In the twilight between awake and sleep, I am often troubled by dark images and ideas. Like bad things happening to family members, historic moments when the worst of mankind has prevailed, the innumerable times I’ve been an idiot, and spiders.
Even when I ask Jesus to turn off the mental television for me, my mind insists on wandering back to what I don’t want to see or hear.
So, when these dark and stormy pictures creep into my mind at night, I tell myself the story of a movie – Only You, starring Marisa Tomei (as Faith) and Robert Downey Jr. (as Damon Bradley/Peter).
Telling myself the story is different from just playing the movie in my mind, as if I’m sitting on the couch with a make-believe bowl of popcorn. I use my own words and dramatic inflection, with a bit of dialogue mixed in. Sometimes I pretend I’m sharing it with a friend or pitching it to an agent. Sometimes, I change perspective, telling the story as if I’m Faith’s bestie, Kate, or her brother, Larry.
But no matter where I start or how I tell it, this method is foolproof. Within a few short minutes, I’m safely asleep and relieved.
I’ve tried other movies. Nope. I’ve tried the “sit back with popcorn” approach. Doesn’t work. It’s got to be Only You, “out loud” in my mind.
During the last couple of months, I’ve resorted to this escape movie ritual at least a hundred times, sometimes twice or three times in one night. Peace and sleep have been elusive even though I am exhausted by the news and miserable condition of the world, conditions that have become part of my list of all things dark and ugly. I am worn out …
… as I imagine the numbing pain desperate mamas endure as their babies are taken right out of their arms.
… as I picture defenseless little ones struggling to survive alone, without a loving touch or kind word or sense of hope.
… as I feared for the twelve young boys and a coach, trapped for days, without the warmth of the sun, waiting for an uncertain rescue.
… as I wonder about the chaotic financial, environmental, and educational world we are leaving for our own children and their children and theirs.
Yes, I’ve tried to lay quietly and talk to Jesus about these things. I’ve asked for relief from the pictures that won’t fade. I’ve tried quoting scripture. But as I pray, it turns into just another way to tumble back into my self-made abyss of despair and anxiety.
So, instead of praying, going to my happy place, or making to-do lists, I tell myself a story.
Here’s the question: Why doesn’t talking to Jesus and quoting scripture work for me? Why don’t the pictures disappear and the voices quiet when I ask for help?
Am I’m doing it all wrong? Maybe I’m a weak pray-er. Or maybe I need to memorize more scripture and then pick better verses.
Or … oh, good golly, Miss Molly…
Maybe I don’t really believe that God will answer my prayer.
And so I ponder and pray. I have long and candid conversations with the one true God who loves me with wild abandon and wants nothing but what’s best for me.
And I ask Him: What is real?
What is true?
Why am I such a mess?
And, as always, He answers.
“No, you’re not doing it wrong.
No, your prayers are not weak and you don’t need different verses.
And, yes, I know you really do believe that I will answer your prayers, even if it’s not always yes.”
I know, my lovelies, that no and wait don’t feel like real answers. We all want something we can journal about and add to our Page of Praise.
But sometimes NO or WAIT are very clear. True, sometimes it’s YES. But so often, we can’t draw a straight line from our request to His answer.
Like, instead of calming an anxious heart, God may send a wise therapist and a miraculous little pill that you take once a day.
Or, instead of sending the right guy right away, you may have to wait until you move, work too many weird jobs – none of which are the one you wanted or prepared for – and talk on the phone for months before you even meet him or know he’s the one.
Maybe instead of making where you are and think you belong a lot easier, it may get a lot harder. It may get hard enough that you leave and find a better place, a place where you really belong.
And maybe in the dark of night, when the goblins invade and bring with them the ugliness of the world, instead of shooing the goblins away, Jesus says, “Tell yourself a story.” And as you describe how the Ouija board slowly spells the answer to Faith’s question “Who is my soul mate?”, the story comes to life. And you drift off to sleep by the time Damon Bradley calls to say he won’t attend the wedding.
Because only God has all the real answers.