Officially Shutting Up

This last week I have been trying to be more diligent about “getting quiet” before the Lord. That sounds lofty and spiritual but basically it means I have been just trying to shut up and listen.

I realized that when “praying” I am the annoying child that just won’t shut up. I keep talking and talking and talking. Amazing how I never run out of things to say, or maybe just whine and complain about. I am not the most gracious or grateful of children sometimes.

I sit and my mind whirls. How do you hear God? Now that’s a big question. A few years ago I read Dallas Willard’s take on the idea, in his book aptly named, Hearing God.  While contending that there are no formulas Willard believes that we can have a conversational relationship with God.

Willard reminds us that we have to start with very basic belief – that God still speaks today and he speaks to us individually. Once we reaffirm that belief we can begin the journey of “hearing” as we live a life in God’s will to notice the still small voice.  In I Kings 19:11-13 Elijah was in desperate need to hear from God. He was in a cave hiding from Jezebel, who wanted him dead.

” The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

There is lots to be learned in that passage but what stands out first is that God wasn’t found in the storm, earthquake or fire, but instead in the gentle whisper. You can’t hear until you get still.

I suck at being still. I want God to be loud, obnoxious and obvious. I’d like God to come in an email, text, a tweet or write me something on my facebook wall. But nope, he’s old-fashioned he wants our presence, the face-to-face conversation. Why is that so hard?

Ruth Haley Barton in her book, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, says that you have to order your life for God’s voice. We have to make room, allow for the still, small voice to break into our clutter and busyness. Her spiritual director told her she was like a jar of river water all stirred up and she needed to stop and let the sediment settle.

I love that imagery. I got some sediment and it is a swirlin’

What’s your sediment? Mine is figuring out what’s next in my life, finding a job, paying my bills while I don’t have job,  managing family drama, remembering who I am, holding onto my faith, remembering who God is, staying sane, not being a victim and finding joy.

She suggests setting aside time everyday, even if its just 10 minutes to sit and be still before God.

It’s an invitation to be still and sith the the longings of our heart, soul and mind. We have to let go of control, busyness, distractions and fear. We have to let ourself succomb to the desperation.

Oh now that is interesting. I hate the anxiety that builds in my soul when I don’t have a plan or the answers. I will do anything to avoid it. Trying to self-soothe in the middle of these situations get me in trouble. Barton says that we need to stay with the feelings of desperation and let it do its good work. “Desperation causes us to be open to radical solutions, willing to take all manner of risk in order to find what we’re looking for.”

I don’t know about you but my sediment needs some seriously radical solutions. I have no idea. I have no earthly way to wade my way through. Even thinking about it stirs the pot.

The rest of Barton’s book is about learning how to be still before God. I recommend it. The basic idea is to find a sacred space where you can sit and wait for God to speak. It’s not about an activity or a purpose beyond a conversation with God. We have to make ourselves available. We want God available to us but are we available to him?

[We need to]Run into God’s arms and give [ourself] to his embrace but we are carrying too much baggage and don’t know where to put it, sometimes we just need to write it all down and put it into an envelope marked TRUST, which is an act of giving it to God.

It’s about trust. How much do I really trust God? Another topic for another post.

I have tried this week to spend time focusing on God. He has been gracious with me and been very present. I can feel him speaking to me through the Bible, books I’m reading, sermons, songs and even a movie.

I’m still not great at being quiet, but I’m learning. I have taken to swimming for prayer. The monotnous rhythm and motion of gliding through the water lap after lap helps calm my mind. Every lap I pray and listen. I’m not an expert swimmer or an expert prayer-er. But it helps. I like the woosh of the water, it drowns out my own thoughts. Every turn reminds me to refocus.

I’ve found that after five days of wooshing and turning I look forward to my time in the water with God. I feel more focused, refreshed and able to face my problems. I still don’t have answers. All the sediment is still there but I’m learning to let go of more of it.

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About Marti

After a year-long sabbatical in Southern California I am returning to Ohio to try and resume my life. Who knew you went home again to start living.

Posted on August 14, 2010, in Spiritual Formation and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Oh yes, getting quiet is hard. Swimming seems like a super good way of getting quiet. I like to go outside and sit in my backyard and listen to the trees, which, like swimming, have their own kind of rhythm.

    Mostly I can’t SIT still. I always feel I need to give God something to work with. I mean, how can He answer my prayers of action if I’m just sitting in my house eating cookies? So, I make work for myself in an effort to prime the pump (move God to specific action), put hooks in the water (sorry, lots of mixed metaphors here). I just can’t wrap my head around the concept of doing nothing and expecting some divine action.

    There is a little story I read somehwere (I’ve forgotten exactly where – maybe Anne Lamott) where a man prayed over and over to win the lottery and finally heard God say “then please by a lottery ticket”. And this is what I think of when I pray. I can’t just pray for things without doing something on my part.

    I know this is probably screwy thinking, but that’s where I’m at. I probably need to get quiet and SIT STILL.

    Thank you for writing about this Marti. You always make me think.

  2. I’ve been thinking about your comment. I think there is a difference between “being” with God and praying for answers. I suck at just being. I am a doer. But the act of quieting yourself before God just to see what he has to say is so important to our relationship with him. I think in these moments of silence the idea is to have no agenda, no questions, nothing. Just ask him, what do you want to say? How are we doing? And just quieting our hearts and minds to actually hear.

    Praying with a specific question is a whole different thing. I agree you can’t just wait for God to show up in lightening, although I think he could. I think we have to move and act seeking wisdom to move and act appropriately.

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