Stillness is a spiritual space filled with the Fullness of God. It can be just about anywhere.
By Judy Turner
I want to spend some time with God at the beginning of the day. It’s not only that I think “that’s what a Christian is supposed to do”. I have often experienced connecting with God’s peace and wisdom during this morning conversation with God. I’ve told people how it makes a difference in my day. A Bible verse that comes to mind is God’s invitation in Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.” But a strange thing often happens on the way to the quiet corner of the house and the chair I sit in to pray. I find myself checking my cell phone, responding to e-mails, starting a load of laundry, making the grocery list, and so on. I keep thinking, “I’ll just get this or that done first”. And sometimes I don’t get to the quiet corner to pray before the day starts. I feel restless and distracted from what I really want to do.
Or, sometimes I get to the chair and try to tune in to God. But I’m rehearsing in my mind the talk I will give, or stewing over why someone did not respond to my message, or adding things to my “to do” list…. Even if I make it to the quiet corner and want to pray, I can’t make the inner clamor stop. My body may be still, but my mind is restless and prone to distraction.
I’ve discovered some simple practices that help with the mental distractions. Having a conversation aloud with God can help keep the focus. Sometimes I set another chair beside mine, picturing God as right there and wanting to converse with me. And I start talking about my concerns, fears, hopes, blessings out loud, really talking to Someone who is there. I can talk with God about the distractions that come up. At some point I ask if God has something to say to me and try to be attentive and receptive. If I sense God is responding to me, I continue talking with God about what He means, or how I can best respond.
Sometimes my body refuses to be still. I discovered that I can have a very meaningful conversation with God as I walk around the room or outdoors. “Be still” does not mean “don’t move.” And “be still” doesn’t necessarily mean “stop all activity”. Some very prayerful people I know say they pray best when they do something or create something in the Presence of God. They talk with God and receive God’s communication with them as they paint, play music, knit, drive, or mow the lawn. Like Brother Lawrence, the 17th Century monk who said he prayed just as well washing pots and pans in the monastery kitchen as he did kneeling in the chapel, they are “practicing the presence of God” as they go about their tasks.
If “be still” doesn’t mean “don’t move” and doesn’t mean “stop all activity”, what does it mean? A breakthrough insight for me came with the discovery that Psalm 46:10 can be translated, “Cease striving and know that I am God.” I can be sitting still with hands folded, or walking, or doing any number of things and still pray. The key is first the desire and intention to be aware of and to communicate with God. And second, to ask for the grace to cease striving. For me to cease striving means to surrender my attempts to control and direct everyone and everything. To cease striving means to receive the assurance that God is really in charge, and God is directing everything according to His desire and purpose. The fate of the planet and even whether God’s purpose for my life is fulfilled; this is ultimately God’s work and not mine. Cease striving means to surrender my judgments about whether or not I am succeeding on my terms, whether I am accomplishing my goals, whether I am living up to the expectations of others, or my image of myself. It is to receive God’s direction for the next step I take; then receiving the strength, wisdom, and love to take the step.
I still believe starting the day with going to the quiet corner to pray is an important practice, and I want to be faithful to this daily appointment with God. But guess what happened this morning on my way to pray? I got distracted! Then I heard in my spirit, “Cease striving.” Aha! I realized that even if I don’t get to the quiet corner, I can still “be still”. By God’s grace I can “cease striving”, even when engaged in activity. Stillness is a spiritual space that I’m in when I surrender my agenda, my demands that life be a certain way, my judgments of myself and others, my fears. “Cease striving” is the assurance that God is in control. My worth is not in anything I accomplish, but in the fact that I am God’s beloved. Then God can fill my awareness and direct me. Stillness is a spiritual space filled with the Fullness of God. It can be just about anywhere.