‘Be still and know that I am God.’
Psalm 46:10a, NIV
One of the themes that runs through much of the writing on the spiritual life is limits.
Being human is being limited.
Not a slogan you often hear in popular culture.
But an important lesson on the spiritual journey.
Perhaps embracing our limits is
central to embracing our humanity,
central to navigating relationships,
central to dependency on God,
central to relationship with God.
As a teenager I wrestled with the image of a patriarchal God I thought I found in scripture. Wrestled so much that at times I would shout with anger and at other times I would weep inconsolably. I couldn’t doubt the existence of God, but I was left feeling that somehow God preferred men.
In my quest to know the truth about God and women I was eventually brought to a place of accepting the limits of my understanding. I found peace in knowing that God is all-loving, and very much for women, and very much for me, without having to fully reconcile every difficult passage about women in the Bible.
Now this isn’t a blog about the patriarchy it’s a blog about stopping and accepting limits…
Sometimes stopping is about stilling our minds.
One of the places we are asked to accept limits is in our minds. We cannot know or understand everything. And at times God asks us to let go of the need to know, the need to understand. He asks us to let go of the things that occupy our minds; our questions, our problems, our obsessions, our worries, our fears.
I have found that sometimes, not always, the answers come after I have stopped thinking. Often when I am doing something mundane for long enough to switch off my conscious mind and allow my unconscious mind to speak, and sometimes even hear the small whisper of God to me.
Sometimes stopping can be about how we do something.
Stopping doing in one way and starting doing in another.
I can cook a meal in a way that is a kind of stopping, a slowing, a therapy almost. I’ve been known to take an afternoon to make a pasta bake. In a very slow, methodical kind of way that pays attention and embraces limits. The limit that all I may achieve that afternoon is the making of a simple meal.
I did this recently after I had preached one Sunday morning. I was tired, feeling vulnerable, needing to stop but not really knowing how to.
And so I cooked.
And washed up, and tidied the kitchen and listened to worship music and a podcast and oh, so slowly cooked our meal.
And I felt refreshed.
More often I can cook at breakneck speed, sometimes growling at anyone who gets in my way, often leaving a trail of mess behind me I hope others will clear up. Perhaps feeling smug or self-righteous that I am working whilst everyone else is wasting time.
Another part of stopping is stopping what we are doing and doing something different.
In the last five years or so I have discovered a love of gardening. In a slow, pottering, flower loving kind of way.
I rarely garden for hours on end, and I am not one for major redesigns. I just make my way around the garden, weeding, deadheading, trimming back, uprooting or planting. And I find that very soon I am thinking very little. Gardening has helped my mind to stop.
Part of stopping is putting things down.
For a day.
For a week.
For a season.
For many years we have practiced a kind of stopping in the summer holidays. Working a little less, a little differently. Stopping trying to strategise, plan too much, or fix. Putting some things on hold.
Often finding a clarity comes as we begin to pick these things up again as September draws near.
Of course, as a society we are good at mimicking stopping.
A mimicking that is a kind of avoidance,
An avoidance of embracing our limits,
An avoidance of facing our pain.
We stop through distraction. The distraction of browsing the internet, searching for the next thing that will fix our problems. Or we distract ourselves through entertainment; immersing ourselves in a novel, a film or a show.
None of this is bad.
It can be very good.
But it can also be a ruse,
a pushing away or a pushing down,
of feelings that will return
when we least expect them or want them.
Part of stopping is attending to the internal.
Through distraction we can avoid the internal.
And after we have distracted ourselves sufficiently, we return to doing.
Anything that focuses externally.
Makes the problem someone else, or something else.
Keeps up the illusion that we are limitless,
The illusions that we can or must fix it, whatever it may be.
Yet God so often invites us to stop.
Be curious and reflect.
to talk with him,
to talk with others.
Begin to change something.
Shift the focus,
shift the energy.
At times I wonder whether God allows the limits of our humanity to bring us to a stop.
Things broken, lost, or stolen.
Though not good in themselves these can cause us to stop.
And in this stopping
God’s loving invitation beckons.
Calling us to surrender
to our limited humanity.
Calling us to surrender
to His care,
to His loving embrace.
Is in part about accepting limits.
The limits of our identity.
The limits of our context.
The limits of our humanity.
And in embracing these limits
we embrace our limitless God.
Our God who
is above all,
but also in all.
In all the details of life,
able to help,
able to make a way.
but most wonderfully,
to our inner world.
blessing us with joy.
‘Be still in the presence of the LORD
and wait patiently for him.’
Psalm 37:7a, NLT
A few questions about stopping:
Can I start my day by stopping?
Stopping for just a few minutes to remember that
God is God,
and I am me,
a child loved by
an infinite and
all loving God.
Can I make space in my day to stop?
To pause, to allow God to speak, to encourage or redirect.
Is there anything I need to stop pushing?
Maybe I am pushing without making much progress.
Or maybe there’s been lots of progress, but the thing has become all consuming?
Am I mimicking stopping?
Are there distraction tactics that need to stop?
Or a kind of numbing that needs to stop?
Have I adopted ways of avoiding my internal world?
Is there anything I need to stop consuming?
What’s the thing I spend too much money on?
Clothes, food, home improvements, gadgets, hobbies?
Are there consumables I look to for an easy fix rather than turning to God.
Can I end my day by slowing and then stopping?
Do I, can I unwind?
before or as I lay my head on my pillow.
How am I being called to stop this day?
How am I being called to stop this week?
How am I being called to stop this month or this season?
Written by Sarah Ducker