The Art of Being Still

In the time since I have stepped down from my previous position at our church, pretty much everyone I come in contact with asks me what it is like.

Do you enjoy not working?

Do you hate not working?

Are you bored yet?

What do you do all day?

 

Here are the quick answers:

Yes.

No.

No.

Tons!

 

I realized though, that had I started this season differently, I think my answers to those questions would be very different.  At the advice of a missionary friend who knows a thing or two about navigating drastic life changes, I started this season with some good, old fashioned, Sabbath rest.  I’ve learned from passed experiences that I handle change most gracefully when I take time to intentionally process through it, rather than just throwing myself from one season to the next.

And so, I took to the woods.  I stayed at a gorgeous cabin (thanks to the generosity of friends from church), and for five days enjoyed getting away from it all.  And guys.  It was AMAZING.

I had no schedule to follow, no people depending on me.  I limited my exposure to the outside world.  I read books.  I read the Bible.  I wrote.  I took long, prayerful walks through the woods.  When I was tired, I napped.  I made meals in advance so I didn’t have to cook.  I sat by a creek just to listen to it gurgle.  Some days I slept in, some days I got up to watch the sunrise.  I sat by a campfire.  I swayed in the breeze in a hammock.  I sat snuggled under a blanket listening to the rain.  I wandered into the tiny town nearby to sip hot apple cider and people-watch from a coffee shop where everyone knew everyone.  I stood still in the woods just to see deer and rabbits emerge and hear the birds sing.  I watched a woodpecker cut a hole in a tree.  I caught a frog.  I listened to music.  I watched a cat eat a bunny.  (Which of these things is not like the others?)

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And through all of these things, I prayerfully took stock of my life.  I thought about the chapter of life that had just ended, and evaluated the positives and negatives of such a change.  I imagined what the coming chapter might be like, and the joys and challenges it would bring.  I dreamed about the future and considered how I might be used by God next.  I considered the unique, in-between time I am currently in, and committed to spending that in intentional growth and rest.  I used this article to bring a little structure to my processing.

Coming off of a solid year of adoption/work madness where there was little time for things like sleeping and bathing, let alone resting and reflecting, this was like coming up from underwater for a giant gulp of fresh air.  I cannot even express the depth of my need for a time like this, which I didn’t realize until I was there.

I came home from that retreat and began this weird phase of no work/no kids, and I decided that my retreat didn’t have to end.  Of course, the 24/7 alone time and lack of responsibilities aspect had to end, but the slow pace, the attitude of living fully in the moment, the times of prayer and reflection and rest … those didn’t have to end.

So, what am I doing now, you ask?

Well, I am enjoying this time as much as I can.  I am developing new habits like meal planning and daily quiet times and exercise.  I am preparing my home for a toddler to descend upon it.  I am going on long walks with my dogs, and stopping to take pictures of butterflies and to sit on benches and watch the world around me.  I’m enjoying making new, delicious meals that I never had time for before.  I’m reading – like, constantly.  I am crocheting and filling Etsy orders.  I’m spending lots of quality time with my husband.  And the best part is that when there is a baby shower to plan, a friend who could use a coffee date, someone to invite over for dinner, or a new baby that is born in our community, my schedule is always open to embrace those things fully.

I am learning how to be still, a concept that is practically foreign in our culture.  Starting off this season with a period of rest and retreat is not only helping me to live this “in-between” time well, I think it is preparing me to be a good mother.

Now that I’ve had the chance to experience a time of withdrawing for rest and reflection, I so wish it was something we all did more often.  Our pastor pointed out at church this week that there are SO MANY examples in the Bible of individuals withdrawing to spend alone time with their Heavenly Father, especially to kick off a new season of life or ministry.

As Saul was becoming Paul, he took several years to get to know himself and the Lord before beginning his ministry that changed the world.

When Moses was leading the Israelites through the desert, he regularly went up on a mountain for long stretches of time to be alone with the Lord.

God lead Elijah out to a mountain to experience His presence in the gentle whisper – not in the wind, earthquake, or fire.

David wrote about the Lord leading him by still waters and quiet pastures to be restored.

 

And no one knew the importance of solitary retreat with the Lord than Jesus.

“At once the Spirit sent [Jesus] out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days.” (Mark 1:12)

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35)

“Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16)

“Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them.” (Luke 6:12-13)

“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come…”‘” (Luke 11:1-2)

“When Jesus heard what had happened [that John the Baptist was beheaded], he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.” (Matthew 14:13)

“Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” (John 6:15)

 

Not only was rest and retreat a priority for Jesus, He encouraged it to be a priority for those serving alongside him.

“Because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, [Jesus] said to [his disciples], ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.” (Mark 6:31-32)

Jesus said to his disciples and a crowd of people: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

“Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.” (Matthew 17:1-2)

Intentional rest and retreat was a regular part of Jesus’ life, as it was for so many Biblical characters.  Even during creation, God built a day of rest into the week, a practice we have all but lost.  But how do we do it?  How do you “get away” for times of rest and retreat when life is all-consuming?  I think so much of it comes down to making it an intentional priority, and knowing that even a small investment into rest/retreat will spill over into the rest of your life in a drastic way.  I had a professor in college that said that good rule of thumb for resting/retreating/solitude is:

One hour a day.

One day a week.

One weekend a month.

One week a year.

Sometimes this seems unattainable, but if we keep it in mind and start small, I think we’ll see big changes in our attitude, perspective, energy, ability to give to others, and our walk with the Lord.  I mean, if it was good enough for Jesus …

Who’s with me?

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