Remember God—Interview with Annie F. DownsPublished February 20, 2019
Remember God is a journey to find God’s kindness in a season of life that isn’t kind. In this best-selling book, Annie F. Downs wrestles openly and bravely with God to find her way through disappointment.
WCA: In Remember God you said, “I see God first in stories, particularly the story I live every day.” How can you help us better see God first in our stories?
ANNIE F. DOWNS: I think it’s born in all of us to tell stories. Painters tell stories. Pastors tell stories. School teachers tell stories. It’s part of how we are created.
For me, the challenge isn’t whether you can tell a story. It’s can you zoom out of your life enough and pay attention enough that you can see the start, middle and end of the story you are living? One reason I love my job is I get to zoom out and look at my story and see what God is doing in my life. Journaling is the trick. It’s an opportunity for me to write down what I’m praying right now. The final step is to reflect. The way I do that is to go back to journals from one year before and then read back to that same day.
WCA: “Trust but verify” was a process you used as you listened to God. How did it help you to trust God more?
DOWNS: God wants to speak to us. God wants us to hear His voice. He wants to speak into what we’re going through. You have to start trusting yourself. Study Scripture if you want to hear his voice better, but also trust that you are able to hear him.
Then invite some other people into that message and see if they agree, especially if you’re making a big choice. I have two or three friends to whom I can say, “Hey, here’s something a little crazy, a little bit out of bounds. I’m not totally sure so I’m telling you in case I’m wrong and I didn’t hear this right.”
I think God really loves when we try. Hearing Him is a skill that needs to be practiced and developed, and trusted friends help that process.
Now the next step is, what if I’m wrong? I think the Lord is really going to honor that I’m trying to obey what I think is Him. If I’m wrong and I didn’t hear Him correctly, I think my accountability people are going to step in. I think God really loves when we try. Hearing Him is a skill that needs to be practiced and developed, and trusted friends help that process.
WCA: Thank you for sharing your experience with depression during a season of success. What is your top advice for those feeling like they are “going through the motions” even while succeeding?
DOWNS: Do not turn your back on your own suffering. You don’t just have to push through. You don’t just have to pretend like it’s not happening. You don’t even have to follow the line that if everything is going well I should be OK. Because that’s not always how it goes.
Unfortunately, in our emotional and spiritual lives, A+B doesn’t always equal C. I called it what it was. I said, “There is something really going on here. I’m in a lot of pain.” Once you call it what it is, you invite other people in and you can walk toward healing in a more effective way than just trying to tough it up and walk alone.
WCA: At first you said no to God’s “healing yes.” You eventually said yes. What have you learned about saying yes to healing and how can we encourage ourselves or loved ones to accept God’s healing?
DOWNS: For myself, when looking inwardly, it is very often that God walks me toward my weaknesses and toward my pain to take me where He wants me to go. I always thought that to become the leader I wanted to be, I had to bypass all my pain. What actually keeps being true is God leads me toward that pain in order to heal it and in order to make me a better Annie, a better leader and an all-around better human. Say yes because you want to be healthy but say yes also because the person you want to be is on the other side of that pain.
I always thought that to become the leader I wanted to be, I had to bypass all my pain. What actually keeps being true is God leads me toward that pain in order to heal it
If there are other people in your life in pain who need healing, there is nothing you can do but pray. When you pray, God moves. I know that sounds like a trite Christian answer, but the actual truth is everyone gets to decide for themselves when they get help. My counselor says, “Love others, but manage yourself.” So, I pray for my friends who are in pain or suffering or need counseling. I say, “OK God. I’m managing me, but loving him. What does it look like for me to love my friend really well?”
And what does that look like? For us, it looks like still being genuinely as close as the person will let you be in their lives while telling the truth of what you are experiencing with them. Then trust God to be the rescuer. We often think we are capable of rescuing people. We are the conduit that leads people to God, but He is the rescuer.
WCA: For those who aren’t familiar with the term “Selah”, can you explain what it means and how it affected your relationship with God?
DOWNS: King David used it in Psalms as a place to take a breath, as a place to settle into what was just said. It’s a place of rest and stopping. For me, especially when I was living the story that says remember God, I had to take a breath. I had to settle in. I had to believe in what I had just experienced and look forward to what God was going to do next.
It’s almost the moments of the highest pain or highest joy when I say, “OK, take a breath here. Settle in here. Don’t forget what just happened.” Whether that’s journaling it, taking a picture or telling a friend, we have to reflect because otherwise we forget. We forget who God is; we forget how He cares for us; we forget how He shows up for us if we just keep going to the next thing.
WCA: In Remember God you point out that we prepare our businesses, homes and even wardrobes for new seasons, but we don’t prepare intentionally in our spiritual life. Can you share strategies for Christians to better prepare for spiritual transitions?
DOWNS: It’s learned. It’s not intrinsic in us. It’s paying more attention tomorrow than you are paying today. Are you paying enough attention to what’s going on around you?
To me, what we see in nature is reflective of our spiritual life. I think God intends for us to notice nature and know that he’s doing it on our lives. There are times when it feels really dark. Well, what I know from nature is that morning always comes and that spring and summer always come.
Preparing for your next spiritual season can also be as easy as looking at your calendar. I know that I travel heavily until July 7 and then I’m done for the year. So, I know my season is going to change and I know there are things I can prepare for in what I want. I don’t have to spend a lot of time in prayer, I can just look at my calendar.
There are other times when you feel God is changing your life. You are getting married, you get a new job, you are pregnant. Whether you’re feeling something stirring in your life or you see something clearly on the calendar, ask yourself what you need to get ready for the next season. The longer your effort toward trying to see the season change and trying to honor God by getting in alignment with what he’s doing in life, the clearer it becomes.
WCA: You share that Celtic Christians described the Holy Spirit as An Geadh-Glas, which means “wild goose.” Many of us can relate to this metaphor. Would you please tell us how you learned to follow the Holy Spirit even when it felt like a wild goose chase?
DOWNS: Here’s what I would say to you: If you feel like what you’re hearing is crazy, keep going. Just go one more step into crazy. Again, invite other people in and make sure you are in a faith community with people you trust. Make sure you are spending time in the Word and compare it to what you are hearing. But in general, I just say go for it!
You’re going to land. You’re not going to fall forever. If you did this wrong, you’re going to land somewhere. Which is my story, right? That’s what happened in Remember God. I started falling and I didn’t land where I thought I would, but it turned out I landed during an incredible moment in the cathedral in Durham, England. I never would have seen it coming.
To me, I think life is just more fun if we follow the voice of God as best we can and let him get us into some adventures. I am never sorry when I get into an adventure with God, but I am sorry when I miss out. My advice is go! It changed me forever.
To learn more about remembering God, check out Annie F. Down’s book here.
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About the Author
Annie F. Downs is the best-selling author of Remember God and 100 Days to Brave, a nationally known speaker and a podcast host based in Nashville, Tennessee. Flawed but funny, she uses her writing to highlight the everyday goodness of a real and present God. By weaving together personal stories, humor and Scripture, she invites those reading to experience fulfilled lives with a God who made them on purpose and loves them deeply.