“Be still, and know that I am God.”
Most of us are familiar with those words from Psalm 46:10. So why, like so many who long to serve God well, is it so downright hard to actually practice that posture? Why do we avoid slowing down enough, being still long enough, to listen carefully to our heavenly Father’s loving whisper in our spiritual ears?
I bought the lie that being “still” means being unproductive, or at least shirking my responsibility to see the needs of others and do something to help them. If I slow down or stop too long, the good stuff I’m supposed to do won’t happen, right?
The tremendous blessing of being given a sabbatical in 2016 helped me see that those notions are a bunch of garbage. I found myself at the Abbey of Gethsemani, a Catholic retreat center at a monastery nestled in the hills of Kentucky. My best friend suggested this “5-day silent retreat” experience because he knows me too well. Although I was prepared for being by myself and knew the entire facility observes silence except for corporate worship and a few limited times, I did not expect how hard it was to unplug, or how God unexpectedly showed up to whisper things I needed to hear. Maybe a few of my sabbatical journal entries can help you listen in on a few of those whispers.
Monday, September 12
My first meal here was simple but good. As I sat in silence, hearing only two others in the room crunching their lettuce, I watched bees and butterflies dart around the blossoms in the garden. They were at the same time serving and being served…part of God’s creative beauty in motion. If I have a prayer for these few days, it’s for God to share a deeper sense of himself with me in a special way, and for him to whisper whatever I need to hear so clearly that my sense of self and others is forever changed, bent more fully in his direction.
Tuesday, September 13
Father Carlos [the retreat master for the week] talked more about rooting our identity in “I AM” than what the world gives us. He suggested searching for three virtues during the retreat: Find a “hermitage” in your Heart, Learn Tenderness, Practice being a Patient. … That “being a patient” thing… We all want to identify with the Good Samaritan in that parable. We should start with identifying with the wounded traveler. Jesus is always the Good Samaritan, we all start as the wounded guy in the ditch, struggling just to stay alive but no longer able to do it on our own… Salvation ALWAYS comes from outside ourselves! … Don’t rob someone else of the joy & blessing of helping you when you need them. Learn the virtue of RECEIVING. God, why is this sooooo hard for me??
Thursday, September 15
Okay, THAT was unexpected. Something in [Ken] Gire’s chapter where he tells the story of THE GIVING TREE by Shel Silverstein, then talks about his mother, touched me very deeply. So many tears and sobs. I wonder what strings in my heart were being strummed by the Spirit through those pictures? … I stopped next to Thomas Merton’s grave, along the wall of the church and among the other monks of lesser and no fame. He wanted it that way. There is a sense of divine peace and holiness about this place and these people that touch my spirit. ...
I just finished [Ken Gire’s] DIVINE EMBRACE on the hill above the Abbey at sunset tonight. As the almost full moon changed from orange to white when it moved above the clouds, I thanked Jesus for wrapping me in such a gentle, warm breeze and reminding me again that his eyes are turned my way with a look of love, acceptance, and longing that should always draw me in. Father, please continue to give me eyes to see and remind me gently to look for you.
God knows – I needed to hear him whisper that I am loved. And I needed to say those things back to him. So, what do you need to hear? And what does he long to hear you say? How much longer will you avoid slowing down and being still?
There are beautiful, loving things your Father longs for you to hear in his whispers. Even if it’s uncomfortable, slowing down enough—being still long enough to listen—is not a luxury or something unproductive; it is absolutely crucial for being reminded Who you belong to and how deeply you are loved!
Powerful words, Gary. Thanks for sharing.