The LORD will fight for you; you have only to keep still. -- Exodus 14:14
In early February, I attended a weekend-long silent prayer retreat in Dickinson, Texas.
For an introvert like me, silent retreats are a DREAM, y’all. And this one came at just the right time. I realized that in the six months since I moved back to Houston, I hadn’t taken time to truly slow down and rest. Between starting a demanding new job, reuniting with all my friends, co-leading a women’s group, and getting back into the dating game, my days have been full to the brim. I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world, but a girl’s still gotta rest, yo.
I do my best to go into retreats without too much of an agenda so that I can let the Lord do what He wants to do; however, I like to have an overarching theme, quote, or scripture verse to help guide my experience. During the week leading up to the retreat, I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired — until one day, I walked into the kitchen while one of my roommates was listening to The Bible in a Year podcast hosted by Fr. Mike Schmitz. If you’re at all familiar with Fr. Mike, you know that he is incredibly skilled at packing truth and wisdom into bite-sized clips, thanks to both his snappy insights and lightning-fast speech. So it was not surprising that although I was in the kitchen for all of sixty seconds, I managed to gain all the clarity I needed.
Fr. Mike was discussing a passage from Exodus chapter 14, and when he got to verse 14, I was nearly stopped in my tracks:
“The Lord will fight for you; you have only to keep still.”
My type A, perfectionist, control freak, over-scheduled, exhausted heart breathed a sigh of relief, and I knew right away that this would be my guiding verse for the retreat. Just the thought of rest put me more at ease. I jotted the verse in my journal (as well as on a Post-It note affixed to my computer monitor for good measure), and for the remainder of the week, every time I saw it, I felt a little surge of excitement and anticipation for what this retreat might have in store.
When I arrived at the retreat center on Friday evening after a long workweek and 90 minutes of battling Houston rush hour traffic, I wondered if I’d ever be able to slow down enough to actually pray — or even sleep, for that matter. And as I greeted numerous friends and acquaintances in the check-in line, I found myself wishing that we could all just hang out and catch up instead of doing this hard thing we were about to do. But over the next few hours, as we turned off our phones and entered into silence, the hustle and overstimulation of everyday life began to drift away on the evening breeze. My racing mind slowed to a walk (or at least a jog), and my tense muscles began to feel relaxed and heavy. By the time we said our night prayers around 9 pm, I could hardly keep my eyelids open. When I arrived at my room, I crawled right into bed and — without text messages, social media feeds, or Brooklyn 99 on Hulu to distract me — fell almost immediately into a sleep so deep it might be medically classified as a coma. When I woke up naturally NINE HOURS LATER, I honestly felt like a different person, and I wasn’t sure what day or even what year it was. (After all, the last time I had slept for nine consecutive hours was last summer, when I was recovering from my wreck and sleeping off a mild concussion.) As I sipped some coffee and cracked open my journal, relishing this newfound surge of energy, clarity, and creativity, I was suddenly and inexplicably reminded of The Dream.
The Dream was an inspiration that came to me several years ago. It started as a long-term career trajectory and gradually came to encompass so much more. The Dream outlined a path for how my work, vocation, and ministry could all come together, and it beautifully integrated a number of my seemingly unrelated interests, skills, and experiences. But despite my initial excitement about The Dream, I had all but forgotten it over the past few years, as other concerns and commitments took precedence and as the busyness of everyday life made such a huge undertaking seem nearly impossible. But now, armed with a good night’s sleep, a few hours of unscheduled time, and some caffeine, The Dream felt a little more within reach. I began to furiously jot ideas in my journal, filling page after page until it was time for breakfast and our first session of the day.
The rest of the weekend was a beautiful blur of silent prayer punctuated by activities such as mass, confession, adoration, talks, and even opportunities for spiritual direction (all with COVID-19 protocols in place, of course). There were times I felt very close to God and times I felt bored, distracted, or just plain stuck. There were times when I prayed intensely and times when I simply took a walk or a nap. (Yes, I took not one but TWO naps on Saturday, despite the aforementioned 9-hour coma.) I could go on for days about the interior journey that took place in the 2.5 days of the retreat, but to make a long story short, the more I entered into a silent, restful state, the more it became abundantly clear that if I ever hoped to achieve The Dream — or any dream, for that matter — something needed to change.
My first thought was that I couldn’t maintain my current pace of life, but as I dug deeper, I realized that the problem had less to do with how much I had going on and more to do with how much I expected of myself in each of those areas, as well as my tendency to conflate all tasks as equally important and urgent. It wasn’t that I had to choose between my work, my spiritual life, my relationships, my ministry commitments, my hobbies, and my health — it was that I needed to better prioritize these areas and respect my limitations as a human and not a Lean, Green, Productivity Machine. This is, of course, not a new struggle — this is the Story of My Life (cue One Direction) and the motivation behind starting this blog. But in that moment, with The Dream tugging on my heart, it had never been so clear to me that my perfectionism was truly going to be an obstacle to my progress rather than a catalyst for it.
I think part of me has always assumed that my perfectionism is one of my secret weapons, that sure, it can be annoying, but just look at the results it produces! A home and car that are always tidy, an inbox that’s always empty, an up-to-date spreadsheet for every facet of life, a flawlessly prepared agenda for my women’s group, error-free deliverables for every work assignment, a menu plan of healthy meals every week, laundry that’s never overdue — and the list goes on. But at what cost? These weren’t the only outcomes of a perfectionist lifestyle. There were also the therapy visits, sleepless nights, anxiety meds, silent tears, tension headaches, and constant reminders from my ruthless inner critic that everyone else had these things figured out and I, somehow, was terribly behind and inadequate. I wasn’t just making the perfect the enemy of the good — I was making it the enemy of my health, happiness, and ability to achieve what’s truly important to me.
When I explained this emerging dilemma to my spiritual director late Saturday afternoon, she surprised me with her response.
“I think you’re ready to make a complete act of surrender to the Lord,” she said calmly.
At first I wasn’t entirely sure how this tied into my struggle with perfectionism, or what an act of surrender was even supposed to look like. But I’ve worked with my spiritual director for nearly 3.5 years now, and she has never led me astray, so I took her advice to heart. I once again opened my journal, this time with the goal of verbalizing the specific fears, temptations, and situations that present the greatest obstacles to loosening my grip and relinquishing control. And as I did, I began to see precisely why my spiritual director had given me this suggestion. The end result, after several weeks of revising and editing, was the prayer below.
I call it the “Litany of Letting Go” (cue Elsa), partly because the “Litany of Surrender” was already taken and partly because to me, this phrasing simply resonates more deeply. At first this prayer felt extremely personal, but after talking about it with several friends, I realized that perhaps it would be helpful to share. I know SO many people who can relate to one or more aspects and who, like me, are seeking deliverance from these struggles.
In a future post, I’ll share more about the concrete ways I’ve seen my thoughts, words, and actions change as a result of praying this powerful petition nearly every day. But for now, I offer it to you, my readers, in hopes that you’ll try it, tweak it, and truly make it your own — and of course, let me know how it goes. I’ve even divided it into sections so you can pick and choose what resonates most. Now get out there and “Let It Go”!
The Litany of Letting Go PRIDE + CONTROL From the belief that I have to “do it all”… From the fear that if I don’t do it, no one will… From the belief that my way is the best or only way… From the temptation to give unsolicited feedback, advice, or correction… From resistance to accepting the help or ideas of others… From the tendency to seek inner peace by controlling my outward environment… Deliver me, Jesus. BUSYNESS + STRIVING From the constant urge to be “productive,” even if it means filling my time with unimportant tasks… From the desire to “keep up’” with those around me… From the view of busyness as a status symbol… From the belief that I have to earn rest or wait until I’m completely exhausted to pause… From all unnecessary pressure or “shoulds”… Deliver me, Jesus. PLANNING + PREPARATION From the insatiable desire to always know what’s coming… From the fear that if I don’t perfectly plan or prepare, I will endure needless suffering… From the belief that my plans are better than Yours… From any suspicion or skepticism of Your infinite love and care for me… Deliver me, Jesus. SELF IMAGE + SELF-TALK From my ruthless inner critic… From impossible or unreasonable expectations of myself and others… From the belief that I am lazy or inadequate if I lower or adjust my standards… From the temptation to equate my work/productivity with my worth… From false ideas about who I am or who You are… Deliver me, Jesus. PEOPLE PLEASING From the fear of what others will think of me when I am true to myself and to Your call for me… From the tendency to care more about what others think of me than than what You think of me… From the desire for affirmation… From the fear of asking for what I need… From the fear of setting and maintaining healthy boundaries… From the fear of letting others down… From the fear of letting others see my mess... Deliver me, Jesus. RESTLESSNESS From all forms of restlessness… From any false sense of urgency… From my love of comfort and fear of the cross… From the desire to “earn” Your love rather than receive it unconditionally… From undue attachment to anything other than You… From fear of what will happen when I surrender all to You... Deliver me, Jesus. Jesus, I love You. Help me to love You more. Jesus, I trust You. Help me to trust You more. Jesus, I surrender to You. Help me to surrender more. Amen.