One Question I Ask Myself Before I Pray for Clarity

She runs past me on my way up the stairs, shouting over her shoulder, “I know it isn’t true, but I’m going to prove it to you.”

She heads out the front door to the yard and waves her arms up toward the sky. I continue up the stairs and when I get to my bedroom, there are her sister and brother at the window, one holding an iPad. Over their shoulder I notice our address is typed into the map app, the camera zoomed in to an aerial view of our cul-de-sac. I’m starting to catch on.

One Question I Ask Myself Before I Pray for Clarity

They stare out the window at her down below, then back to the screen in their hand. Window, screen. Window, screen.

“Okay, you’re right,” he calls to her through the window. “I can’t see you.”

If only all arguments were so easy to resolve. If only all we had to do when we are unsure of something is to run out to the front yard and wave our arms to confirm, no, there isn’t a camera in space video taping us at all times.

Well, there may be, but this image on Google Maps isn’t evidence of it.

Praying for Clarity

Clarity is one of those words I’ve used in prayers for many years, one I’ve held onto like a tattered lovey, a comfort when things seem dark. I’ll be alright if I could just get some clarity.

In nearly every major and sometimes not-so-major decision, I’ve prayed for clarity. Once when that didn’t seem to work, I even Googled how to make a decision. But lately, every time the word comes out of my mouth, I hesitate. I’m realizing for me, clarity can be a nicer word for control. If I could just see the future, I could make a good decision about this part of my life.

I say I want clarity and what I mean is I want to have a peaceful feeling about this decision. I want to know the right answer, to know I’m making the right choice. And I desperately want to take out all shades of gray when it comes to making this decision, want clear lines and long views and big pictures. I can become so focused on making the right choice that I forget to acknowledge what a gift it is that I can make a choice at all.

Before I Pray for Clarity

I forget to receive the gift of grace, to remember how Jesus is with me and has made my heart his home. I forget I can trust him with my life and trust myself to choose well regardless of how unclear things may seem.

I’m not saying I won’t get peaceful feelings or right answers eventually, but when I make those first things instead of second things, decision-making becomes a lot more frustrating.

And that conversation in John 14 comes rolling over my soul, when Thomas said, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going so how can we know the way?”

The most logical response of Jesus should have been “I’ll show you the way, I’ll show you the truth, I’ll show you your life.” We would like that and it would seem loving and make sense and comfort everyone. It would comfort me.

Instead, though, Jesus simply says to Thomas, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

He didn’t say, “Come to me and I’ll give you answers.” He said, “Come to me and I’ll give you rest.”

How to Make a Decision

And maybe we’ll still get the answers, maybe he’ll show us the way even while he is the way. But I think he is telling Thomas something important about life and he tells me this as well.

Jesus prayed to his Father, “Give us this day our daily bread,” but I want bread to last the month. He invites me back, again and again, to ask only for grace to last through nightfall and no longer, trusting more will come tomorrow.

One question I ask myself before I pray for clarity is this – What do I want even more than clarity?

Sometimes I can’t answer that because there’s nothing I want more than clarity. In a way, this is answer all by itself, telling me something important to know. Maybe I’m worshiping clarity rather than Christ. If I always had clarity, why would I need faith?

Faith is confidence in what we hope for.These words feel incomplete today, but I’ll publish anyway. Maybe that’s the point?

 

Comments

  1. Megan says

    Emily, wow. Your words are so on time. This has literally been the crux of my thoughts and prayers for years – especially in the last year. Makes me realize I may need to step back and refocus.

    And you’re so right – that is the point. I think His Word is so often prescriptive to what we need in the moment, not what we think we need (or want) for our five year plan. And that can be hard to swallow.

  2. Ellen says

    I’ve read/heard John 14 SO MANY TIMES! In fact, John14: 1-6 are my favorite bible verses. You made me read them in a whole new way by the substitution of the words “I will show you” for “I am”! Jesus says “I am” for a reason…but I never stopped to think of it in that way. I love it when that happens!

    Thank you!

  3. Deb says

    Powerful and thought-provoking words, Emily. Thank you for publishing even though you felt your words may be incomplete. Maybe that is the point! Blessings to you.

  4. says

    Emily,
    Thank you for this wisdom, perfectly incomplete, reminding me that faith nestles in accepting life’s gray shadows and foggy blurs. I, too, confuse clarity for control. And unfolding your words in my heart this morning brought me a big slice of God’s peace. What a gift. I am grateful.

  5. Naomi says

    Yes. Not incomplete, but breathlessly aware. If only daily grace, daily bread, wasn’t so inherently daily. Daily is so hard, but so all we have, right? Couldn’t we just stock up? Daily is exhausting to my mind – these days that just come one after another and each demands food, grace, relentlessly or starve.

    I’m starving a bit today. Your words bring hope, so thank you for that. I’m seeking daily grace in a season when I can’t see past each day and nothing is in my control anymore (was it ever?). Clarity looks about as fuzzy as the ultrasound photo on my desk and decisions about the unknown are hard to make (and if only I could find some clarity, the decisions would all fall into place, right??). So I’m breathlessly seeking and hoping to death to find Life as I carry a new life and trust that all will go well, having no reason to believe it won’t except for fear of the unknown. I suppose “unknown” and “what we do not see” are pretty similar, huh? God grant us faith to continue when we do not see what is unknown — and faith to rest in Life instead of fear.

  6. says

    Hmm, I had never considered the concepts of clarity and control together. You have my wheels turning for sure. Control is something I struggle with, so I probably need to pay attention to when I am seeking “clarity” too.

    Here recently I’m learning that it’s better anyway when I surrender my perceived control to God. His plan is always bigger and better and more complete than mine could ever be!
    LeeAnn Taylor {The Mosaic Life}´s last blog post ..No Such Thing As “Just A Mom”

  7. says

    The way circumstances, both far away and close to home, are swirling around my little head these days I absolutely understand that yearning for clarity. I call it wisdom. It amounts to the same thing. Give me the plan please.
    We are in the process of looking for assisted living for my parents. They are of an age now that they simply cannot look beyond this moment. Having to consider tomorrow is just too much. So we try to take things moment by moment and pray for grace. It is a good lesson for me – the one who keeps saying I want to live exactly that way – moment by moment.
    Good words, Emily.
    Linda Chontos´s last blog post ..Encouraging Words For the Weekend

  8. says

    I am in such a season of learning to let go of knowing that every decision has complete clarity and is correct and perfect. I feel like God is telling me, “Yep. You might be making a decision that is completely wrong, but that’s OK.” (Nothing sinful or immoral.) It goes against all I’ve believed about decision making in the past. This post was very timely for me. Thanks for sharing it. Your feeling of incompleteness is exactly spot on.
    Cori´s last blog post ..Because I Love You

  9. says

    Emily, this is so true. A quote from St. Augustine that always comes to mind for me when I’m agonizing over a decision is “Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.”
    I always have to remind myself that I’m responsible for obedience, not for being right. I’m responsible for following so closely that I can see nothing but Christ, especially when that means that I can’t see past today.

    • says

      Thank you, Carla. Excellent quote; I’ll be remembering that one. And wow, you are so right: we are responsible for our obedience, not our rightness. What a weight that lifts off our backs!

  10. Barb says

    Emily, Bless you for this post today! My husband and I are going through a time of non-clarity and second guessing ourselves and wondering if we’ve made the right decision(s) in some super HUGE decisions. We’ve prayed. We’ve talked. We’ve thought. We’ve prayed more. Now we need to leave it all in God’s hands and stop trying to see the future and stop trying to have total answers/clarity.

  11. Rachel says

    Wow. Just what I needed to read today as we sit on the verge of making big, change-our-life decisions about our future ministry. Thank you!

  12. Karly says

    This is the first things I’ve ever read by you.
    It was so beautiful and powerful. Thank you, I needed this today.

  13. says

    Well, you’re smack dab right in the middle of my business with this one. We were supposed to be moving to London this week and instead I had dental work done today and my husband is fixing a clogged toilet and we’re (eternally) packing. Because we don’t have clarity yet and so we wait with uncontrollable delays (and realize how much I’ve made an idol of clarity and control.)
    Thanks Emily.
    Shelly Miller´s last blog post ..What Happens When God Takes a Wrecking Ball to Your Comfortable Life {And a Giveaway}

  14. Anna says

    Thank you for this today, we are waiting to make a big decision for our future and we tend to get anxious, but this reminded me we have to pray and trust our Lord to guide us and lead us. We have to “be still and listen”. We don’t want revelation of our future, as you mentioned, we just want to be sure that this is the right road to take…Praying for guidance :-)
    Thank you again Emily
    Blessings
    Anna

  15. says

    “And maybe we’ll still get the answers, maybe he’ll show us the way even while he is the way. ” This has been my epiphany of late – that the pursuit of God IS the finding of what we need. Finding all the answers would mean we stop looking for Jesus, and what an empty life we’d have without the pursuit.
    Also, my kids are pretty sure they’re on Google earth because they were in our yard when the Google car drove by. It’s kinda creepy. But surely they’re not watching us…
    Tresta @ Sharp Paynes´s last blog post ..Pursuit

  16. says

    Seek ye first comes to mind when I read this… also makes me think of the manna provided from heaven- but only enough for each day. Faith and trust. Clarity and control… Pondering over that connection that you made. Thanks for your sweet words- they are in no way incomplete. Have a beautiful Wednesday!
    Heather´s last blog post ..Gettin’ Schooled

  17. Summer says

    Emily,
    Right now I’m a season that’s leaving me scared and confused and unsure, and your words were exactly what I needed a reminder of today. So thankful for God’s constant grace when I keep trying to take the control from Him because faith and trust is just so hard sometimes! I’ve been trying to make things happen by myself, hoping that I can “create” some sort of rest on my own when what I really should be doing is sinking into Jesus. Why does it always seem so much harder than it is?

  18. says

    Thanks for these words today. I love the way God can use our work, even when it feels unfinished. That for me is a lesson in and of itself today. Thank you for pointing out the veiled desire for control in our quest for clarity. For me that is often true. We are in the midst of a long season of transition, seeking to find that right place after retiring from the military. Trying to make decisions with teenagers and college kids, we often long for clarity. I think I’m changing my prayer to “I’m walking and resting through this transition with You Lord. You have the answers and when they come, give us the grace to recognize it.”
    Ginger Harrington´s last blog post ..Recent Guest Posts at Guideposts and Wives of Faith

  19. Lois says

    Oh, Emily–I don’t always read your post on the day that it arrives, and I’ve never read it to my husband. But we had just cone in from a long conversation regarding a change of schools for our girls after a particularly rough year. I’ve been praying for weeks for clarity as we need to make a decision by tomorrow. Tonight nothing seems clear. But your words give me such hope! I’ve been telling our children that God sees us and knows what we need. I feel more equipped to make a decision based on faith instead of the need for control. Thank you.

  20. JK says

    Very timely, as I’m in a confusing search for a job… and a vocation. I want clarity and control, but God offers me Himself instead… a MUCH better gift, but one I don’t always appreciate because I am too preoccupied worshiping clarity. Thanks for putting such thoughtful words to this struggle.

  21. Kim says

    This was very insightful for me. I am terrible at making decisions as I often fear making the wrong one. Praying for clarity seemed to be calling my name.

    But! “If I always had clarity, why would I need faith?” This spoke even louder.

    Thank you for publishing this today.

  22. says

    oh, emily, i’ve been deep in this very struggle of late. and here you come and join up with Mother Teresa speaking truth to my heart. i just had to share this quote from Brennan Manning’s Ruthless Trust (p.5);

    “When the brilliant ethicist John Kavanaugh went to work for three months at ‘the house of the dying’ in Calcutta, he was seeking a clear answer as to how best to spend the rest of his life. On the first morning there he met Mother Teresa. She asked, ‘And what can I do for you?’ …..
    ‘Pray that I have clarity.’
    She said firmly, ‘No, I will not do that.’
    When he asked her why, she said, ‘Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.’
    When Kavanaugh commented that she always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, she laughed and said, ‘I have never had clarity, what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.’”
    melony´s last blog post ..An Unexpected Journey-looking back

  23. says

    “If I always had clarity, why would I need faith?”

    Oh, Emily. This post was just what I needed today. As a highschool senior who is actually a college freshman too, I feel like I’m constantly making and avoiding decisions, living in almost constant fear that “what if this is the wrong choice and I mess up my life forever?!?” (yes, I have Graceful and am currently reading it for the second time.) I’m learning that this season is about trusting that God will be with me where ever I am and whatever I do, and surrendering to His plans for my life, through I can’t see through the fog. I just need to take one step at a time and maybe, maybe the fog will lift, or maybe I’ll just grasp His hand a little tighter and keep walking in faith.

    Thank you.
    Lindsey´s last blog post ..Thankful

  24. says

    I kind of laugh when people write or talk about steps to decision making. None of my decision making has ever looked the same. It is definitely all based on following Jesus in that moment and wanting His best. Sometimes He directs you down a specific path and sometimes He lets us go down whichever one we choose as long as our intent is to serve and honor Him while down that road.
    Ali´s last blog post ..These are the best yeses

  25. Mary T says

    Emily, felt like you wrote this post just for me, but know that God-inspired words are meant for many. Had an issue this morning… talked to God, decided to be patient a d “Wait on the Lord” and eventually made a choice and acted on it. Immediately after, there I was asking God it I made the right choice. Asked myself why I made that choice? Was it to benefit others? Was I willing to take a risk of offending someone else? Was the risk worth it? And would it be right in God’s eyes? Answered yes to all. Would I personally benefit? That answer was definitely not. But I went with my heart in patience and felt led by the Spirit…your post and the comments reminded me right or wrong, God gave us freedom of choice, not perfect choices or always right choices, but obedient and righteous choices! Praise God!

  26. says

    Thanks Emily, this got me thinking about Proverbs 3:5-6 again.
    “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him,and he will make your paths straight.” There have been countless times when I’ve been afraid to make a decision in case it was the wrong one. Even procrastinating over making a decision is still a decision – and not usually a good one. Making the best decision we’re able to make in the circumstances, and then trusting God with the outcome is a much better strategy. I’m preaching to myself here! I know God is whispering “Trust me.” And that’s what I want to do.
    Ann Graham´s last blog post ..Finding the answer between Yes and No

  27. Mandy says

    Love this…so on point. I read Brennon Manning’s book Ruthless Trust and he said the last thing we hold on to is clarity, but to say I trust you to the Lord might be the most yet hard thing we can say. Thanks for sharing;)

  28. says

    “If I always had clarity, why would I need faith?” That question resonates loud for me today. I have often said how wonderful it would be if God would just come down and write for me exactly what He wants me to do. In those big decisions I’ve made…and some wrong. In all the little decisions I make every day…some right, a lot wrong. But this question puts all of that in light of truth. Why would I need faith if I always knew the answer? I wouldn’t. Thank you for this, Emily.
    Meredith Bernard´s last blog post ..When You Can’t See Nothin’ For the Fog {Woman2Woman | Link-up}

  29. says

    Emily, lately I have been putting way too much emphasis on clarity. Thank you for reminding .me that I will never know all the possible outcomes no matter how OCD I am about researching whether it be about an illness or how to write my first blogpost but I do know I can rest in Him.
    Kathleen Burkinshaw´s last blog post ..TOP 5 TO-DO LIST ITEMS

  30. Kim says

    You have put to words my thoughts that I haven’t fully processed yet. Thank you for your wisdom and insight. I struggle with making the “right” decisions and pray often for that clarity. You have helped me to see that perhaps I need to shift my thinking and focus. Thank You.

  31. says

    Emily,

    I’m a newer reader here, but appreciated your connection here between clarity really being more about control. That’s convicting to me.

    I am halfway through your book, “A Million Little Ways,” and I find myself tearing up at times, or quietly cheering and smiling in others. Thank you. I quoted a couple lines from your book in my post today (http://www.jenniferdougan.com/2014/08/did-you-know-we-see-it-in-you-too.html)
    and cited you. Thanks for letting our Artist God shine out of you too in a million little ways. :)

    Warmly,
    Jennifer Dougan
    http://www.jenniferdougan.com
    Jennifer Dougan´s last blog post ..And It’s In You Too…

  32. says

    Bread for a month. . . I’ll take two. I & mine are sitting in the middle of the biggest decisions we’ve made in ages. All of life upside-down. My closest friend just offered to pray for our clarity. Now I’m grateful I don’t have to wait for that. In an odd way, trust may be easier. Hallelujah.
    jill britz´s last blog post ..for when you don’t really believe God

  33. says

    Yes. “He didn’t say, “Come to me and I’ll give you answers.” He said, “Come to me and I’ll give you rest.” He gives us Himself. Thank you for your honest words.
    Karly´s last blog post ..noticing change

  34. says

    Thank you for posting even though you felt your words were incomplete. These are the lessons I’m struggling to learn right now. It’s hard to look myself in the face and accept that sometimes I want something else more than Christ, to acknowledge that and give it back to him. The desperation for control in all its forms (clarity, neatness, schedule) is so well known to me. We’re in the middle of a cross country move right now. Over and over again, I have to ask myself what my goal is. To feel settled or to draw near to Christ? To have my kids be comfortable or to have them depend on Jesus? To get time with my husband (separate cars during the day and separate hotel rooms at night due to the kids) or to get time with my Lord? All that to say, thank you for your words. My soul needed these reminders.
    Marian´s last blog post ..Travelling Circus: a PCS in Progress

  35. says

    If we had clarity, we wouldn’t need faith.

    Yes.

    What do I want more than clarity? Oh, I can tell you that. I want comfort, a guarantee that I will not experience pain or struggles or sadness. That is definitely what I want more than I want clarity. Clarity is a means to that end, but at the end of the day, what I want is to avoid pain.

    Unfortunately (perhaps a poor word choice), God uses pain to refine us. This is sadly incompatible with my fleshly desires. I fear pain and want to avoid it. God uses pain regularly to refine and purify our faith (1 Peter 1). I love Him anyway, but I learn slow (and I’m sure what I should be saying is that HE loves me anyway).

    My husband always says that God isn’t putting decisions out there so we can try to get it right or get squashed. My husband says that, as long as we take it to the Lord, apply scripture and strive to be obedient, it doesn’t matter much whether we choose the right or the left. God can and will bless His children on any path.

    Of course, this is never a guarantee that we will avoid pain.

    BUT. God promises that there will be no pain in heaven, so that is what I’m banking on.
    ruth´s last blog post ..Get ‘er down

  36. says

    It all comes down to trust, whether we are seeking clarity, control, or a sense of security. I’ve learned over the past several years that God always provides what we need when we it. Today, I’m so grateful I read this post right before going to sleep. He somehow knew I needed to read this today. Thank you, Emily, for sharing.
    Yuko Jones | northfield gate´s last blog post ..The Taste of Happiness

  37. says

    ah yes, the heart tug to make clarity an idol. this is beautiful, emily. and i wholeheartedly agree. well, i’m wholeheartedly seeking to embrace it. :)

    the Lord whispered this same truth to me many years ago when i heard a story about a man talking to mother teresa. he said he needed clarity on something.
    and she said,
    “it’s not clarity you need. it’s Jesus.”

    and my prayers have changed ever since.
    tanya@truthinweakness´s last blog post ..For When Your World Feels Painfully Small

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