erin ahnfeldt

Listening to Life

Just before Christmas, one request sent me into a tailspin. A friend texted me: “Hey. You happen to have time ‘for coffee’ this afternoon?” It was a simple text, not exactly something that would induce panic, but one terrifying thought sent anxiety pulsing through my body. His wedding was coming up, and he knew I had officiated a couple of weddings in the past.

Looking up from my phone at our kitchen table, I turned to Deb and said, “Oh Deb, what if he asks me to officiate his wedding?” Deb smiled, and I buried my head in my hands. Even though officiating those weddings before was a beautiful experience, the days leading up to them were absolutely terrifying, like trying to swim through whitewater in a snowsuit. Thoughts of feeling responsible for something so significant in front of all those people brought me to the brink of hyperventilation and panic attacks.

An hour later, he picked me up in his truck, and before we even left the neighborhood, my nightmare was confirmed: “Erin, you probably already know what I’m going to ask.” He had a huge smile on his face, and he was taking his time.

“Oh no,” I thought. “Here it comes.”

“I was wondering,” he said, looking both ways at a stoplight, “if you would officiate my wedding.”

The hammer was dropped. My terrifying suspicions confirmed, and I took a deep breath.

“I know this isn’t easy for you,” he said, “so I want you to feel free to say no.” He knew his request would kick up a storm inside me, but he also knew my fears can get in the way, so he asked anyway and gave me the chance to be part of something beautiful. “Take some time to think about it, and let me know,” he said, pulling up to my driveway.

I already knew what the answer had to be, but I worked up a smile and said, “I’ll pray about it,” thinking maybe God would give me an out. Thanking him for the peach smoothie, I stepped out of his truck.

There was no out. As soon as I mentioned it to Deb, she got excited and said, “Erin, of course you’re gonna do this.” She was right. I couldn’t turn down a chance to be a part of such a special day, and like the other weddings before, I knew this was something God would use.

The same day, just before my friend asked me to officiate his wedding, I was reading Ezekiel 20. It’s a chapter about God’s people defying the Sabbath, His day of rest, and not letting go of their idols. As I sat there with my Bible in my lap, my idols weren’t hard to bring to mind. Whether it’s writing, teaching or officiating a wedding, my performance can become all consuming. Then there’s my audience. The approval of others seems to always find a way to slip into my thinking, and when my performance and the thoughts of people watching become too important, there’s no rest. I’m too focused on myself. In the quiet of that morning, only hours before God would call me into deeper waters, I knew God was whispering to me, “Erin, let it go.”

That’s when a striped-haired Jedi came to mind. My son and I have enjoyed watching a series called The Mandalorian, and in one particular episode, Ashoka Tano, a powerful Jedi, battled an army of droids. . . by herself.

What really caught my attention, as she waved her light saber and force-pushed her way through the army, was the peace on her face. She was resting on the inside even when she was fighting. Just as I thought to myself, “Is that what sets apart Jedis?” I realized, “Wait. That’s what sets apart Christians.” God calls the Sabbath “a sign between us” (Ezekiel 20:12) so that the world can identify His people. We’re supposed to live like Ashoka. Our rest, our peace is what makes us different; it’s what sets us apart, and the only way that happens is when we let go of our idols.

God’s fine with me being uncomfortable. He liked Peter stepping out of the boat, away from all that was familiar (Matthew 14:29). He likes it when we step into the deeper waters because it’s those deeper waters that help us find Him; that’s the good kind of uncomfortable. He’s just not a big fan of fear. It was fear, not being uncomfortable, that made Peter sink. That same fear was pulling me under, stealing my peace, and ultimately keeping me from being any different from the rest of the world.

Deep in the belly of a whale, when Jonah was crying out to God in desperation, he prayed, “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs” (Jonah 2:8). There’s nothing wrong with trying to perform well in life, or caring about what people think, or even enjoying a football game. It’s when we “cling” to those things as our hope that selfishness takes root, anxiety sneaks into our hearts, and we forfeit grace. Clinging to our idols, we miss the chance to be different, like Ashoka; we miss the chance to rest.

The day of the wedding came, and JJ Heller’s song You Already Know was running through my head. All dressed in my black wedding suit with my family sitting around me, I played it in the car on the way to the church. The words and the music washed over me: “You already know everything I’m scared of, everything I hope; you hold my tomorrows and all tomorrow holds, you already know.”

Just like He was reaching out for Peter and Jonah in the deep water, Jesus was reaching out for me in the midst of my fear. He was there in that car, and He would be there at the wedding. As tears started to fill my eyes, somehow my performance and the audience didn’t matter. When the wedding started, even though I held a black binder instead of a lightsaber in my hand, I was resting like Ashoka. All that mattered was the One reaching out for me, so I took hold of Him, held on tight and let go of everything else.