Would You Please Be Still!

“WOULD YOU PLEASE BE STILL!“

This all too common phrase for any parent with young children, has almost become a mantra in our house – the phrase that carries us from one moment to the next.

It’s 5:00 am – I’m awakened by the jab of a sharp, boney elbow of an almost 5-yr-old boy into the middle of my back. This boy who is somehow stealthy enough to climb into our bed without being noticed, now cannot go 5 minutes without doing a full somersault between his parents. I lean over and whisper, “would you please be still”

At 7:30 am – almost exactly!! – that same sweet boy is awake with the sun and begins singing the opening song of whatever show he is currently loving. Right now that’s Elena of Avalor. This wouldn’t be a problem except his 2-yr-old sister, who is equally as stealthy in her middle-of-the-night bed takeover – is still asleep beside him. I lean over again, “babe – would you please be still.”

We decide to go sit on the couch together. In my mind this looks like enjoying a full cup of coffee while cuddling on the couch and watching Elena. In reality, it looks like a 1/4 cup of coffee before his sister wakes up, tries to sit on the couch with us (this usually goes well for 2-3 sec) and then someone is sitting too close, has more blanket, wants to watch Daniel Tiger, someone can’t hear – then it’s too loud … “listen, just be still .. never mind, let’s go get dressed.”

This is its own ordeal- 

Maryn wants to dance while I help her get her pants on or wants to put everything on backwards – “fine – but could you please, just be still”

Loukas – still likes for me to help him brush his teeth – but also wants to tell me all about his evil villain plans while doing it … “yes, I want to hear all about it, but first, can you be still”

and Rya – who turned 8-months old this week – is a master escape artist who can twist herself out of any attempt to put on a clean diaper.

And all this before breakfast!!!

The chaos is growing around us – and that’s usually ok with me. Maybe it’s growing up in a house with four children – or it could be my disposition as a second child – or my being a 2 on the enneagram. Probably some combination of the 3. On most days, I welcome – or CA might argue I stir up the chaos in our house. There’s some part of me that lives for the chaos of life with my small children. But in these days where we are trying to control the new normal that has entered our homes with schedules and activities; while also doing our part to help slow and control the virus spreading around us – I’ve found myself in “be quiet”, “quit that”, “sit down”, “be still” mode even more than usual. 

And I’d say I’m not alone. In these first weeks of school buildings closing and home schools now in session, many parents have taken to the world of memes and it’s pretty funny! Some of the best homeschooling memes I’ve seen so far say …

“Homeschool, Day One: Wondering how I can get this kid transferred out of my class?”

Another one said, “Homeschooling is going Great! 2 students suspended for fighting, one student in detention for talking back, and one teacher fired for drinking tequila on the job.”

As a college math ed major, I appreciate one that says, “all these kids who’ve been learning Common Core math are about to learn how to Carry the One from their homeschool teachers.”

I saw this one his morning – “Day 4: I saw a parent scratching the “Terrific Kid at Sternberger” sticker off his minivan.”

Shonda Rhimes posted in the first days of school closings, “I’ve been homeschooling my 8-yr-old and 6-yr-old for 1 hr and 11 minutes. Teachers should make a billion dollars a month. Or week!” 

These posts have been a gift to many creating a sense of connection through shared experience and comic relief. 

Chris Edwards posted one yesterday that said, “wondering which restaurants have the softest napkins. Asking for a friend.”

And another favorite said, “after years of wanting to thoroughly clean my house but lacking the time, this week I discovered that wasn’t the reason.” 

I have been equally grateful for posts that remind us to be patient with ourselves and our kids, our family, our neighbors.

And I’ve welcomed these opportunities to refocus or recenter myself outside of the swirling worry in my mind. 

It seemed almost counter-intuitive to reflect this morning on stillness. Most of us feel like we are a bit crazed by the amount of “stillness” that has become part of our daily lives – with limited trips out of the house, recreational activities for ourselves and our kids mostly cancelled, and communication with folks outside our families happening over social media. But what I have noticed within myself as our calls for social distancing have extended, our quarantine restrictions have become more stringent, and our cities are in full response mode – is that my levels of anxiety, of worry, of antsy-ness are steadily increasing – not just in me, but in my busy toddlers, too.

This has led me to think more about how we understand stillness.

Quarantine isn’t the same as stillness, it’s containment – which is important in helping to slow the devastating spread of the coronavirus. But stillness  – which is an act of discipline or practice means opening one’s mind and soul to experiencing the abiding presence of God. 

Psalm 46 has been a guiding verse for me in understanding stillness in this way. I first encountered Psalm 46.10 in the prayer garden at Baptist Hospital in Nashville, TN. I was in my first year of divinity school and my grandmother, who had traveled to Nashville to see my sister’s senior recital at Belmont University, had a massive stroke. On the day that the doctors told our family my grandmother had very little chance of surviving – I decided walk through the meditation garden on the hospital grounds. As I circled back to the beginning of my walk, I noticed a rock I had overlooked my first time around – it said – Be Still and Know That I am God. In one of the most devastating moments of my then, 23-yrs of life, I found myself overwhelmed by the intimate presence of a God who was walking that garden path and that grief journey with me. 

Much like the intimate God Psalm 46 praises in its song. Psalm 46 sings of a God who is refuge, a God who is in the midst of trouble, a God who is found in the city, a God who acts in our stead and on our behalf. The Book of Psalms is a compilation of writings likely recorded sometime after Israel was in exile. The book includes hymns of thanksgiving, hymns of lament and hymns of assurance. The time after exile was still an uncertain time – a time of rebuilding, of redefining, and of healing. The Psalms helped Israel remember who they were, where they had come from, and who they were becoming. This particular Psalm was a reminder to Israel as they moved forward that God was in the midst with them – not called the God of Abraham or the God of Isaac – but the God of Jacob (Israel) – the God who wrestled with Jacob through the night. The God who is intimately known. 

In that semester when my grandmother had her stroke, I was also in the second part of Systematic Theology with Frank Tupper. Dr. Tupper passed just recently.  His influence in my theological development was more significant than I’m sure he ever knew. The first paper I wrote for his class was returned to me almost entirely marked over in red – without even a grade – just a note that said “Redo”! I remember calling my sister, Daryn, in tears sure that Wake had made a mistake in my admission and would soon be asking me to leave. In a follow-up discussion with Dr. Tupper, I asked if he’d be willing to meet with me weekly to talk through my own theology in hopes that our conversations might help me become more fluent in theological lingo. He agreed. For that first year we met weekly and just talked – we talked about providence, prayer, christology, free-will, atonement, my grandfather’s ministry, my coming out, and then my grandmother’s stroke. He was gracious in his willingness to mentor me in that first year. From his class, 2 images have stayed with me – and I bet have stayed with most of Tupper’s students. 

Tupper was known for his seemingly spontaneous illustrations in class. In one class, he took a fine point pen from his desk, walked over the the wall and stabbed the pen against the wall leaving a mark no one could actually see, but we imagined was probably there given the force he used to make it. He then walked across the room looked back at the dot and said – Alright, now that is our universe – and somewhere in that universe is our galaxy, and somewhere in that galaxy is our solar system, and somewhere in that solar system is our planet and somewhere on that planet is you! This is the radical nature of our gospel – that God is so big that God made all of that and more … and yet God is so intimate that God cares deeply about you who is barely even a speck on that pin dot on the wall. That remains for me a powerful way to understand our intrinsic and deep belovedness.

In another class Tupper talked with us about the intimate presence of God in the midst of suffering as he, himself had come to know it. While Dr. Tupper was teaching at Southern Seminary in Louisville – his kids still young – his beloved wife, Betty, died of breast cancer. Dr. Tupper was devastated though he remained adamant that the experience had not changed the way he understood God’s love but had, instead, affirmed it. He compared the experience to that of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. When Jesus prayed, God take from me this cup, Tupper argued, that was simply something God could not do. The most that God could do in that moment was to remain in the garden and in that suffering with Jesus. Sometimes the very best that God can do is to show up in our Gardens of Gethsemane – a sure and steady presence amidst the chaos. 

Our faith is filled with those who have taught us that we can look honestly into our doubts, into the most difficult of our days, and discover a faithful God there wandering around in the suffering and doubts with us. Mother Teresa who could write about the overwhelming absence of God in one moment and could also pray about God’s ever-present goodnesss in the next; Elie Wiesel who experienced the godforsakeness of the Holocaust and could still reflect later on glimpses of goodness still somehow present in the camps; Martin Luther King Jr who knowing what danger might come, remembered God’s promise to be with him in his march toward justice.

Practicing stillness is the act of quieting our minds and opening our souls to experience the abiding presence of God with us – and in these days it reminds us that just as God was there in the wilderness, followed God’s people into exile, was with Jesus in the garden – just as God’s home is in the slums of Calcutta, God’s justice found in the civil rights marches – God wept heart-broken in the camps of the Holocaust – In the way that God is deeply present in life with us from the very beginning, God is intimately present now in the midst of this pandemic …

grieving the sacred souls already lost to this devastating virus,

with healthcare professionals as they work tirelessly to prepare for and respond to the growing crisis around them,

in hospitals at the bedside of those whose families cannot be with them,

with our leaders as they make essential decisions to protect our communities from the virus and its effects,

with non-profits, help organizations and individual families as they seek to care for our neighbors,

with the students who are reimagining the end of their high school and college careers,

in the school cafeteria preparing hot meals for those who need food,

riding down the streets in decorated caravans cheering on families who are adjusting to weeks at home,

standing behind cash registers, stocking shelves, carrying groceries so we still have our daily needs, 

with the teachers who are sending marco polo challenges to their preschoolers or talking  with the parents through online programs,

with those who cannot choose to stay home with their children and with those who are adjusting to life full-time with their wiggly, busy children. 

There are, of course, times when our kids need to be still – and when they need to hear us say it … our houses are small, the days are long, the kids are loud. But though I am the one who saying it most – “would you please, be still” – I’m also the one who most needs to hear it. Despite all my best pinterest efforts and school-like scheduled activities, I’ve noticed that when my kids seem most at ease – when their souls seem stillest – are in the moments when I am fully present with them – when we are embraced in a hug, chasing one another through the backyard, watching a movie. As we continue to move through these weeks ahead, may we practice quieting our minds and opening our souls to experience deeply the presence of God wherever we are.