. But God will be with us through the snares and dangers and the valleys of the shadow of death. Anyperson decided that they wouldn’t keep telling themselves that they were horrible, but that they were loved; that they would start to trust their God to lead them though the dangers of life, trusting that they would never be totally overcome by them; trusting that God would keep who they were safe, even when it felt horrible and difficult and shameful. Anyperson knew that they might well continue to get things wrong, or to be horrible or stupid on occasion, even if not intentionally; but also that God’s love was greater than all that, and that, at the last, God would lead them home. For the moment, Anyperson was continuing their journey, knowing they would continue to wander off the pathway at times, but trusting that God would always bring them back. Anyperson knew there would be things they were anxious about, but was learning that they could, in prayer, leave them at the foot of the cross: leaving them there helped. Anyperson started to let God see and love the whole of the person they were, not just the part they felt was acceptable. Of course, God knew and loved the whole of Anyperson always; but now Anyperson realised that truth.
What is in your heart? What is it you seek and strain after? What underlies all that? Remembering that God loves you, that God is leading you, that God will bring you safely home at last, can you begin to leave your strains and stresses with God? Are there parts of yourself you try not to let God see – and could you begin to?
Let God see the strain and stress of your soul, let go and let God in …
For God did not say you will not be tempest-tossed but that you will not be overcome. (Julian of Norwich, I think).