Today was not my first Lenten service. But it was the first one that made me cry. I used all the tricks at my disposal when I felt the tears welling up. I quit listening to the minister and told myself a story. I stared at the floor. I counted all the spotlights over the left side of the church (16), and all the chairs in the center row that I could see without turning my head (ten across, six deep). I even went through the alphabet using the Bible verse projected on the screen (It contained 17 different letters. Am I the only one who does this?). I was mostly successful, I think.
The storm didn’t abate when I got home, either. It broke over me, and I locked the bedroom door and sat in my closet on my Bertie Botts beanbag chair (don’t judge; you know you wish you had one, too) and cried and prayed for a long time. I was blindsided by the depth of my feeling, and the kicker is, I’m not even sure what that feeling was. It was far too tangled to parse, and it wasn’t just one emotion. Anger, frustration, fear, a profound hopelessness all blended with an unhealthy mix of mystery ingredients.
And what spawned this whole mess? A Bible verse that I’ve known for a lot of years. It’s the focus of our Lenten devotions. It would make perfect sense if it pertained to sin, and guilt, and hell. Yeah, not so much. The verse? Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.” Not the merest whiff of hell fire therein contained.
“Be still.” That phrase right there is what got to me, shocked me, rocked me to my very core. Be still. It is terrifying in its simplicity. How do I do that? I don’t even pretend to know. I’ve heard this verse a thousand times. Why is it so earth-shattering now?
The verse holds even more meaning when taken in context with the verses immediately before and after. Imagine the ground crumbling into the sea, mountains imploding, the world as we know it turning literally and figuratively inside-out and upside-down. God says, even then, even in the midst of complete and utter chaos, we’re to trust Him.He’s got this. He can speak the Word, and the world will melt. That’s an image, isn’t it?
That picture of the world? That’s me, inside my head, every minute of every day for the last year or so. Inexplicable anxiety chews me up, as if I can change the world by worrying about it. My brain moves at about a thousand miles an hour, my thoughts ricocheting off one another like pin balls. Those thoughts dash away from me, leaving me empty-handed, forgetful, to the point where I am completely ineffectual as a wife, a parent, an employee, and I despair of ever getting back on the right track. What if this is as good as it gets? That thought right there is enough to send me right on over the edge, friends.
Stillness is not the same as paralysis. I’m often stuck in the latter, so many weird useless worries drawing together, it’s like all four of the Stooges trying to cram through a doorway at once. Things get blocked up in a jam that’s only remotely funny from the outside. How can I be still when I can’t even seem to move forward? If I were any more still, I tell myself, I’d be going backward. I’m full of self-love like that.
Being still feels like giving up any hope of productivity. The image in my brain is a tortoise sleeping through the winter. They barely move, the very picture of stillness. I mean, they don’t even poop. Being still maybe means not dropping projects on my to-do list, but instead handing over all the things I am not actually in charge of , demanding of myself that I quit trying to steer the ship when it ain’t my ship. I am not a fan. Can I separate what is mine from what is God’s, or my husband’s, or my church’s, or my kids’? What if everything falls to bits because I take my foot off of the gas? How do I wait when I don’t trust? It’s not God that I don’t trust, it’s the humans into whose hands He has put his work. Potato, po-tah-to. Not my ship. Not my ship. Not my ship.
I gave up two things for Lent: sweets, and backseat driving. The irony that I am willing to let my husband navigate the Buick without my input but I’m struggling not to micr0-manage God is not lost on me. Stillness is a foreign concept, and the notion of consciously seeking it during this season of Lent is overwhelming. Already I feel like I have no control over so many things, so how do I just turn over the reins? My honest answer: I don’t know. What I do know is that I want to try.
The what-ifs pile up, thoughts to chew on in that stillness – what if I discover my head is really just full of tumbleweeds? What if this downward spiral of mind and body is the beginning of a terrible end? What if Windows 10 is the best that Microsoft will ever do? But maybe I can counter those thoughts with the tiniest glimmer of hope. What if I didn’t have to be in charge of it all? What if I can sit in the stillness and have peace?
My thoughts are too big to fit into a single blog post. I’ve already sailed past my personal maximum and had to slide this into the long-reads category. Imagine how long it would be if I hadn’t whittled some stuff out. But this idea of stillness is just way too big. It also reaches well beyond religion, and doctrine, and creed? Stillness, giving up steering other people’s ships, might be a good prescription for anyone.
How about you? When is the last time you quit backseat driving the universe? Was it difficult or liberating? I really want to hear about your experience. You can answer in the comments, on Twitter, or just email me.