When I was twenty, I had my first experience with anaphylaxis. It’s a long story (and quite frankly one I always get a laugh out of telling so by all means ask me about it sometime), but essentially one moment I was eating a very tasty piece of bread and the next I knew I was in serious trouble.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a position where you’ve been fighting just to breathe, but I can assure you it’s not pleasant. At the time, I didn’t own an EpiPen and we lived almost thirty minutes away from the closest emergency room. So we sped off to the hospital as fast as we could in what became the least relaxing car ride I’ve ever taken.
There have been few times in my life that were more mind-numbingly terrifying than that car ride. With every passing minute, it got harder to breathe and all I wanted to do was panic. There was a little voice in my head that kept screaming “You’re dying! You can’t breathe! You’re going to die!”. Every time that voice spoke with authority it got so much harder to breathe. It was its own self-fulfilling prophecy. I had to keep that voice out of the driver's seat by answering it every time it panicked. I had to keep telling myself “You cannot panic. You can’t do that. You have to stay calm or you’re not going to make it.” I had to choose to be calm and the activity was intense. Being calm was most definitely not the same thing as feeling calm.
Now I tell you all of that because there’s a surprising amount of times in our lives where this same principle comes into play in Christian life. There are so many moments in our lives that are characterized by intense feelings of fear, longing, desperation, or any other manner of emotions. We very wisely turn to scripture to know what to do about those feelings and that’s where we are usually told to be still or wait for the Lord. Sometimes we’re told to do both.
Mentally, we’re able to grasp the benefit of such an action, but the actual practice and playing out of it doesn’t usually come together so easily. I’ve yet to meet someone who heard the words “be still” and was immediately still and calm. That’s just not how it works.
The need for being still and waiting on God never comes in a moment of ideal situations for doing so. We don’t need stillness when we’re perfectly relaxed and zenned out. We don’t find ourselves needing to wait for help when we have nothing but time on our hands. We don’t have a need for calm when there are no expectations or pressures on our lives.
What’s far more common is for us to be told to be still and wait in moments of extreme stress or trial. And what’s truly regrettable is that we somehow convince ourselves time and time again that we have to feel calm or patient in order to be those things. Nothing could be further from the truth. The existence of the need does not negate our functioning in spite of it.
No one ever stopped feeling fear by denying the fact that they were afraid.
Waiting and being still are exhausting endeavors and to pretend they are anything else will just exhaust us further. We don’t have that kind of time or energy. So what are we meant to do instead? I’d like to suggest that the quickest way to stillness is to lead with stillness, and your body, heart, mind, whatever is trailing behind and freaking out will follow. You get to inform yourself which direction you’re going. Parts of you may act in complete rebellion to that and that may be completely outside of your control, but it does not change the fact that you are still calling the shots. You have to treat yourself the same way I had to treat my mind as I raced to the hospital and tell it no. Tell it that it doesn’t get to be in the driver’s seat. Tell it you appreciate the input but you’re going in a different direction. You have to actively work to be calm.
Make no mistake, the effort it takes to be still and wait is intense and exhausting. Feeling the weight of that effort does not mean you’re doing it wrong. If anything, it’s an indication of how much good work you’re doing. Real-life, with all its rawness and exhaustion, doesn’t always look pretty. It will hurt and take effort. It will tire and empty. It will wear out and deplete. Because after all, nothing worth doing ever came easy.
The same way I didn’t feel calm as I worked to be calm, we rarely feel still as we work to be still. That doesn’t mean that the stillness isn’t happening. It just means that it’s active.
Stillness takes activity.
As with anything worth doing, you have to show up for it. It’s not a passive event. I know that’s not exactly fun to hear when we might hope for a spa-like, zenned out, relaxing solution, but in this instance, we are certainly better served by reality. There is no secret to being still so much as there is constant effort. The sooner we recognize that in ourselves, the sooner we have a chance not so much at feeling still, but actually being still. I promise you, the results of that are so much more worth the effort. You have stillness in you. Take charge of it.
Let’s find some joy,