Laurie is a new member of the Collide team and brings with her a great sense of wisdom, life experience and care for those in need. She not only works in a vocation caring for people but she brings that gift to the Collide table leading our counseling program. Enjoy her post here on the challenge God has laid before her to also care for herself and her relationship with Him!- Willow
My life has been defined by a preoccupation with busyness and performance.
It started when I was a child, trying to meet expectations of teachers, my parents, my 4-H leader, and other adults in my life. I received praise and accolades for doing well in school, sports, music, and other activities which involved me trying to do my best and be my best. I felt embarrassed, humiliated, and ashamed if I didn’t look good or perform well. It soon became a self-imposed dungeon of trying to look good, sound good, and perform to the best of my ability. This frenzied, frustrated, stressed out, overwhelming way of being has characterized much of my life. I’m just beginning to sort it out.
My husband and I attended a Soul Care Intensive retreat in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado this past summer. We met with another couple, a bit older than us, and with much wisdom about how God might speak to us, and what calling He might have on our lives. We were “forced” into stillness. We met with the other couple for 3-4 hours per day. The rest of the day and evening was spent completing reading assignments, meditating on verses of the Bible, praying and resting in silence. At first I wondered how I would make it through 7 days of this. You see, I’m not good at being still. In fact, I’m really terrible at it, as most anyone who knows me well can attest. My culture and background have taught me that rest is equated with laziness and productivity with success. Busyness and getting things done have become my identity.
So, I started out the retreat by going through the motions and “following the rules” as I’ve been taught to do. I attended the sessions, did the homework, walked along the prayer trail and meditated on my assigned scriptures. But my heart wasn’t in it. I felt stressed out trying to know God and hear God. I kept pushing myself to “do it right.”
As Parker Palmer so vividly points out, “The active life also carries a curse. Many of us know what it is to live lives not of action, but of frenzy, to go from day to day exhausted and unfulfilled by our attempts to work, create and care.” This has been my life.
Then, I was asked to go with my husband and a staff member, Craig, on a prayer walk out in nature. The goal was to walk very slowly, and to focus on the tiniest gifts that God may have put in my path. Again, I started out with a less than stellar attitude, power walking down the trail. Craig had to remind me to slow down. I walked along that trail, as slow as I could make myself, looking at the mountains, the first aspens beginning to turn yellow, the interesting shapes of rocks, the reddish brown color of the dirt.
Instead of just looking, I began to actually see. I saw that God has an amazing order to things: there is beauty everywhere I look, if I will only pause. We stopped on the top of a steep incline and looked over the expanse of mountains and trees around us. Craig asked us to close our eyes and to just listen to what God might be saying. I closed my eyes (very tightly mind you), and at first I didn’t hear anything. I asked from my heart, “God what do you want me to DO? How can I know you more?” Then, the funniest thing happened. God didn’t tell me or impress upon me that I needed to DO anything. But I got a clear message, maybe for the first time in my life. It was not dramatic or loud or forceful. It was quiet. I heard God say to my heart, “Be still.” Me? Be still? Nothing else. Just be still. This still small voice brought me to tears that day. I am brought to tears when I consider it still.
The rest of the days of the retreat came and went. Instead of dreading the stillness and the minutes ticking by, I began to experience something in the stillness. Peace. It did not come suddenly, and it was not dramatic. It was just an overall sense that all was well and that I didn’t need to rush. That God has this. That God has ME.
Returning home was, and continues to be, a challenge. Since the retreat I’ve been trying to adjust to my daughter heading off to college and leaving us empty nesters, a job that is stressful and challenging on a daily basis, downsizing into a much smaller house, and trying to train a brand new puppy who came home with us this summer. It is a daily surrender to let go of the internal wave of anxiety that drives me forward, and instead to take the gentle hand that leads me without criticism, force or condemnation.
Truth be told, I really fail at this a lot of days. But on those days when I listen to the Spirit’s quiet voice within me saying “Be still and know that I am God,” and on those days that I focus on the fact that I am a human being and not a human doing, I can cope better with the chaos around me. I can rest in God and be open to where He might lead me. I can love the people He places right in front of me. I am hopeful that God will continue to teach me a better approach to living, and I understand what He means when he says to me, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”