Increasing Our Tolerance for Stillness

Stillness

“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

One of my very favorite things about Scripture is when God packs a big punch into a tiny package.  Today we are looking at one of the Bible’s greatest hits, Psalm 46:10.

And so the verse begins…”Be still.”  Mercy what a challenge this is in our life!  While setting aside the to-do list and being physically still in our lives is one thing, it is the practice of being mentally still that can be particularly difficult.  Advances in technology have given us incredible gifts of knowledge and entertainment at our fingertips at any time.  However, if my children’s response to Halloween candy is any indication, we are not a people who tend do particularly well with unbridled, unboundaried access.  We live in a world where we can ingest constant stimulation if we choose to.  We can turn on our phones, our radios, our televisions, our computers, our tablets, even our lights any time we desire.  Now, before you think I am on some sort of anti-technology campaign, trust me, I am not giving up my electricity, Netflix or smartphone any time soon.  However, I am noticing that when I get a rare quiet moment in my life I usually find myself engaging with external input rather than internal reflection.  This can be both habitual and addictive and, when left unchecked, robs us of a critical element of our faith and the space to grow in the discovery of God’s design in us.

When we regularly choose external input we actually reduce our tolerance for stillness.  Additionally, depending on our beliefs about work and activity it is possible that we may have villainized stillness as laziness or boredom.  If we place stillness in these categories we can make it even more difficult due to an accompanying voice of accusation or a feeling of discomfort.  To be clear, laziness is an unwillingness to work for the benefit of yourself or others.  In contrast, stillness is intentionally setting aside your work to give your brain and body a chance to relax, creating the ability to work better in the future.  Boredom is also not stillness.  Rather, boredom is the experience of being discontent in the stillness because it doesn’t feel like “enough.”  In short, stillness grows us and restores us, laziness and boredom work against us.

The benefits of intentionally creating space and tolerance for stillness are numerous but I will highlight two here today.  The first is a physical benefit.  When we allow our brains the opportunity to slow down and be present we actually reduce our level of cortisol, the stress hormone.  Then, instead of running like a car that is revved up all the time, we “lower our idle” greatly benefitting both our literal hearts and our minds.  Secondly, and maybe most importantly, stillness allows us the necessary space we need to engage in personal development.  When we are only processing the products of other people’s creativity, we leave very little room for our own to develop.  There are no shortages of people or products who would like to create our identities for us, to tell who we are, who we should be or should not be.  When we cut off these voices every once in a while we grow our ability to discern God’s voice, and our own, from the rest of the noise.  One of the greatest tragedies I can think of is when someone doesn’t grow into who God designed her to be because she was busy shopping all of the other designs.

One of the greatest gifts we can give our children, and ourselves is an increased ability to flourish without external stimulation and increase our tolerance for internal reflection.  It is in the stillness where we stop processing the outside world long enough to hear what He may be saying to us, to understand how He has designed us and learn more about who He created us to be.  It is in the stillness where, as the verse concludes, you will “Be still and know that I am God” and consequently, learn who you are as well.

Tips for Growing Comfort with Stillness

  1. Being comfortable with stillness/increasing tolerance for stillness is a skill set that requires practice.  You will not necessarily be “good” at it right away.  Practice makes progress.
  2. Take stock of how you react to times where you are not “doing anything.”  Notice if you have any discomfort/accusatory emotions and how you try to “fix” that.  This will help you identify the internal and external habits that may be working against you.
  3. Mental stillness does not necessarily equate with physical stillness.  There can be as much benefit from a walk without headphones as there can be from sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee.
  4. If you have children, let them see you both pursuing and enjoying stillness.  Even if they aren’t ready to be invited into the practice quite yet, they can learn much from seeing you comfortable with a lack of external input.
  5. Create habits/environments that support stillness and reflection.  For me, this means removing access to “easy” technology (i.e. Facebook is only on my computer, not on my phone, we only have one television in the house, etc.)  Again, this is not a removal of enjoyable technology, it is just a mindful intentional approach to its use.
  6. Remember that a little stillness goes a long way.  Even just a few minutes can reap huge benefits.  See what it feels like to be just with yourself and God for a minute, for two, for ten.  As your familiarity with the practice grows, so will your tolerance and enjoyment.
  7. Most importantly, even if you feel totally awkward away from your usual habits know that God is happy as a clam to be spending time with you.  He loves you very much, what a joy your stillness is to Him.

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