“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” – St. Augustine
Quietness and stillness. Two words that are the antithesis to our ways of life today. Our lives are filled with the never-ending schedules and events. A good friend of mine once said to me, “I can’t stop. I’m a mom!!” 🙂 I’m sure we have all felt the same… just replace the word “mom” to something that fits your situation. Even at church, things are not all that different. We’re asked to serve more, pray more, share the gospel more.. but rarely do I hear anyone say… be still… more?
It’s not surprising, really. In this day and age, we tend to focus on the physical world: things we can touch and feel. The Spiritual side, or the “metaphysical” side, is usually treated with some skepticism. Christians are not immune to this mindset even though God is Spirit, and we who worship Him should worship in both spirit and truth. (Jn 4:24) With such a great emphasis on the tangible aspect, we tend to put our efforts and energy into programs and activities that are more “measurable”. Ideas like “rest” or “be still”, which sounds like the opposite of “progress,” are often merely tolerated and glossed over.
As foreign as these ideas may sound, I realized that many Christians, past and present, have actually regularly included these practices in their lives. From reading various biographies and testimonies, I saw that many missionaries and spiritual giants included times of quietness and stillness in their personal times with God. Out of curiosity, I decided to try it. What did I have to lose? The idea sounded simple enough – just set a time when I can be alone, and turn off the TV, phone, computer and digital devices, and just focus on God.
My first session only took 20 minutes, but it felt like forever. When you sit there without any distractions, millions of thoughts start to race through your mind. Any task that you’ve put off during the day suddenly chimes up and demand some action… immediately. Also, without the myriad of distractions, you become intimately aware of the disappointments and fears that has been plaguing your heart.
Maybe that’s why we unconsciously resist this idea of “rest” and “being quiet”. Maybe what we’re really resisting is being honest with ourselves… but I digress.
To help our thoughts wind down for the stillness exercise, some books suggest that we try focusing on a simple thought. Some pastors recommend repeating a short prayer like “I love you, Jesus” or “Thank you, Lord.” I’ve found that instead of squashing my racing thoughts, it was easier for me to visualize sitting with God, and handing my concerns and worries to Him as the thoughts come up. I don’t engage in prayer or intercession during this time, but to simply acknowledge my fears or concerns and give them to God. As I hand over these worries and burdens one by one, the thoughts seem to dissipate. I find myself starting to relax, both physically and emotionally, and I am finally at Peace.
It’s an amazing place to be. Even though nothing has really changed in my circumstances, I felt truly at peace. There’s a succinct clarity and awareness of God’s intimate Peace and Presence, and even time seemed to slow down. That is when I understood what was missing in my own spiritual walk. I have truly experienced Ps. 46:10 – Be still, and know that I am God.
I’ll be honest. When I first started these stillness exercises, I didn’t really see or feel much change. Actually, it was very uncomfortable in the beginning because of the flood of anxiety that surfaced when the usual distractions were taken away. However, as I continued the sessions, the anxiety slowly lose it’s intensity, and peace started to emerge. If you want to give this a try, I would recommend scheduling three – twenty min. sessions per week and continue for 2 weeks. There’s a momentum that’s built up each time. The shorter you wait between sessions, the quicker you can work through the anxious stage and enjoy the stillness.
What I’ve written here is only my experience. There are other great books that also teach about “spiritual exercises” and the idea of “slowing down.” However, I don’t think any of us can truly put this powerful experience into words. It is something to be experienced. Another teacher calls this stillness exercise “Waiting on God.” And in essence, it is about us taking time out of our busy schedules, and giving God our undivided focus and attention. When I did, I found that God was truly above and beyond what I could imagine.
For further reading:
Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard Foster
Enjoying the Presence of God: Discovering Intimacy with God in the Daily Rhythms of Life by Jan Johnson