“Even the ‘movers and shakers’ need to be still,” wise words that were spoken to me recently as I shared my feelings of “forced stillness” lately. Of course, when I think of “stillness” I automatically think of the story of Martha and her sister, Mary. For those of you that aren’t familiar with the passages, here is how the story goes…
“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
In this moment, Martha was what you call a “mover and shaker”—she was making things happen. Jesus was at her house visiting…chances are it was going to be an eventful afternoon. And so naturally, Martha got to work, preparing for the evening. I know some of us are tired of hearing the same old cliché of “not being a Martha” in life, you know, taking time to rest. But in this culture, most of us are like Martha—way more often than we think. We are constantly doing. And in this case, I’m not necessarily talking about always doing something productive. We just do. Constantly. We are always preoccupied…whether it’s in our mind—future plans, past hang-ups, current failures, social media induced comparisons, ideas…or external—work, ministry, maintaining relationships, TV, school, you name it. We live in a perpetual state of being caught up with something. We’re used to it—it’s everywhere, embedded into our very DNA. I mean c’mon, this is America—the land of opportunity. And opportunity must be…seized, right? Now, opportunity is great, and I would never suggest being lazy or having extra time on your hands to be bored. But sometimes, we just do…with no real growth, no real moving forward… just… moving.
So, as I thought about these passages, I questioned how this story can relate to us, now, in this point in time in our current culture. I struggled as I tried to imagine what true stillness would look like for us.
I think about the times that I’ve kinda forced myself to “sit at Jesus’ feet.” You know, half-heartedly reading my Bible and letting prayers scramble out of my lips. Or how I’ve gotten to a park or somewhere by the water, sat on a bench for a few minutes, pretending to “be still,” while thoughts paraded my mind like a mental Mardi Gras. Or after stressful weeks of work, sitting in bed and vegetating, claiming that those were moments of “stillness”…desperately and wrongfully trying to compare it to the kind of (genuine) stillness that Mary experienced while she sat and marveled at Jesus.
And then it hit me: do we genuinely take time to be still and marvel at our Creator? What would that even look like when we only have a few hours (if we’re lucky) before we got to get up and get back to work?
As I wracked my brain, trying to think of moments where I experienced these rare but legitimate times of stillness, I couldn’t help but realize that a lot of the time it has happened when I don’t seek it, force it, or even ask for it.
Stillness has found it’s way in my life when things seem to come to a sudden and unexpected halt. Like a giant log that’s perched—unmoving—in the middle of a flowing river.
Sometimes in life, that giant log comes in the form of trials. You know, the kind of trials that force you to stop—an illness that robs you of your time and energy, a broken relationship that forces you to change directions, a financial crisis that paralyzes you, or even a death in your life that shakes your very core. Whatever the case may be, these pivotal moments that we all dread cause us to stop. The emergency break of life is yanked and we automatically come to a halt where we’re forced to—whether we like it or not—be still. We have no choice but to recoil and regroup.
As much as we might try to avoid these trials, maybe, just maybe, God allows these situations to happen (like He claims in scripture) for our good. Trials inevitably cause us to stop, be still, acknowledge that we don’t have it all covered, and give God the place He deserves in our lives…because chances are, we probably wouldn’t do so without the prompt. Sometimes, all it takes is an uncontrollable situation to lead us to humble ourselves and remind ourselves how insignificant we are, and that in fact, it really has never been about us.
When the life we planned isn’t turning out the way we expected, we have no other option but to…stand still, maybe pick the pieces back up, and wait for what’s next. I like to call these, “the holding patterns of life”—you don’t know when it’ll resume, and you don’t know what to expect when it does resume. In these moments, all you can do is hope…and know that God is piloting that plane as it circles its way in the holding pattern, awaiting clearance for landing. These holding patterns are His mercy…His way of drawing us to Himself.
When we have no option but to be still, He meets us, and we get Him in the stillness. And don’t ever forget, dear friends, that getting more of Him is the goal.
Just like Jesus said to Martha about Mary in her moment of stillness, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
When life comes to a halt, as dreadful as it feels in the moment, embrace it. It is in those moments we are getting exactly what we need—Jesus.