Sabbath Evenings – Unstilled, Distilled, Stilled
[Caveat to the reader: this isn’t about your Grandpappy’s Home brew]
For Spring Break, Lori (our youngest daughter) and I planned to take three days and stay in a cabin alongside the Black River in rural Missouri. This would be great! With a little more than a year before Lori flies out of the nest, I was eager to have uninterrupted time with her. Beyond spending time together, Lori wanted to soak in the hot tub, sleep in, eat S’mores, and start reading a new book. I wanted to get out of the city and into the country for an experience of quiet and stillness. A steady campfire, the french-press, blank journal pages, and my Bible would sew up the restful hours ahead. And in fact, dear reader, I am now writing as this scene unfolds. It’s about 8:00 a.m. on our first morning out and I have all I need right here with me. An early morning fire, a french-press filled with fresh coffee, journal, Bible , pen and pencil, sunshine, and a breathtaking vista. Jesus, me, and quiet stillness. Rest.
Writing paints a picture. I have just tried to paint a scene for you in broad and sweeping brush strokes portraying what seems to be a pastoral, effortless, and inspiring picture. Alas, a bit of personal confession is necessary less I give you the impression of a perfect picture appearing without flaws.
Unstilled. Yesterday afternoon: “Mama, you ready?” I thought I was. Jammies, toothbrush, map, marshmallows, bacon, waffle iron, camera, etc. all sitting by the front door, ready to be loaded in our trusty minivan — “Van.” But, I wasn’t ready and Lori knew it. She sat down in my desk chair, twirled around a bit, and then sighed. It would be another 30 minutes crammed with a flurry of activity before Van was loaded and ready to go. I amaze myself every time (and that’s no exaggeration) at the great lengths I will go to for creating an “effortless” act of stillness and quiet to take place. Those three little words just in case push me into a “Quiet-Time” fanatical frenzy. Just in case I want this book instead of that one, or maybe I’ll want one of those new ones I bought three months ago. Take them all. Just in case I want different music on my iPod — Sara Groves or Jon Foreman — oh we gotta have some David Crowder. Sara, Jon and David — download them all. “Hang on Lori, let me just download these songs. Almost done.” I hear another sigh and “Uh-huh.” Just in case I want my Moleskine journal with lines or do I want the one without lines just in case I want to sketch a little. I’ll take both. Pencils, pens — several. And my Bible. Right. At last, ready to go. I am now feeling completely agitated and anxious. Sadly, the scurry of endless busyness would not end here.
I will not go into the insane details of the evening as I continued to prattle on and busy myself — working hard to model stillness for my dear Lori. I wanted her to grasp the beauty and wonderment of the experience almost as much as I wanted it for myself. “God is here, Lori. Listen to the sound of quiet. Isn’t this, like, so cool?” She replied to my question with a question, “Mama, when are you going to stop working on the fire and sit down with me?”
Distilled. This morning I am meditating on Lori’s question. By the way, I did sit down and thanked Lori for asking. God was most definitely there, and He was using my 17 year old daughter to get my un-focused attention. As usual, I was trying to manage the entire experience that I so very much anticipated . . . all while Lori was quietly watching. How I must have looked to her! We giggled about it for several minutes. Silly ol’ Mama. Straightforward Lori.
To distill is to purify. To purify is to purge and cleanse. “O God, you know me – you see me, and at this moment I need you to lead me, teach me, save me from myself.” In Psalm 131, David writes:
Lord, my heart is not proud;
my eyes are not haughty.
I don’t concern myself with matters too great
or too awesome for me to grasp.
Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself,
like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk.
Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, put your hope in the Lord—
now and always.
The Lord Jesus was distilling impurities crowding out even a glimpse of a quieted soul, i.e. like a weaned child. A proud heart. Arrogance. Managing my own plans. A self-imposed restlessness and feverish ambition. I was like a child still fretting and demanding it’s mothers milk. I was out of control and in need of a more Divine stillness and quietness. Isaiah 30.5 reads, ” This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” According to Isaiah stillness and quietness are much less about the props and extreme measures of preparation and more about what is happening in the heart. And now, my heart.
Psalm 131 interpreted in the light of Psalm 130 reads like a preface to the secret of stillness:
Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD;
O Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.
If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness;
therefore you are feared.I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
O Israel, put your hope in the LORD,
for with the LORD is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins.
Repentance and God’s forgiving love cleanses the ambitious heart. Redemption follows. And again the Psalmist echoes the call of Psalm 131: Hope in the Lord. Finally, restoration to quiet and stillness and a God-prepared heart.
Daughter, Put your hope in Me. Calm and quiet yourself like a child who no longer cries for its mothers milk. Be still and know that I am God (Ps. 46.10). Let you soul find rest in Me (Ps. 62.1) In quietness and trust is your strength.
Stilled. “God is my Shepherd, I shall not be wanting” (Jon Foreman). Quietness and stillness at last. But not without the Lord Jesus distilling my unstilled heart- and not without His loving mercy and forgiveness. The time now is around noon and Lori emerges from the cabin’s front door. Stretching and yawning – I have delighted in this scene hundreds of times over her little life. She looks bedraggled, but her spirit is not. “Good morning Mama.” After four hours of sitting with the Lord Jesus, my heart is finally stilled and quiet – not on my terms, but His. And, I will take that with me for the rest of our stay here.