Quicksand of Questions

This contribution is from Ruth Alkema who contributes articles regularly both at Holy Trinity and Jeruzalemkerk in Utrecht.

To write or not to write.. that’s the question. And then what to write, that’s another question. And silly enough, these questions can make me miserable. However much I enjoy writing, when these questions grip me, I start thinking that whatever I do is bound to become a total flop anyway, and that it was really wrong of me to even want to write in the first place. It makes me feel incredibly alone and miserable and totally useless, and it is very difficult to overcome these feelings, because it usually takes rather long before I become aware of what is going on.

I need to fight. choicesBut how? Thinking hard about what might have been the cause only makes it worse. Like quicksand where you’ll only sink deeper by struggling frantically. Of course it is necessary to figure out the cause, but not by direct analysing, because the feeling presents itself hidden in lies that should be exposed, not followed. We have tendencies to either fight or follow our emotions, and both tendencies entangle us and hide the truth. Therefore I think it is better to take refuge in prayer and ask God to reveal the deeper cause.

And now I think my misery is caused by a wrong idea on guidance: whenever I have two things that I can do, for example I had two ideas for a text, I try very hard to figure out what is God’s will. And then if whatever I decided didn’t work out, I feel as if I made the wrong choice and that I should have known better, or listened better to God, and feel guilty about being so stubborn, but there is no way I can prevent this same error in the future, because there is not such a very clear sign that I ignored.

A poem that I tried to write for Advent describes rather well the sequence of feelings that I go through. I now think the poem doesn’t really sound right, but apart from that it does illustrate what I mean, here it is:

Dear Father, it is our wish
As the year is about to start,

To dedicate ourselves to you:
Body, mind and heart.

Jesus, falling at your feet,
We beg your gentle hand,
To break the false security

By which we thought to stand.

Holy Spirit, we confess:
We’re hardly ever still,

To listen to your quiet voice
And learn to do your will.

So first I am really confident, I want to do something for God. Then I realise that perhaps I have lots of mixed motives and am perhaps overconfident. And then I start worrying about how to discern the voice of the Holy Ghost.

And now I remember the image of quicksand. For how did I get into this mud in the first place? Obviously I put my trust in something that was not rock solid. I depend on confidence in order to do something, and therefore tried to fix that for myself. But conjuring up a confident emotion is like creating quicksand. How to get out? A Google search on quicksand reveals the solution[1]: try not to panic and move slowly to find solid ground.quicksand The good news is that there is really good footing to be found, but we must go out and look for it.

Actually I do this quite often, just slowly do some simple thing that needs to be done[2], and try to be open to the outside world. Or what always helps, is going for a walk. The following poem reflects on such an occasion where I walked by a large church with a chapel dedicated to Saint Mary. Now I am not one to pray to saints, but it was cold and I wanted to sit quietly, and I figured that it would not be wrong if I only just looked at this altar with icon of Saint Mary. So I sat and looked up and then it seemed as if her eyes spoke to me, saying “I didn’t want to understand everything first…” (needless to say this is precisely what I do want, before I accept anything). So here is my reflection on that encounter:

Dear mother Mary,
How could you assent,
And give your heart

To let it be rent?

I look at your face,
So peaceful above.
You overcame fear,

Because you had love.

Your gentle reproof
Alights on me:
“Can you not trust,
Let questions be?”


I know I have failed,
What can I say.
“Lord, let your mercy
Enable my way.”

 I guess I probably need to learn that very often we just don’t know so precisely what to do, and failures are just a fact of life, we need to accept this insecurity, and try to enjoy the struggling. But we can be confident of God’s love for us in the midst of all this.


[1] See here, for example: http://wikihow.com/Get-out-of-Quicksand
[2] I learned this from Kathleen Norris’ great book The quotidian mysteries