Yesterday, I went for a hike. Living in the city, even a city graced by Lake Michigan, I don’t feel like I get enough time in green spaces. So I drove out to Starved Rock and hiked along a few of the trails. Part of the trail curved around a lake, and as I walked, several bright blue dragonflies zipped by. A friend had recently told me that it’s a sign of good luck if a dragonfly lands on you. If you’re fishing and a dragonfly lands on your pole, it’s a sign that you’ll catch some fish.
Though, in order to blessed with some dragonfly luck, you have to sit still for awhile. Outside, probably nearish to a body of water. As I trudged my way through the hike, decidedly not sitting still, I thought about how much stillness was in my life. I have plenty of times in my week when I’m not moving (I’m looking at you, embarrassing Netflix playlist). There are times when I’m quiet. At least, I’m not speaking. But I have always, always found it a struggle to be quiet, in spite of the fact that committing to quiet is the most reliable way to spur creativity, and make positive emotional movement in my life. It is the place where I can hear the small voice of the Divine. Yet, I let a thousand other things that shout for my attention win out over the small whisper of my soul to take a break, for heaven’s sake. This trap is a self-fulfilling cycle, the tyranny of the urgent over the persistent, deep need of the spirit. I wonder what the world would look like if we all committed just a bit of time to stillness, to sitting with and in ourselves, and whatever comes up for us there?
If stillness were easy, we’d be doing a lot more of it. First of all, carving out time for quiet is hard work, especially if you have many responsibilities, work, kids, family, friends, a health issue, a side hustle, or all of the above. At the same time, in so many places, there is a deep pressure to fill up every moment with stimulation. Sometimes, that’s out of necessity. For families who work near or at minimum wage, there is little luxury of time. In Illinois, where I live, a person needs to work 75 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom apartment. For families with a single income-earner, a moment of stillness may feel like a herculean task. For a parent trying to make enough for their families, alone time might not be possible for weeks, months, years. And maybe stillness isn’t top priority, maybe just some damn help—from family, from the church, the community, from better public policy—is really what’s important. There is a stillness in working toward a way out of the system that disenfranchises you.
For those with the luxury of resources, the problem of stillness takes a different tack. If I had a nickel for every time I heard a colleague answer, “How are you?” With, “Ugh. I’m so busy. I’m exhausted.”, I’d be a millionaire. It’s not that they aren’t tired or busy. They really, really are. And sometimes, life happens and our lives fill up with the unexpected chaos of Too Much. It’s when our lives become an endless cycles of Too Much, that our capacity for stillness and quiet begins to slip from our fingers like water.
Besides, sometimes keeping still isn’t very fun. Practicing stillness doesn’t always feel like skipping through flowers in sunshine; it’s not rainbows and puppies. It’s not Instagrammable. Sometimes, stillness is sitting with the slow creep of loneliness that you’ve been keeping at bay. Sometimes, stillness is greeting grief like an old friend. Sometimes, stillness is wrestling with the doubt that God loves you, or the world, or your brokenness. Sometimes, stillness is encountering failure, a still-open wound, the hush of inner voices that lie to you about who you are and to whom you belong. Sometimes, stillness is crying uncontrollably for an unknown reason, or finding you’re unable to cry about something you really should. Stillness is hard. It is soul-work. And it kind of sucks, some of the time.
We are not made to ignore the deep needs of ourselves. We are made to sit in the uncomfortable, sticky truth of our own complicated imperfection. We are made to be loved, anyway. We are made to learn to love ourselves, in spite of ourselves, because of ourselves. We are made to slowly learn how to hold all of ourselves—the broken and blessed, the contradictions, the messiness, the giftedness—all of it. So. What does your soul need today? Will you meet it where it is? Will you be still awhile, with me, and greet what comes?