The following is the full text of the May edition of my monthly column, Tea & Empathy, in the Redmond UMC Newsletter. Click here to go to the RUMC website to download the newsletter.
Be still and know that I am God
– Psalm 46:10
This well-known scripture is frequently heard in our Christian communities. It’s often used as a reminder to us not to worry, to relax and trust in God. It may be used to remind us that “God is in charge” and allow us to let go in situations where we are trying to control something that really cannot be controlled. But what does this really mean, to “be still”? I am wondering how many of us are able to really and truly be still. To be quiet—silent even!—with ourselves.
Several years ago, while I was in seminary, I went on a three-night private retreat. I saw the value in being alone with my thoughts, and planned to spend a good portion of time there in silence and prayer. What I discovered, unfortunately, was that going from “60 to 0” was quite a shock to my system. I had been so accustomed to working hard, filling my time, running from one place to the next, that to truly stop and be quiet was overwhelming. All my demons, all my fears and anxieties and other painful emotions, suddenly became unavoidable. Unequipped to deal with such a shock to my system, I left the retreat early.
As I look back on this experience of my younger self, I realize that what I needed was not to go from “60 to 0” but instead to first try going from “60 to 55” and then work from there. When we come to understand that we need to spend more time being still, it’s important to realize that the process needn’t be an overwhelming shock to our system. It can be a slow and gentle process of learning to acknowledge those demons, to simply have (rather than trying to avoid) those painful emotions.
If you are feeling the need or the Spirit’s pull to “be still,” how about taking ten or fifteen minutes each day to turn off the TV, silence the phone, and take some time to simply breathe and pay attention to what’s going on in your body. In the stillness, just breathe in and out, and check in with your heart, mind, and body. Ask yourself what sensations you are experiencing, what feelings you are having. And when you feel a painful feeling—like anger, sadness, or fear—try to just experience it rather than avoid it or talk yourself out of it.
I believe some people can do this on their own, but most will need resources of support in this process. A book I strongly recommend to those feeling the pull to learn how to “be still” is Shadows of the Heart by the Whiteheads. Another resource that can be very useful is spiritual direction or counseling, especially if you begin to feel overwhelmed or stuck. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you need some assistance in finding resources.
The concept of being still can be scary and overwhelming, but stillness is a precious gift that God has given us. Don’t miss out on it because the demons have gotten overwhelming. There is hope. We can all know what it means to “be still and know that I am God.”