Stopping Long Enough To Listen

“Stop!” I frequently say this or something like this to our 4-year old twin boys. And when they do stop, then I can instruct them, inform them, and correct them. But they have to stop first. Listening is impossible if they are running, jumping, or climbing. Once they do stop, I can get them to look me in the eyes and pay attention.

Funny how that works.

True, our twin sons have a lot of energy. There is very little stillness between the time they get up and the time they go to bed. And whatever stillness there might be is largely imposed by parental authority. Busy, busy, busy. Anyone else hear a parable here?

“Busyness is the evangelical badge of courage.” Or so someone once told me. Interesting that this remark has stayed with me as long as it has. Shades of that good ol’ Protestant work ethic at play. I guess it has something to do with wanting to be productive or perhaps to appear important, either to ourselves or others. There’s good and bad here. Obviously, we should avoid sloth. We’re called to be active, to be about the work of the kingdom. But busyness, to paraphrase the apostle John, covers a multitude of sins, and not in the right way.

And I can feel it in my bones. Without solitude, contemplation, reflection, and other means of opening myself up to God, even the best of my efforts risk becoming shallow. Motivations can get skewed. Dependence on God ends up a façade. Instead, it’s about me, about me getting stuff done.

In the midst of all this, God is saying, “Stop!” Be still, and know that I am God.

And I don’t listen often enough.

Even my wife was talking this past week about how our family life is so packed with appointments for the kids, family stuff, and other obligations. For her, this makes life stressful. She’d much prefer to be at her parents’ camp in the woods on the lake. Everything there seems so simple, basic, elemental. It’s a place of retreat, of slowing down, of keeping time with God’s creation, allowing its natural rhythms to infuse the activities of the day.

Opening ourselves to God’s presence is challenging but crucial. An antidote to the pervasive busyness of our lives, practices such as contemplation and journalling make it more possible to be teachable, to experience rest, and to know the presence of God. I admit I don’t engage in these practices deliberately enough. I see the consequences of this too. I am aware of being less attentive and alert to how God might be speaking to me in the various circumstances of life.

I love how Adele Calhoun, in her book Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, speaks of cultivating “a way of living into a deeper awareness of God’s activity in our lives.” Doing this means saying “no” or at least “not yet” to other things. But it is also surprising how much personal and social pressure there is to do otherwise. Do, not be. Things have to get done. And truth be told, as busy as I can be most days, there is still much that remains undone. Guilt, stress, and anxiety quietly accumulate with each unfinished task.

As it happens, only becoming more aware of “God’s activity in our lives” pulls together all of the disparate activities, responsibilities, and commitments, giving them a wholeness, a meaning that is more than simply the sum of their parts. If the various aspects of our lives are pieces of a puzzle, God is the frame that holds them all in place. Without him, we never see the bigger picture.

So, I have to learn slow down, unplug, and get some rest. Lord, please help to me do this.

Or like I tell my kids in order to get them to hear me, “Stop!”

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