We had borrowed the van from our friends.
It was quite a lot to ask considering we took it round trip from Seattle to Los Angeles. It was our first real vacation and though it was an extremely tight-budgeted trip it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of my three little ones. I’m sure they still hold the record for number of times Disneyland was squealed in a twenty-four hour period.
To save money, I made our family matching clothes from a bolt of fabric I bought for 25¢ a yard. The Von Trapp Family likeness was not lost on me. The comical similarity stopped at the collars and hems of our blue and yellow plaid apparel– the hills were not alive with the sound of music and I definitely wasn’t singing.
I had pneumonia, strep throat and a kidney infection the week before our trip. I also had three ecstatic children I couldn’t let down so I kept pushing through, despite my husband’s repeated suggestion I stay home.
That should have been my first clue.
The short trip can only be described as emotionally cold and confusing. For me, our visit to The Happiest Place on Earth was more like Alice in Wonderland.
On our way home we stopped at a gas station somewhere in Oregon. My husband reached for the door and stated coolly, “When we get home I’m leaving you and the kids. It’s over.” He didn’t even look in my direction, nor did he acknowledge the weight of his words.
Those words sucked the air out of my lungs. Time stood still while our tumultuous marriage flashed before me. The previous nine years had included two separations but I had hoped Disneyland marked the turning of a new page in our lives.
The opened van door felt like a portal into a black hole.
He used the men’s room while I sat frozen in the van with three little cherubs who didn’t have a clue. Had Thelma and Louise come out three years earlier I may have had the courage to get behind the wheel and in true country western song fashion I would have kicked up a plume of dust or lay squealing rubber or spray gravel like a Gatling gun–anything to mimic some control.
Instead I made a collect call to our pastor.
I stood in a dirty phone booth confronted with the surreal details of someone else’s nightmare. I couldn’t think straight. I can’t remember my exact words to him that afternoon because the intense emotions convulsing within were both unspeakable and deafening.
My pastor’s words were a branding iron on my cerebral cortex–not because of their comforting effect but because of their absolute absurdity.
“Be still and know that I am God.” He seemed to yawn the words.
Are you kidding me? How does anyone even do that?
I was expecting something much more substantive–more directive. I was hoping the man of God would put the fear of God in my husband. I was hanging on to spider silk with one hand and holding my kids’ future in the other–I needed something stronger than Hallmark sentiments.
There were a lot of s-words in my life then–not to mention the four-letter one–but the biggest s-word in my vocabulary was survival. There’s one thing I know about survival, it has no friendship with still. Survival takes hyper-vigilance. Survival requires water treading skills–there’s no room for kickin’ back in the gondola of life.
To me, the best picture of stillness is seen with Jesus in a storm-thrashed boat. It was dark. Loud. Wet. Cold. The crew and passengers were frantic.
But not Jesus.
He wasn’t just resting or chilling out, he was actually asleep! Sometimes our Sunday School version of this story keeps us from seeing the how to and what for of stillness.
God has meticulously guided me through some soul-crushing terrain in the thirty years since I missed my scene in a Carrie Underwood music video. He has given me the opportunity to experience His exquisite grace. In the process I have learned something about the stillness Pastor Easterly spoke of in the phone booth that day.
My ability to come to stillness is found in the context of intimacy and identity.
Intimacy with God cultivates trust while identity fosters security.
This happens over time. It happens in the dark of night and in the countless ways God reveals His love and character through faithfulness and compassion.
My identity in Christ is unshakable. Intimacy with him develops my understanding of that identity and supports my willingness to trust that I am in his hands and he is good. The ability to come to stillness begins right here.
Knowing God’s word plays a big role in my coming to stillness but I can’t just know the scripture –I must know the God of scripture.
The ability to rest in the back of a sinking boat requires that I have already surrendered my life–in fact, that I have died to myself. Even daily. I can’t be still if I’m thrashing to save myself.
In closing, let me say that I think a big piece of Be still and know, is found in humility. Humility says, “Lord, I don’t need to inform you about this storm–this situation, this economy, this global humanity crisis, this political nightmare, the media-driven fear mongering and trauma triggering news feeds. You are my God and I trust you. My life is in your hands and it belongs to you. It’s yours not mine.”
We might not always be able to sleep soundly in the back of our sinking ships but we can always be stilled there in His embrace!