I'd recently scrawled the reminder at the top of my New Year's resolutions list. Yet while I'd attempted variations of this goal in the past, inevitably I'd return home from a frustrating day at work, throw myself on the couch, snap on whatever mindless reality show or banal sitcom I could find, and relax. At least I thought I was relaxing, judging from the countless times I'd fall asleep in front of my blaring television set.
So when my boyfriend suggested we "relax" after a stressful evening spent stirring up a complicated risotto and then soaping up a tall stack of dishes, I assumed he meant "watch TV." But once we settled onto the couch, he merely leaned his head back and closed his eyes. "What are you thinking?" I inquired after a long two minutes of silence. "I'm thinking how nice it is just to be still," he answered.
Be still. Those words are the opening command of the life verse I claimed years ago in my church's Bible club. Knowing my tendency to worry, I chose Psalm 46:10a—"Be still, and know that I am God"—a verse centered in a passage detailing fear-inducing catastrophes such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and wars. Be calm, I interpreted the comforting command. Don't worry. Be emotionally still.
But now, hearing those words in my quiet living room, I discerned a different meaning. Be physically still. And don't make a sound. After all, catastrophes such as the ones recorded in Psalm 46—and the lesser ones encountered in my busy schedule—induce frantic activity, cries for help, sometimes wails of despair. But despite the noise and motion of the roaring waters and cracking mountains—and hectic life pace of the 21st century—the command is not to move.
I squirmed out of my boyfriend's hug to face him. "If you weren't making me relax," I admitted, "I'd be watching TV or reading or working right now." Or doing all three at once. Used to the relentless clamor of this media age, I seemed to need continual noise and activity. Each morning, I switched on a television news show the instant I switched off my alarm clock. I blared my car radio whenever I drove. Even during moments of leisure at home, I watched TV and read a book during commercial breaks, or muted the TV's volume and leafed through a magazine. I inhaled dinner amid the chatter of TV characters, and once I even set my living room's coffee table with placemats, plates, and silverware so a guest and I wouldn't miss my favorite Sunday-night drama. Although I'd thought my media consumption was a form of relaxing, I now realized I craved constant commotion because I didn't know how to truly relax and be still.
"Just relax," my boyfriend interrupted my thoughts. With his reminder, I suddenly sensed the peacefulness of the room, heard his regular breathing, felt his skin against my arm. This quiet intimacy is the essence of that verse's second command, I mused. While "know that I am God" could be interpreted as Trust in God's power to alleviate fear, the command now also suggested Learn about him in the leisurely calm of relationship. Get to know his still, small voice, come to recognize his soft breath and gentle touch.
And in this quietness is my strength (Isaiah 30:15). In stillness—like that of my recent radio-free car rides when I've heard the rumble of questionable activities beneath the hood—I can detect faint rumbles of conviction about the state of my spiritual life. And on mornings I dress for work in silence rather than listen to the murders and strife reported on Good Morning America, I can greet my job with joy and attention instead of worry and distraction.
I knew I needed more such quietness in my life. So I started planning for a Saturday of absolutely no TV watching, a day to rest and dream and simply enjoy being alive. I jumped up from the couch to write this plan down. "Where are you going?" my boyfriend called.
"I have all these great ideas I have to put on paper before I forget," I answered.
"if you're thinking," he chided, "you're not relaxing." I grinned, realizing I still have far to go before I learn to be truly still. But when I returned to the couch and whispered a silent prayer of gratitude for the stillness of the moment, I knew I'd made a start. Then I leaned back and closed my eyes in front of the dark, silent TV.
Do feel guilty about relaxing? What steps have you taken to eliminate needless noise and activity from your life? How do you balance the admonition to be still with the biblical warnings against sloth and laziness?
Copyright © 2010 by the author or Christianity Today/Kyria.com.
Click here for reprint information.