As we lay in our bed at night, we’re restless. Our day job can be stressful, but the job of falling asleep while fighting off that jackal known as insomnia is even more so. Thoughts concerning our calling, our purpose, fleeting time, pervade our bedroom. We can’t rest. We’re consumed with our thoughts. Anxiety is our blanket, covering us, tucking us in. There must be something that can be done. There has to be. Being still and quiet in a tumultuous world is not something that comes naturally to most of us. It’s a skill that is acquired, a muscle that must be flexed and worked in order to reach its full potential. Here are five ways to exercise that muscle, five ways to practice stillness and thoughtfulness with the goal of reaching that peace.
Turn off your phone
This is a given. So often we turn to our phones for relaxation, thinking that scrolling through the news feed or the myriad of text messages will calm us down. This may distract us from our anxious thoughts, but it’s not necessarily restful. At least, it’s not true rest. The first step in being still is disconnecting – just for a few minutes. Take a deep breath, take some time to yourself where you don’t have your phone within reach. The beauty of this exercise, and perhaps the challenge as well, is that when we disconnect, we are forced to face silence. Facing the silence is crucial for stillness. It can be daunting. It can cause us to focus on all sorts of things that we’d rather forget about, but that quiet is necessary. We must work through it.
David stresses the importance of silence in Psalm 39, “I was silent and still… my anguish increased. My heart grew hot within me… I meditated… Show me, O Lord… how fleeting is my life… Each man’s life is but a breath. Selah.”
There is something very telling in this passage. Silence, at first, is not easy nor is it very restful. Silence often calls us to face our fears. Our head becomes clouded with our present anxieties. However, there is a way to be alone and rested, and it all has to do with taking your thoughts captive.
Take your thoughts captive
This subject is such a vast topic, and it’s hard to cover everything in this space, but once we’re in that moment of solitude, it can be almost impossible to calm down. Our anxious thoughts descend and we cannot see beyond them. The idea of taking thoughts captive is an important, biblical discipline that Paul stresses in the Romans 12:21, “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Though we are plagued with negativity, we must choose in this moment to focus on what is good and hopeful. Focus on words of truth.
Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things and the God of peace will be with you.”
Before we can act in accordance with God’s will, our thought life must be taken into consideration. Everything we do stems from our thought life – the way we treat others and ourselves. Let’s focus on what we think about on a day to day basis. Let’s take inventory of our thoughts. Do we detect a pattern? Becoming more in tune with our thought life will allow us know ourselves even better, with the hopes of taking negative thoughts captive and focusing on being still and understanding God’s good and perfect will for our life. Again, before we can focus on changing our actions, we must focus on the power of the mind.
Go on a prayer walk
So much of God’s presence is experienced in nature. Slipping away from reality for a few moments, and going on a walk is vital. One of the best ways to be still is to escape to our nearest park and admire the trees, the birds, the wind in the grass. Evidence of God’s provision is all around us. Experiencing his goodness through nature is a beautiful way to be reminded that He is sovereign, and with this, we feel truly at peace. There are numerous accounts of Jesus slipping away to the nearest mountain or countryside to pray to the Father – in times of both goodness and stress. There is something about walking through trees and praying openly and honestly to God, bringing our petitions before Him, in the natural world.
In Matthew 6:25-27, Jesus explains how experiencing nature can reveal weighty implications for our own lives. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life. “
Be a morning person
Obviously this is easier said than done. Don’t get us wrong, sometimes sleeping in can be extremely relaxing and cozy. This discipline is best on weekdays. Getting up early and focusing on God’s truth before you start your day and go off to work is essential for stillness. This is one discipline that is extremely difficult – especially for us. In the winter months our alarm clock rings and we wake up in darkness. The sun doesn’t rise until the late morning. It’s difficult to get up and face the day when it’s dark and dreary out. However, we’ve found that rising early is essential for being still. When we rise as the sun peaks over the horizon, before the world is alive with energy and busyness, it’s refreshing, to say the least, to be awake before the chaos. Sunrise is a perfect time to go on your prayer walk. Experience the beauty and glory of the dawn. Admire the colors and light that bathes the landscape in an orange glow. It’s the perfect way to start your day.
Not only is waking up early truly restful, but it allows us to take full advantage of our day. We soak up every precious moment of our day – from dawn til dusk. It’s all about appreciating every moment. So many of the Psalms begin with David rising early – with the dawn. He sings of God’s beauty in creation. He starts his day with the hope that is reflected in the sunrise. All of this to say, the early morning is not something you want to miss.
“In the morning, O LORD, You will hear my voice; In the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch.” Psalm 5:3
Meditate on truth
Read, read, read! We can’t stress this enough. Focusing on Scripture is crucial. When we read Scripture on a daily basis, we become receptive to the work of the Holy Spirit. There’s something about reading truth, meditating on certain passages and phrases, and even memorizing verses! Suddenly everything loud and pervasive in our lives quiets down. It all takes a backseat as God’s truth is magnified in our eyes. We are reminded of our Creator – His perfect character and perfect plan for His creation. As we learn more about Jesus, we learn more about who we are, and when we accept this, we can’t help but be overwhelmed with peace and thankfulness.
“I will meditate on Your precepts And regard Your ways. I shall delight in Your statutes; I shall not forget Your word.” Psalm 119:15-16
Although Scripture is extremely important to read, there are also other authors and writings, even authors that aren’t overtly Christian, that have reflected God’s peace and hope through their words and experiences. Some of our favorite books for this are Walden by Henry David Thoreau, so many of Robert Frost’s poems, and Beyond Personality by C.S. Lewis – to name a few. These artists and weaver of words were curious souls in search of truth just like us. They sought truth in solitude, in nature. They slowed down to appreciate the small, seemingly unimportant details of the natural world. They marveled at trees, large words with hidden spiritual meanings, and for many of them – God’s truth itself. Let us emulate that stillness. Let’s read through the Psalms and Proverbs and make notes of how wisdom is defined – how to be still and live in accordance with our Maker. Breathe deeply, take a walk, give thanks to God, focus on what is good, and experience true rest.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and when I came to die, discover that I had not lived…I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” – Thoreau