Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10
I have often been accused of being overly talkative. I yammered continuously as a kid, driving my parents nuts. I won a scholarship to attend private high school in a speech competition in the 8th grade. In graduate school I learned to love giving research seminars to other scientists and students. And today I am a college professor, talking with students for countless hours every week. It’s like I was made to talk!
But a downside to this chatty tendency is an inner monologue that just won’t shut up. If I’m not talking out loud to myself, I am talking to myself internally – practicing my biology lectures on the morning commute, replaying earlier conversations with friends or anticipating conversations to be had, and wordsmithing my blog posts.
Let’s try an experiment. After you finish reading this paragraph, I want you to close your eyes, take a deep breath through your nose, exhale slowly through your mouth, and clear your mind. Don’t pray. Don’t sing. Don’t tell yourself “be still, be still, be still…” Just silence your inner monologue and sit quietly. Ready? Go.
OK, how long did you go without words buzzing around in your mind? Three seconds? Five seconds? Longer? For most of us, we can only silence our minds for a couple of seconds at the most.
You see, although our initial thoughts as infants are surely abstract, we’ve been conditioned since childhood to think in words. And by the time we are adults (probably much sooner than that, actually), we no longer think in images, ideas, feelings, senses. We think in words, and our words very likely constrain our thoughts. This has profound implications for our thoughts because our vocabulary is not infinite. Consider the word “love”. We use that one word to describe the emotions we feel toward a mate, our commitment to a friend, and the toppings we prefer on our pizza. How much deeper our thoughts might be if we had appropriate words that could make those distinctions.
I am by no means fluent in Spanish, but I have been speaking it as a second language for much of my life. One of the interesting benefits of knowing a second language is that your brain has alternatives to choose from when the list of possible English words doesn’t capture your thoughts adequately. On many occasions I have found myself naturally choosing a word in Spanish because it seemed to better express what I was thinking.
When you’re out in nature, standing in the middle of a river or hiking up a steep trail or sitting on the cliffs watching the sunset, are you able to quiet your mind and let the Creator speak to you through His creation?
When the Lord tells the people on earth to “be still”, He is telling us to cease striving, to go limp, to stop doing all the talking and simply rest in the knowledge – not the idea, but the experiential knowledge – that He is God. We do not want to drown out the still, small voice of His Spirit. Nor do we want to limit our thoughts of God to those things for which we have words. We want Him to fill our hearts and minds with His thoughts and a knowledge of His majesty.
Take-home point: We need to intentionally quiet our own voice in order to hear His.
Take-home verse: Psalm 46:10 Be still…
Questions for thought
How long were you able to sit quietly without words entering your thoughts? How might you discipline yourself to be still in your mind?
Have you ever had thoughts you wanted to express but could not find the right words? Did you get frustrated, or did you settle for less than adequate words? What if we could communicate ideas without the constraints of words? We may not able to do that with one another, but can we do that with God?
Lord, even when our hands are still, our minds want to stay busy. Teach us to quiet our minds, to set aside the words that fill and limit our thoughts, and enable us to simply know you. Leave us speechless in your presence. Amen.