I found a new form of meditation this summer. Meditation with a toddler is not easy to come by; but ironically, it was my toddler’s enthusiasm for this new form which drew me to it in the first place. This summer, with my toddler in tow, I discovered the meditative qualities of throwing rocks.
As soon as the weather warmed up this spring, I started taking Walter for walks down by the river. This is not new for me. The river has been my special place almost since we moved here. I remember being pregnant with Jack and pushing Thomas in the stroller along the Riverwalk. Now it is Walter’s turn to be in the stroller. We usually walk for about a half and hour, and then I let him out of the stroller so we can go down by the water.
There are lots of rocks down on the riverbank. Walter loves to throw them. He is has the overhand throw of a future baseball pitcher. I, however, am the epitome of the phrase “throws like a girl,” and at first I was content to let Walter do most of the throwing. I would sit and watch him play while I pondered the nebulous causes for the depression and anxiety with which I was struggling.
Spring turned to summer and my mental state did not noticeably improve. In fact, my once vague worries became quite focused on a truly possible scenario. I felt tight and wound up. My whole body ached. I wished I could just let go, but I didn’t know how. I ordered With Open Hands from the public library. This is a lovely little volume on prayer written by Henri J. M. Nouwen. I had read it once before, and I figured it couldn’t hurt to read it through again.
The chapter on “Prayer and Acceptance” is the centerpiece of the book; to pray with acceptance is to pray “with open hands.” When we open our hands in prayer, we learn to let go. We let go of the guilt God wants to forgive. We let go, perhaps, of unhealthy habits. We let go, ultimately, of the illusion of control. The act of letting go frees us to accept the gifts God wants to give to us and the future He has in store for us. Nouwen writes:
The person who prays is one who has the courage to stretch out his arms and let himself be led……
When you are still young and not yet adult, you want to hold everything in your own hands, but if you open your hands toward prayer, you are able to stretch out your arms and let yourself be led without knowing where. You know only the freedom which God’s breath has brought you will lead to new life, even if the cross is the only sign of it you can see.
But for the one who prays, even that sign has lost its fearful character.
I think about these words down by the river, and I start throwing rocks side-by-side with my son.
My throws are different from Walter’s. I throw underhanded, arm outstretched, palm facing up, and my rocks follow a graceful arc before plunging into the water. I feel my body start to unwind as I try to incorporate this posture in my prayer life as well.
For weeks I pray about the scenario close to my heart. I try to pray with an openness toward God’s will, but I also do not hesitate to let my desires be known. Then one day in late July, I am pushing the stroller by the river, and I pray, “If this scenario is to be, then dear God, please just let it be.” This is the exact opposite of the outcome I desire. It is, in truth, the exact opposite of the prayer I had prayed only months before. Even here, in late July, it is not the prayer I set out to pray. It is the prayer that God in His grace has given me. It is His gift for me to accept. I pray it, and for the moment, I am at peace.
I am at peace. The tension is gone. And yet, this is not a post advising that if you just pray hard enough and the right way all your depression and anxiety will disappear. It doesn’t work that way. If it did, I would have started praying “the right way” a long time ago. I don’t really understand depression and anxiety, but I like what Elizabeth Foss has to say about it. On her blog she writes this about her season of depression:
For the longest time (and it has seemed the longest time), I kept operating under the assumption that there was something I needed to do or say or pray to turn on the light. Slowly, I have begun to recognize that it is better to know that this season isn’t one to be pushed away under my own power and that God is with me in the dark.
There is no certain antidote to depression and no magic prayer to quell anxiety; but if God is with me in the dark, then I will pray to Him. I will pray because He asks me to:
“Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” Psalm 50:15
Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7
“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28
Prayer is not a prescription. It is a gift, an invitation, and ultimately a mystery. This summer, I was prompted to open my hands to that mystery, and now I have a story to tell about it.
It is late August. Summer is winding down, and some days I can feel depression and anxiety knocking at the door once again. It happens that the exact opposite scenario from that which I desired did come to pass. I may be at peace with it, but it still hurts, and I still pray. Some days my prayers are much less like that of an accepting adult, and much more like that of a petulant child: “Dear God, I didn’t mean it. I don’t care if it is for the best. I take it back.”
God hears this prayer too, and He sends me another beautiful morning for a walk by the river. The goldenrod is in full bloom along the riverbank. Walter and I go down to the water’s edge, and we throw some more rocks.
- Quote from Henri J. M. Nouwen, With Open Hands (New York: Ave Maria Press, 1972)
- Elizabeth Foss is a freelance writer from northern Virginia.
- All Bible verses are taken from the New International Version.