I wrote this in 2020, our fifth year as Texas residents. It came to mind recently during a discussion in Bible study about the distractions of life keeping us from listening to and for the Lord. Praying the Lord would give each of us the gift of at least one “Be still” experience this summer.
On early mornings that are not too cold, too wet, or too busy, I run. I do not consider myself a runner. I do not enjoy running. I only run because
A. I have worn the same size my whole adult life and I can’t afford to replace all my clothes and
B. Tennis (my preferred method for not outgrowing my wardrobe) requires so much more planning and organization and people.
I am not a runner. I have never experienced the “runner’s high” you read about. The closest experience I’ve had is the lightheadedness that I’m sure is a precursor to a blackout. For me, running is a necessary evil (see reasons, above). It is an exercise of sheer will, of panting for life, gasping for air as one foot plods after the other until one of them mercifully clears the front stoop of our home.
Let’s be clear, however… by itself, the specter of weight gain is not enough to motivate me to endure this half-hour of misery. What motivates me to get out there, what gets me out the door with – if I’m honest – a little tingle of excitement and anticipation, is the promise of listening to great teaching and preaching as I run. Whatever recording I choose serves as a sort of mile marker along the way. As the teacher begins speaking – you know, the part that fills you in on what’s coming – that’s how my run starts, too: the first steps will likely tell me how the rest of the run is going to go. The middle part of the class helps take my mind off of the running and focuses me on what’s being taught or proclaimed. You know, so I don’t think so much about the searing pain in my lungs/knees/eyebrows. Rounding the corner of the difficult last stretch of my loop through the neighborhood as the teacher is reaching the resolution of his material, I feel assured that this is not the day I will leave my children motherless. And by the time I get home, the gospel message I heard has left me so uplifted, I actually feel great. Sort of.
Summary: listening to great gospel messages is essential to my ability to complete a run.
So imagine my horror one day last week when my audio shut off just as the preacher was getting through his introduction. I’d only made it as far as the trail that runs behind our neighborhood when suddenly the recording stopped. I fiddled around with a bunch of things in settings on my phone, but no luck. I was on the horns of a dilemma. The thought of running without anything to keep my mind occupied, without anything to drown out the sound of me gasping for life with each step, was daunting. But maybe…well, could I? No, surely I could not. But…well…Perish the thought! This was the inner dialogue my brain was having while other runners and walkers passed me by. But I had a sense that God was in this pickle somewhere. So I made up my mind: I was going to run in silence.
I almost turned back twice.
By the time I’d left the trail and started down a main road, I thought, “Well, ok, maybe God has something to say to me this morning.” With all of the social distancing/sheltering in place/working from home we’re doing right now, I’ve had co-workers and parishioners speaking to me through earbuds or Housboys of varying ages demanding things of me over the audio coming through the earbuds. Totally makes sense that God would request a little more quiet time with me. Ok, God, I’m listening. Whatcha got?
Ok. Well, yes, that seems appropriate in this hectic time of figuring out how to do life in the time of coronavirus. It has been a very busy couple of weeks what with all the…
Wait. Do I hear birds?
A few weeks ago on vacation I awoke to the sweetest sound of birds chirping. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d heard a bird chirp and had asked my husband, “Are there birds in Texas?” Deprived of my audio guide last Thursday morning, I heard Texas’ finest giving it all they had!
Ok, well that was nice, God. What else you got?
Next I heard the church bells, reminding me of God’s unfailing, steadfast presence in the midst of so much uncertainty and change. As I rounded the corner, I started noticing familiar things like the elementary school, which reminded me of how much uncertainty and change our family faced when we moved here almost five years ago. I noticed the streets and houses of people God put in our lives in the midst of that tumultuous and lonely time.
Now, I hope you won’t think poorly of me here. Even with all the graces the Lord had shown me in the silence of my run that day, as I reached the final, most difficult leg of my loop – the part where the preacher brings the message home, the portion where I usually rely on the crescendo of the gospel message to carry me the rest of the way home, in the sustained silence I thought, “Is that it?” See, I was hoping for some grand proclamation, some huge prophetic word to come out of all this silence. “Coronavirus will end by Easter!” or at least, “There’s toilet paper at Sam’s,” saith the Lord.
Nothing. But. Silence.
Except for the sounds of my gasping and panting, feet plodding heavily as I faced the last two long stretches before my street would come into sight. Then I noticed a man walking ahead of me and for some inexplicable reason, I picked up the pace in order to pass this man. Who was walking. Don’t judge. Even as I passed him, I thought, “Why on earth are you using up the last little bit of energy and oxygen and will to survive that you have to pass this man?” And then I heard
You have nothing to prove.
And a terrific peace washed over me. I slowed my pace. I even considered walking the rest of the way.
After I made it home, I discovered there really wasn’t anything wrong with my phone. I could have listened to one of my favorite preachers or teachers during my run that day. But I had a better preacher and teacher that day who wanted me to remember to listen for his voice over all the noise of the world, even the noise that’s good and worthwhile like the stuff I like to listen to while I run. He wanted to remind me that even in my prayer and Scripture reading to listen for him to speak over my thoughts, my ideas, my plans, my fears, my concerns, my agenda. He wanted me to remember that it is only in being still that I can listen for his instruction and reverently praise him, giving him my full attention, straining after what he says about who he is.
Being still has a lot to do with trusting God and trusting his timing. In telling us to be still, he is assuring us that we can wait for his activity instead of leaping to our own hasty solution or conclusion. Wisdom usually comes in waiting. Henry Drummond said, “If God is spending work upon a Christian, let him be still and know that it is God. And if he wants work, he will find it there – in the being still.”
God works in our stillness. We have nothing to prove. In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus tells us, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Jesus’ work for us is not hard. It is to lean on him, trusting in and resting in him completely. The work of God is that we believe in him whom he has sent. (John 6:29)
Believing the gospel puts an end to all our striving. Be still. You have nothing to prove.
“The gospel is rest. The gospel means Jesus Christ carries the burden of your life. The gospel means never having to prove yourself because Jesus has already proven you on the cross.” Mark Upton
— Leslie Housman