Forced Stillness

By on March 24, 2020   /   Leave a comment

Be “quarantined” and know that I am God! 
I will be exalted in the nations! I will be exalted in all the earth.
Ps 46:10 NCV 
(New COVID-19 Version)

Most of us are uncomfortable with stillness. Our reasons vary, but the roots of so much of our constant activity are sunk in the soil of an identity of doing rather than one of being. For many of us, the most accessible list of adjectives to describe ourselves is based on what we do, not who we are. It’s just, well…it’s just American, unfortunately. 

I get it. In some ways, this hypervigilant action orientation is the shadow cast by some great characteristics that have made us innovators, boundary pushers, and pioneers. But what do we do with ourselves now in this season of “forced stillness”? I wonder if this unexpected and undesired global crisis presents us with an opportunity to be purified and to establish a new baseline of relationship with God and ourselves.

The “command-vitation” of Psalm 46.

For some of us, the words of Psalm 46:10 drift through our minds and hearts to the sweet rolling melody of a hymn we grew up with. I’d like to suggest that the “stillness” in verse 10 cannot be separated from the context of the rest of the psalm, which has the earth giving way and crashing into the heart of the sea, the ocean roaring and foaming, and the mountains quaking. Perhaps the heart of this psalm is more accurately reflected with a driving electric guitar and a 3-minute drum solo! This is not a demure setting where stillness would seem to be a natural extension of the context. Whatever this stillness is, it is an unexpected and counterintuitive response to the seismic craziness reflected at the beginning of the psalm.

We are invited to consider important metaphors in verse one that help us to understand who God is in the midst of the tumult. He is “our refuge and strength.” He is the place of safety and the source of power. The metaphors are an invitation to connect with God in our individual stories. Each of us has emotional reference points for both safety and strength. This is not for rational consumption alone but is also designed to take us to that place (in our stories) of strength and safety where we can know God’s personalized care. That care is rooted in who we have known Him to be in our past, who we have seen Him to be in the Scriptures, and who we have heard He has been to people in our community. Oh, and did you notice that He is “our” refuge and strength? While it is certainly true that He is “my” refuge and strength, could this be an invitation to communal storytelling where we brag on God’s care for us and borrow from each other’s faith stories? 

The psalmist also describes Him as “an ever-present help in time of trouble.” I’d like to suggest that His presence is the help. So often, I want deliverance before I take the time to be aware of my deeper longing for companionship in the craziness. Now, it is not wrong to ask for deliverance, and sometimes He provides it, but the presence of an advocate in the midst of a challenging season is always a welcome balm to my soul.

Now, to the command of verse 10: it does not seem to be offered with tenderness and calmness. My Bible has 3 exclamation marks. “Be still” or “Cease your striving” is the directive. I often feel like a hamster frantically running on its wheel. My instinct when things are hard is to work harder, to run faster, to be more efficient, and to manage my world with greater determination. God speaks to me and says, “Stop! Get off of the wheel.” It makes no sense to me! Doesn’t God know that “the mountains are falling into the heart of the sea”?  Why yes, He does. And in spite of my take on the calamity of the situation, He will be “exalted in all the earth” (verse 11). The message to me? “My child, this is above your pay grade. I got this. Your job is to know me; to align your heart with mine and let that alignment fuel your engagement with the problems around you.”

Forced Stillness:

COVID-19 has slowed us all down and exposed many things that we thought of as “solid rock” to be “sinking sand.” That is God’s gift in this difficult situation. For many of us, this stillness reveals our idols. 

  • Idols of control
  • Idols of financial security
  • Idols of independence
  • Idols of comfort
  • Idols of selfishness
  • Idols of entitlement

At the very least, during this forced stillness, don’t miss the opportunity to drill down into the anger, the anxiety, and the passion to control outcomes (that get blown up with each day’s new layer of restrictions). This is a “search my heart” (Ps 139:23) season. It is a unique opportunity to allow God to expose things that need to be pruned—areas in our hearts that we have not been aware of and areas that need extra space to be engaged. And let’s confess these to each other. We so want to control our lives. And yes Lord, this is above our pay grade! The vulnerability that we feel as we face a pandemic is an opportunity for us to become more like Christ through repentance and faith.

Be aware. Often God’s deep work begins with the awareness of an emotion. Our emotions are His gift that allow us to realize that something is going on. Think of it as a light on your vehicle dashboard designed to call your attention to something. Too often we don’t slow down enough to be aware of our emotions, much less to see them as the starting point for conversations with the Lord that can increase our intimacy with Him.

And let’s ask each other the second question. When someone is courageous enough to share with you (from an appropriate social distance) how this crisis is impacting them, be willing to take a deeper dive with them. Ask about the roots of what they may be feeling. Be slow to diagnose or fix them but let your “presence be the help in time of need.” 

I was talking with a friend last week whose job and ministry have been significantly impacted by COVID-19 and who now has more time on his hands. I asked him what he was going to do. He simply said that he planned to gather in small groups with those he loved and devote himself to prayer. Then he offhandedly remarked that the early church seemed to have done pretty well with those priorities. The forced stillness will be filled with something. May this season of less doing create space for you to engage the Father in such a way that the roots of who you are sink more deeply into the soil of who He is: Creator, Father, Savior, Redeemer, and our Hope.


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