Since I was a little girl, I have always had an active mind and active hands. Days when my pastor- parents turned our home into a retreat from the busyness of the week—with resting hearts and unhurried hands—were nearly unbearable for me; I needed something to do. One of the questions I asked my parents the most was, ‘What do you want me to make?’ I always had a bent towards creating things; I love the process of putting material around a vision in my head and seeing it through the creation process to the end. Over the years, my parents’ answers to that question led me to create things like 3D colonial villages made from cardboard, cardhouses the size of the living room, amateur movies about saving the neighborhood from disease, and scripts to plays that we performed at the entryway of our house (yes, I cast Ally in those plays...and yes, I always made her play the male roles). When I finished one project, I was immediately onto the next one. Idle hands are the devils workshop (Proverbs 16:27), right?
When I was young, I had a surplus of energy to keep up with this creative cycle. And though my love for creativity has not changed, as I have gotten older my energy and ability to sustain that creative pace has slowed. And at times, it has left me on the brink of burn out. That’s where I found myself in recent months. The past year was full. Ben and I bought and renovated our first home, dove into full- time ministry at Madison Park Church, welcomed our beautiful niece into the world (Ivey Ray), and we released our newest album We Hymn with Alanna Story. So many projects—so much energy expended—and my heart was swept up in it all. Tunnel vision is a beast; and burn out is its best friend.
We released We Hymn in April, and what a joy it has been to see how God is using it in His Church. I loved getting to create it, and I am honored to steward those songs in the years to come. It’s always a demanding journey to produce a new album, and I have found the hardest part of the creative process is the end. After expending so much time and energy on creating this work—energy that few people see—we inevitably arrive at the point where we determine that yes, now it is ‘finished’. And we let it go. To everyone around us, it is just the beginning of their encounter with it. But to me, it is the end of an exhausting affair. The sudden calm after a long whirlwind.
Typically after we have released an album, we jump right into a busy travel season. But this time was different. Because of having a new baby in the band, we left a lot of margin in our schedule. So literally overnight, I went from waking up every morning (for a year and a half straight) on mission with a to-do list that wouldn’t quit to waking up most mornings with very little on my schedule. In the days and weeks that followed the We Hymn release, I found myself wrestling with God. Actually it was more like an all-out brawl with His heart and mine. I was exhausted. But the child in me that is wired to stay active and bent towards producing naturally jumped right into nagging Him, ‘Ok Lord, what’s next?’—‘What do you want me to make now?’ But God was silent.
The silence paralyzed me. I didn’t know what to do with myself, with my time, with the sudden space to rest. Like Elijah in the desert after he defeated the prophets of Baal, I have never wanted to quit more than I did in that season. ‘I have had enough Lord’ (1 Kings 19:4.) I felt all washed up. Spent. Discouraged. Defeated. I had more margin in my life to rest than I knew what to do with, but I couldn’t slow my heart down enough to embrace it. And all the while my knee-jerk reaction was to try and jump into the next project. But God wouldn’t allow it.
One morning in May, I woke up and again begged God to assign me my next task—even though I knew I had little energy to see it through. And this time instead of silence He answered me plainly: ‘Anna, I have provided you the space to rest. It is a gift. Do not squander it.’
It felt like a loving yet serious slap across the face. It shook me up and woke me up. In that moment the scales lifted from my eyes, and I saw clearly just how intertwined my soul had become with my performance. Not performance in terms of what happens on a stage, but performance in terms of what I do. And when the doing was removed from my heart equation, I felt a little lost.
Performance says I am what I do. Rest says I am what He did.
My need for doing and my inability to rest revealed just how Old Testament I was. The law says that my standing with God is based entirely on my ability to perform and produce—and I can never do enough or be enough to meet that impossible standard. But the Cross is a beautiful permission slip to rest because there is nothing I can do to allure or repel God’s love; I get to just rest in knowing I don’t have to try so hard. Rest is God’s provision for my Old Testament soul.
I have always known that God has given me permission to rest in Him, but I had yet to fully give myself that permission. When I came to this realization in May, rather than getting overwhelmed with how far I had drifted and making a list of all the things I needed to do to return to fullness, I let the Spirit guide me in my recovery process. I love that Jesus calls the Holy Spirit our ‘Counselor’—oh, how much (free!) therapy He has given me over the years. And in this past season, the Spirit has helped unravel the tangled web of my heart and my production and create margin to relearn how to rest in Him. Like the angel spoke to Elijah in the desert, the Spirit whispered to my heart: ‘Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you’ (1 Kings 19:7). He gave me permission to take my eyes off the journey for a while and focus on replenishment instead.
I’ve been taking small, manageable steps; doing only the things I must do each day and filling the rest of my time with the things I want to do. I’ve spent time cooking, gardening, decorating, golfing. I’ve spent time around the table with people who inspire me. I started a new journal and bought a stack of new books to tackle this summer. Some days I crawl into bed having not produced anything tangible that day...and I’m learning to be okay with that! Slow and steady, my heart is returning to wholeness. I’m learning to lead authentically and to worship from a place of reality. To live and lead while being ‘in process’.
The Cross means something different to me now. Yes, it is the image of love and grace and mercy. But when I approach the Cross right now, I find rest. I find my permission to let go and just be. I am a mess that is being untangled one heartstring at a time. I am coming alive again, and the Cross is my inhale and my exhale—my permission to breathe and rest.