I escaped the city with a friend for a couple of days last weekend, travelling to a little nearby island. A “twenty-minute ride to sanity,” one of the neighbors on the island called it.
I’d planned to read and journal and rest, hoping to sense God’s invitation to me as the Advent season began. Instead, I found myself too tired to do much serious reading or journaling. Partway through the weekend I decided I would have to stop trying to control the process and receive the gifts of longer lie-ins and chocolate fondue, a good novel that my friend had brought and a daily walk in the pouring rain. I left the job of hurry to the many waterfalls rushing down the hillsides by the road.
When I first had to let go of my hopes for deep reading and journaling, I felt disappointed and frustrated. I’d set aside this time to intentionally be with God. I longed to hear from him.
And then I realized: maybe I was hearing his invitation quite clearly. Maybe God was inviting me back to the same essential posture he has called me to repeatedly over the years: “Be still and know that I am God.”
In the moment, I often resist the need to slow down. But I am so grateful that God knows and loves me deeply enough to tenderly return me again and again (and again!) to this place of being still and knowing that he is God.
I am so glad he is tender and compassionate towards us in our humanness (Ps 103), and that he recognizes—far more easily than I do sometimes—how intertwined our bodies and souls are. I’m grateful that God met Elijah in his exhaustion, feeding him and encouraging him to sleep and feeding him again (1 Kings 19). And I’m grateful that God doesn’t just know the intertwining of our souls and bodies from a distance.
Advent, after all, is the season, perhaps more than any other, in which we remember the gracious intertwining of God’s self with human flesh in the womb of Mary. The great became small, the infinite limited, God himself subject to sweating, vomiting, exhaustion at the end of a long week, and pain shooting through his body as the nails were pounded into place. If the God-man himself needed to sleep in the boat and sit down on the well and escape for nights alone with his Father, leaving behind crowds with real and pressing demands, there is no shame in needing to rest.
Advent is also the season we remember Mary carrying Jesus within her, and seek to say again with her, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” Here’s the marvelous (though sometimes hard) thing about pregnancy: no matter how hard she tries, the expectant mother can’t make her baby grow. All she can do (and this is no small thing!) is to offer hospitality to the child whom God is growing within her. No more can I force the growth of Christ’s life in me—only rest in his promise and trust his faithfulness to complete in me the work he has started as I offer him hospitality.
As I return again to this Advent’s invitation—”Be still and know that I am God”—I’m also reminded that God brings glory to himself through his provision of rest for his people.
“[L]ike cattle that go down to the plain,
they were given rest by the Spirit of the Lord.
This is how you guided your people
to make for yourself a glorious name.” (Isaiah 63:14)
My willingness to be still and small, resting in the truth that He is God, is the cornerstone of offering hospitality within myself for the mighty God who makes a habit of coming in a quiet whisper and as a tiny seed. And as I’m still before him, his kingdom will come, both within me and in the world.
“Be still and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations.
I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)
P.S. Over my retreat weekend I lingered with some lines from Jennifer Dukes Lee’s Growing Slow. I continue to savor the truth packed into this book, needing all its reminders to relax into trusting God’s invitation to rest and grow slowly. Growing Slow is featured in a special Christmas sale here, along with free accompanying Bible study videos and resources.