Brave Enough to Be Still

This post was originally published on The Road to Brave.

Maybe it’s because there are an unprecedented number of parallels this year, or maybe it’s because 2023’s breakneck pace has rendered me a tad philosophical. But as we approach 2024, I’m feeling — far more than ever before — the similarities between the seasons of this particular year and the seasons of life. A spring of furrowing. A summer of growth. An autumn of change. And now the world outside is taking a deep breath, shedding leaves and colors and shivering in the cold as it prepares for months of stillness. Even the trees are taking a sort of rest. 

And I’m realizing, as a high-drive individual, that I’ve rarely — if ever — paused to just take a deep breath myself and lean into the spiritual discipline of silence and stillness. 

Which seems like it shouldn’t be difficult, but then again, if that was true, everyone would do it. Why is stillness so hard? It seems counterintuitive. It shouldn’t be difficult to do nothing, right? It shouldn’t take courage to be still.

…but, it is, and it does, so why? 

Why is being still a courageous thing? 

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Maybe, after all,  it isn’t difficult to do nothing. But I’m learning that being still and doing nothing are not the same thing. 

Whether or not it’s fair to blame my Scots-Irish blood for it, it is true that I’m just slightly hyperactive. As a teenager, I became good at knitting primarily because it gave me something to do with my hands any time I was sitting still — whether I was in the car (riding, not driving) or in a conversation after dinner or watching a movie with my family. 

Now, as an adult, I still wrestle with the balance of doing and being. The dishes are done and put away. Work is over. The sun has set. Should I sit on the sofa with a book for a few minutes, or should I hustle to get something else more productive completed? After all, there is still some valuable time left on the clock before I collapse into bed, time I could use to accomplish something…

(I may have taken the “and she does not eat the bread of idleness” verse really seriously as a young person.)

Maybe knitting away as a teenager wasn’t wrong (as I write, I’m gratefully curled up under a knitted blanket). But I wonder sometimes how many conversations I might have enjoyed more, how many people might have felt more seen and heard and loved, had I learned to just…be with them. Without having to move. Without having to do. Building the discipline of being quiet.  

Maybe evenings where I’m productive until bed are fine. Sometimes the things I get done a few minutes before bed are really important, and they move the needle for my family or others. But I am actively wondering, am wrestling with, the fact that abiding in Christ and an attitude of draining every last drop of productivity from every last moment don’t seem to exist on the same plane. 

Peace is a strange thing. We all crave it, long for it, seek it in some way or another.  Sometimes we find it out in nature, where we’ve run to escape workplace stress, a tough relationship, or the race of the corporate ladder. Other times we find it at a café table in a crowded city, sipping a fresh Kenyan blend while the rest of the world rushes by. The thing is, our efforts almost always involve being still in some way, even if we don’t stop long enough for all of life to catch up to us. 

And there’s the next complication. Sometimes we’re just overworking and overloading our lives to try and keep up. But other times, we’re running full-tilt because we don’t want life to catch up to us. Or memories. Or the weight of choices we now regret. Or habits that are dragging the life out of us, habits we know we’ll have to reckon with if we stop sprinting. 

When we slow down and choose to be still, the door to our inner life gets cracked open. We get a chance to meander through the garden of our life, looking at the seeds we’ve planted and the plants we’re currently cultivating and the fruits that are now coming to harvest. Who we are on the inside is what eventually flows into every crack and crevice of our being on the outside. But often it’s hard to clearly discern all of what’s on the inside unless we stop and look at it. 

In Soul Keeping, John Ortberg shares the story of a “stream-keeper” high in the Swiss Alps whose faithful daily work to clear muck out of the water determines the health of the village far below. Ortberg explains that who we are on the inside, specifically in our souls, determines the health of the stream that the rest of our life depends on. 

And looking at what’s on the inside — facing the weaknesses (and the strengths) and the habits and the choices and the patterns and the secrets (good as well as bad) — so that we can surrender it all to Christ? That is a brave, brave thing. It takes courage to ask God to show us our souls. To show us about ourselves. How are we pleasing Him? How do we need to change? 

I’m not an early morning person by nature or trade. But when I’m done griping about my early alarm clock, the peace and stillness right before dawn is one of the most incredibly beautiful times of day. A slow flush of pink begins to sneak over the edge of the horizon like a child slipping out of bed before it’s time to get up. A few sleepy birds whistle and chirp, but most of the world is still tucked away in slumber. For most, the day’s rush hasn’t begun yet. There is time still, time to just be.  

And the stillness is like a deep breath of oxygen, a breath our souls desperately need. 

It’s remarkable to think about the fact that during His time on earth, Jesus Himself got up early to go be with His Father. He was God. And yet He still chose to get up early and go off by Himself to pray. Why would God Himself choose stillness and quiet? 

I wonder how our inner life would be different if we chose to regularly meet God there, in the stillness and quiet. If we followed Him quietly out the door of our busy lives, traced His footsteps up the mountain, silently sat at His feet and listened to Him. 

Sometimes, what it takes to be courageous is to sit at His feet and hear in the stillness that He is God amidst all the chaos and craziness of our lives. 

There’s no single-prescribed way to be still. Sometimes stillness looks like a few moments alone. Sometimes it looks like a day-long hike. Sometimes it looks like getting up early. Sometimes it involves giving something up for a while. Sometimes it fits naturally into the day. Sometimes it involves a total re-prioritization of our schedules.

But as we prepare for a new year, what I’m asking myself is — what if I did choose to be still?

What if?  

What would change about my life? My future? Is the life I could be living worth taking the time to be still in the life I currently am living? 

What if we set the knitting aside for a while? Let go of work, grab that book, and take a deep breath? What if we lay aside the rush and just be with someone? Fully present in the moment, our attention focused on this beautiful soul made in God’s image? What if we chose stillness in the presence of our Savior? Letting Him do in our hearts and lives what only He can? 

Maybe the most courageous thing we could both do this week is just take some time to be still. To slow down and take a look at the garden of our inner life. To meet Christ in the stillness. To let Him remind us who He is and who we are in Him.  

To be with Jesus. To be quiet. To be at peace. 

Deep breath. 

As we step into winter, this week, may we be brave enough to be still.