The Sacred Work of Sitting

The peonies bloomed last week, the sharpest white you can imagine with surprising color inside, like someone couldn’t resist trying out the  bright pink marker on that easy white canvas.


I was out of town when they came full out, teasing with their friendliness. They act all happy-like now, but they’ll only be around for a week or so. We’ll enjoy them while they last.

For the last few months, I’ve shared a little about the fog I’ve walked through. I wrote about it here (for when the fog rolls in), here (for the soul pulled in all directions) and also here (for the wannabe hopeful).

Fog is the only way I’ve come up with describing it, even though I accept these seasons are part of normal life. It’s part of growing up, too. I’m learning more about what it means to have faith without depending on certain kinds of feelings to go along with it. Sometimes faith feels like nothing.

This soul of mine has been churning the transition we’re in, turning slowly, shaking out distraction, seeing what’s leftover now that the dust has settled. Some of the identities and certainties I have held onto for years have fallen gently away.

While some seasons of change are more pronounced than others, aren’t we always moving from one thing to another, begining and ending and middling? Life is made of transition and the soul is always processing something. I do well when I remember to leave a little breathing room for the motion.

May brings along all kinds of transitions in her colorful basket – graduations, anniversaries, weddings, recitals, tournaments, performances, and ceremonies. But all anniversaries aren’t celebrations and May brings those along, too.

The simple act of sitting is becoming a kind of metaphor for me, a way to practice faith when things feel hectic, foggy, or when truth doesn’t feel true. Nothing fancy or hokey, but intentionally sitting down with the reality of the moment, refusing to talk myself out of it can bring quiet discovery of what I long for, what I fear, where my hope burns bright.

Before we move too quickly to hope, it’s important to grieve the losses, to handle them, face them, and let disappointment do its deep work.

We like to talk about celebrating the gifts, but facing the losses might be important, too. Not to wallow, but to keep company with them long enough to recognize what part they play in our story, to name them, and eventually release them in the presence of Christ.

Sit and consider what you no longer have to hold or what you’ll soon need to let go.

For example, you’re not technically a pastor’s wife anymore. How does that feel?

They don’t seem to understand. How might you be misunderstanding them, too?

He’s graduating. Where does that leave you?

She’s growing up. What are you afraid of?

He left and you don’t think he’s coming back. Is it time to let go?

The Sacred Work of Sitting at Chatting at the Sky.

Have a seat and consider the disappointments as well as the celebrations, the fears as well as the joy. Here are a few places I’ve been sitting lately.

photo 1-4 copy

I sat on this bench with a book and a journal, but I did more staring than reading. I watched the moms and babies stroll by, the workers with their good intentions toward the public bathrooms, the guy on his bike who rode without a helmet. I read a little about David, how he was both a man after God’s heart and a killer. I thought about how none of us are just one thing, but many shades of light and dark and shadows of gray, proof that we need Jesus.

Alone does good work.

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I sat in the front seat of a rented Ford Focus that I paid one million dollars to borrow for the day and panicked when I first got in because the seat was too low and I couldn’t figure out how to adjust it. How do they expect me to drive if I can’t see over the dashboard!? But then relief when I found the right button and the seat raised up and all was well.

Sometimes you sit in unfamiliar places and it takes some adjusting to get your bearings. You drive alone on unknown highways and cry as you listen to Roz Chast talk about her aging parents on the radio.

Sitting in the driver’s seat of a strange rental car, listening to other people’s stories does good work.

photo 1-4I sat here in these airport seats, waiting to board the winged, sideways skyscraper, remembering that I can’t hold it up with mind games or willpower. So instead I ate an apple and read an article about Sandra Oh leaving Grey’s Anatomy while waiting to board the bus in the air and shoot out into the wild blue sky.

Sitting on the edge of my comfort zone does good work. Especially when the seat is at 30,000 feet.
Processed with VSCOcam with x1 preset I sat for several meals across from Shannan Martin, one of my favorite writers, a gift from the internet. We traipsed and meandered through town and conversation, sitting on cement benches and vinyl restaraunt chairs, spralled on the end of white duvet covered beds.

Sitting with a friend to hear and to be heard does good work.Processed with VSCOcam with t1 presetI sat in this ergonomic chair you can’t see (trust me, it was super ergonomically correct), stared out the window and had to accept that even though I came here to get work done, I didn’t want to be a relentless dictator over my soul if my productivity didn’t meet my expectations. Even while I’m doing the work of counting words and crafting sentences, Jesus just wants to be with me and this is the kind of work that means something even though I can’t measure it.

Sitting with my weakness, my obsessions, and my profound ability to twist art into achievement – this does good work, too.

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I squeezed myself onto this swing in my neighborhood during a morning walk, thought of the ways our life used to look compared to how it looks now. While some of the changes are encouraging, others are not so easy to categorize. I recognize my desire to evaluate everything even as I appreciate the mystery of being unable to. I thought of the future and the past and where my hope comes from.

The rhythm of sitting on swings does good work, a reminder that we are tethered even as we sway.

homeworkI sat with her at the kitchen table, quiet while she spells her words, frustrated over my frustration, ready for the year to end. I answered the questions I could, aware of how soon the day will come when their homework is beyond my ability to advise. She’s moving on and I can’t always go with her. But while she’s here, I’ll sit beside her.

Sitting with family does good work.The Sacred Work of Sitting

When we sit we may find answers but most likely we’ll finally hear the questions. We may uncover things we’d rather avoid, things like fear, anger, weakness, or entitlement. But we might also find courage, peace, and hope there, too. When we sit, we let what is be, we remember to release outcomes or perhaps finally admit how tightly we are clinging to them. When we sit, we let ourselves be human.

Where will you sit today?


  1. says

    Right now I’m sitting in the pre-morning quiet….reading to avoid all the things churning beneath the surface. Tempted for a moment to move on from here without really listening. But paused instead for just a moment to ‘sit and let myself be human.’ And I can sence the invitation today from the One who knows everything; “sit with Me for a moment and let Me do some work”

    i believe with you, it will be good work.

    • says

      Always does me right when I take those moments for humanity. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? I’m glad to know your pause was worth it.

  2. says

    Thank you for this essay, it touches many tender spots in me this morning. Change is hard, and as you say, sometimes it’s good and sometimes its difficult. I’m finding myself sitting and gazing into space a lot lately too, and your words really capture how it feels, and what it’s about, and most importantly, gives me permission to continue. (one day I’ll learn to give myself permission, I suppose…)

  3. says

    I’ve been wandering through that fog the last couple of days obstinately trying to force things to get done. Maybe if I stop and sit for a while when I get up I’ll navigate better. Thanks your for you words.

    • says

      You’re welcome, Jenn. The forcing always seems to have the opposite outcome of what we want, doesn’t it? At least that’s how it is for me.

  4. says

    I’m feeling a little under the weather today, and I’m giving myself permission to lie down and rest. I sent everyone off to school and work, and I’m going to enjoy the quiet, allowing myself to heal with no agenda. This is impossibly hard for me.

  5. says

    mmm … sometimes change happens in one instant. but the whole transition thing seems to go on forever.

    this sitting, the walking straight into the questions where answers seem to be foggy at best, may be some of the hardest work we’ll ever do.

    this is the invitation that can lead us to wisdom. acceptance. and therein, sometimes rather illusively, lies peace. and always, grace.

    i’m savoring your words today, Emily …

  6. says

    Today–sitting with children over their school work and searching for some big picture, direction-type answers. Trying to let silence do it’s work as I listen for God’s voice in the quiet. Thank you for this. Sometimes we have to pause and let ourselves feel.

  7. Ashley says

    Emily~thank you for yet another beautiful post. It’s a relief to read words that resonate so strongly they feel like I could have written them too. Thank you for “understanding” and putting the words out there. I think that’s the hard part for me at times. Your use of the term “fog” is very fitting for this season of transition I’ve been walking through too. It’s just nice to know someone out there “gets it” :) I’m sure whatever is on the “other side” of all of this will be beyond our expectations (Ephesians 3:20). God bless you and yours.

  8. says

    Sitting here in a quiet space, reading a sister’s words who I’ve never laid eyes on but know what she means because we share the same Father.
    Sitting on my stool leaning over my art table, relaxed in my paint covered paints, no make up and a paint brush in my hand. Sitting…Waiting to see what portion of God’s character my heart is ready to hear from Him today. Ready to see His love letter of the day to me in color on this empty page in front of me.

  9. says

    Really loved this post. Great direction for dealing with May crazies, when spring is begging us to just sit down and behold. One night this week it was extra cool one evening and I sat wrapped in a quilt on our deck and just listened to the evening come awake with critters I’d ignored so far this year. Just sat … and it was the highlight of the week so far. Loved seeing you and Shannen together working and talking.

  10. says

    ?The rhythm of sitting on swings does good work, a reminder that we are tethered even as we sway.?— reminds me of Hebrews 6:19 and speaks to me so much today. I sit at my desk at a job I don’t love and long to be creative in a job I do love. I’m swaying on some responsibilities I have at my church and trying to cut through the fog that comes when you listen too much to human opinion and not enough to God’s truth. God bless you and your sweet words as you share them here- I hope the sun peaks through soon for you girl!

  11. says

    My most favorite place to sit, to think, to ponder, to pray, to read, to write is in the rocking chair on my front porch. That is when I want to be alone : ) There is also beauty in sitting across the table from a friend as she pours out her heart or the sitting with a young mom who just needs to know she’s going to make it through, or the sitting next to him on the couch, cuddled close, because we enjoy one another’s company. Yes, Emily, sitting is a beautiful thing.

  12. says

    Beautifully said. I’ve also been in a bit of a fog lately. I’ve been standing at Indecision Junction tapping my foot and checking my watch over and over, waiting for the Lord to make it clear which direction to go. You’ve given me a great reminder to just sit and relax; He’ll help me make the right decision when it’s time. In the mean time, I guess Indecision Junction might have some sights to enjoy, too. Thanks for your words, Emily.

  13. says

    I like this Emily. Thank you. I’ve been running hard, very hard and I find myself with no white space in the in between. I don’t like that very much. I’d love to sit and hear the questions. I think that’s what I loved about your post. You pointed to things I need to be doing. Not asking what the next thing is, but how change may be good. Not making a to do list, but waiting on God to show me how He wants to mold me and make me his.

    I understand the identity thing, I understand the letting go as they race toward adulthood, willing it to stop but you can’t. I loved that we are tethered even when we are swaying. Thank you for your post today.

  14. says

    I’ve been through my own version of foggy phase over the past several years, and I found it difficult to breathe deeply and just be. I cried when I talked you At the Barn, not just because I was excited to meet you, but also because I knew attending the event was going to be my turning point. The turning point to face my fears, embrace my reality as is, and have hope in the midst of difficulties. Since the event, I’ve slowly learned that I can’t just deny my fear and move onto hope. So, every morning before getting up, I sit quietly in my bed and feel all the emotions rising inside. I let emotions do their job by fully experience them and if it’s a negative emotion I’ll let go. Your writing always makes me think. Thank you, Emily, for sharing your gift with us.

  15. says

    “Before we move too quickly to hope, it’s important to grieve the losses, to handle them, face them, and let disappointment do its deep work.

    We like to talk about celebrating the gifts, but facing the losses might be important, too. Not to wallow, but to keep company with them long enough to recognize what part they play in our story, to name them, and eventually release them in the presence of Christ.”

    Emily, how my heart needed this. Today I will sit with my beautiful 16 year old as she works through the ripples of a poor choice. My heart breaks for her and I wish I could make all the feelings go away. But I have to let go and allow the Holy Spirit do the work in her heart and bring about the healing. I needed reminding that I have permission to grieve with her as we acknowledge that this season is part of her story. Joy comes in the morning.

  16. Susan says

    What a timely post for me. My “sitting” was this morning in the front seat of my little red Mini Cooper named “Felicity”, feeling anything but… The sky leaked drizzly damp as the tears rolled down my cheeks. Next Tuesday is my first birthday without my dad… The man who bore witness to the day of my birth. The man who encouraged my faith. The man who came to hear me preach last summer – despite the cost to him in his end-stage heart and kidney failure. Next Tuesday I won’t hear his tenor blending with Mom’s clear soprano in the annual birthday serenade. It’s okay to sit with the sadness awhile – and then to remember the sound of his laugh. And it’s okay to text my brother and ask him and his family to serenade me, too – to begin something new.

  17. says

    I love love love this post. I have been doing SO much sitting the last couple of weeks while I babysit a 6month old baby along with my two year old. I’ve been here, in this baby stage, many times before but not like this, not 9-5. It’s been crazy. And it’s given me some perspective.
    I agree – there can be something sacred about the sitting, if we will let it. Once we move beyond the angst (and the cumpolsory phone-checking) and get a little bit quiet.

  18. says

    I have had two weeks filled with sitting. Relaxing in gardens and parks. Sitting in all my favorite spots at home, feeling anything but at home. Sitting in worship because I just could not stand. Lots of sitting, with little to (outwardly) show for and it even a bit tired from it all, and then I come here and read this and everything in me cries out to find somewhere in the shade and go sit some more!

    My Bossy List is less than happy about this, but the rest of my day thanks you!

  19. says

    This is all kinds of good and rich. I spent a whole year sitting. I didn’t really stand back up again until January of 2013. The intentional rest {and all the stuff that came to the surface during that time} ended up being one of the most fruitful seasons of my life — not because it was productive but precisely because it wasn’t.

    I’m glad you wrote this down. It’s one to read again. Also, you…and Shannan? Together? Fun. : )

  20. says

    Always such rich food for thought Emily. I think I’m really good at sitting, but I have a hard time sitting and not doing, watching, listening or chasing windmills. I need more of this kind of sitting.

  21. says

    Oooh, I love this. Yes, sitting is good work. And allowing space for lament is important. I touched on that today at A Deeper Story – there are seasons like that. They’re hard, they’re necessary (though I have a hard time believing that when I’m in the middle of one) and they help to usher us into and through transition. Thanks for this.

  22. says

    I love this and your beautiful, beautiful heart. Never, ever stop being who God created to be; it’s inspiring to watch, read and experience.

  23. says

    I’m crying at today’s post and can’t quite put my finger on why…except that maybe it’s all so familiar and yet somehow like a fresh new breathtakingly beautiful discovery. thank you for your thoughtful generous words. the sitting is sacred. xo

  24. Megan says

    Thanks for your words. I have used the word “fog” to describe what seems to be around me too. As I walk through an unexpected transition, I have been feeling nudged to sit and wrestle through the disappointment fully before diving into whatever God has next. This is a good reminder to do just that. Also loved your Indy pix. Looks like the view from the office building where I work.

  25. Darla says

    Thank you for this post. My life is filled with lots of change and transition right now. We have been dealing with one specific trial for years and now it is all coming to a head. I have no idea how it is all going to turn out. I am a control freak and I have never liked not knowing the ending but I realized as I wrote in my journal this morning about what you said in your post that for the first time in my life I am at peace with just sitting. This trial has been for my good. The sitting I am doing right now is the Lord molding me and making me into the person He wants me to be. I have thought of your inspiring words all day today. I am so grateful for you. Thanks!

  26. Jules says

    This post really touched me. I read your posts week after week, but have never commented before. Your words are something I didn’t even really know I needed to hear. I’ve been experiencing what feels like a particularly long string of rejection and heart break, and find so much comfort in reading about sitting, letting myself feel the weight of disappointment when I so often force myself to say “I’m fine.” Thank you, Emily, for reminding me of the importance of experiencing, accepting, and releasing all of it to the Lord.

  27. Bronwyn says

    Thank you Emily, your words are always such a comfort, even when they are about tough things. I am trying to be brave like you but what do you do when you are afraid to sit, afraid of the silence, afraid of more questions than answers?

  28. says

    I’m sitting in the middle of a very messy workroom. In order to have more balance in my home, I have been doing some major rearranging, organizing and attempting to purge (letting go is hard). Thanks for the reminder that I need to do this in my internal house as well.

  29. says

    I cannot tell you how much this ministered to my heart. It met me in deep places, and put words where I had none. “Before we move too quickly to hope, it’s important to grieve the losses, to handle them, face them, and let disappointment do its deep work.” This is where I am today, grieving losses from the last few years which I someone managed to sweep under a carpet and forget about.

  30. says

    Sitting in stillness and just being allows God to wrap His arms around me and provide comfort. Sitting seems unproductive but has given space instead for healing to begin. Sitting has forced me to stop the everyday busyness and let God do what He does best-fill my empty spaces with His truth, grace and love. Thank you this beautiful post to remind all that taking time out is perfectly okay.

  31. says

    i love your places.

    i’m sitting before the kids wake up in front of my window, reading, thinking. the little one woke, called for me, walked over with sleep all over him.

    thank you for the permission to Be.

  32. says

    A beautiful post that speaks deeply to me. And this, “but facing the losses might be important, too. Not to wallow, but to keep company with them long enough to recognize what part they play in our story, to name them, and eventually release them in the presence of Christ.” Yes, I needed that. May is a month of anniversaries that are hard to remember and yet I don’t want to forget. And learning to let them settle and them leave them with Christ has not been easy, but I’m in the process. Thank you for your words of hope and healing today. You have a way of sharing so beautifully from your own heart and life and I appreciate you.

  33. says

    I feel this, Emily…this need to sit…to be still. I’m in a season, too, where I’m wondering “what’s next,” and where I should be going…

    OK. That’s a little sugar-coated. If I’m honest, this isn’t really a season, so much as a constant agitation I have somehow learned to live with.

    I’ve decided (just this afternoon!) I need to start getting up EVEN EARLIER and steep my heart in stuff that’s unshakably true. I’m a toddler mom, so we’re talking 5:30 a.m. The fog might not lift, right away, but if I am putting roots down, I’m hoping God will keep giving the growth, and keep showing the way. Inch by inch!

  34. says

    No, you’re MY favorite writer. Mine.
    Because of things like this: Before we move too quickly to hope, it’s important to grieve the losses, to handle them, face them, and let disappointment do its deep work.

    Also, because of the “winged, sideways skyscraper”.

    I will think of this every single time I fly, from now on.

  35. Colleen says

    With this post floating in the back of mind, I read an old children’s devotional tonight about the Great Diver, the gannet. The gannet is a member of the pelican family that dives fast and deep to catch herring for food. The author explains it has to be strong and able to defend itself and so, the parents leave the young early – a week before the chick can fly! So, the unprotected chick “will push itself into the water and float for a week. Without anything to eat, it begins to slim down until it is light enough to fly easily. The gannet then takes off, ready to struggle and win as a fantastic diver.” (William L. Coleman)

    Now, that is sitting doing good work. Hard work, too.

  36. Sarah says

    I’m sitting on the hand-me-down couch in our apartment in a city where we were never supposed to live. I’m looking at my husband, who is sitting at his computer, where he has sat for a year, waiting for a phone call. He’s not supposed to be home all the time. I sit in offices and classrooms rooms at work, work that is supposed to be temporary, work that doesn’t quite pay the bills. I sit on the edge of my bed, urging my stomach to calm down and thinking of the little one that my food is supposed to be nurturing. I sit at my Father’s feet, asking when this transition is going to be over, when we can move and “start” somewhere after being married for the better part of a year. I sit and wonder at the huge milestones that have come so quickly, the change that has happened and is continuing to happen.

  37. Margaret says

    “Sitting” seems to go with the with a verse that has constantly run through my head the last few years…….”Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10. Not sure if I am wanting it to go with the verse or if it’s God really giving me permission to actually sit and ponder Him during this hard season of life. My mom had a severe stroke 3 years ago. She lives 4 hours away and I lived there for 4 months during her hospital/rehab time and then moved her to adult foster care. Now driving to see her 2 times a month, just for the day. During all this time my only “child” started college and is almost done. Really not knowing who I am or what God’s plan is for me. Sitting sounds so good to me. Maybe The Lord is using you to speak His words to me? In a fog but will trust.

  38. says

    Years ago as I watched my son laying in the swing bench on my mom’s deck, she told me, “Kids need time to just dream,” That really has stuck with me over the years. Sitting around and dreaming. Later in the instant need the answer right now culture, at a leadership training, attendees were encouraged to have regular couch time…pray, think, process, dream. Thanks for sharing the scared work of sitting.

  39. says

    I am living in Tegucigalpa, Honduras for a few months to write and advocate for an organization here.

    I have found this is a culture laced with pain and poverty– leaving me overwhelmed. This post has been a wonderful reminder to slow down and rest. While there may be hundreds of orphans– tonight I can sit with just one, while there are thousands of AIDS victims– tomorrow I’ll go to the hospital and visit the one I know and while most people in this city don’t know where their next meal will come from, I can sit with a few smiling children and feed them some sticky beans and warm tortillas.

    Thank you for this reminder of the beauty in sitting.

  40. says

    When I originally left a comment I seem to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on each
    time a comment is added I receive 4 emails with the exact same comment.
    There has to be a way you can remove me from that service?
    Thanks a lot!

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