Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Say No More

He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire. “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46.9-10)

Strange Tendencies

I have strange tendencies I imagine many of us share. When crises exhaust everything I know to say, I keep talking. I repeat the same statements over and over, as though my complaints and reasoning were magical incantations that, when recited in proper combination, will unlock the mystery of my dilemma. It’s a crazy take on tip-of-the-tongue syndrome—or better yet, something very close to the delirious scene in Being John Malkovich, in which John Cusack tries to discern Catherine Keener's name by sounding out random syllables. On an intellectual level I know if there’s nothing more to say, it’s time to say no more. But having nothing to say somehow fires my emotional synapses. Inability to explain what’s going on feels like the problem’s got the upper hand. And it does—for the moment. So, since I’m obviously on hold, I kill time talking.

The same goes when I’m out of options and don't know what to do. I get real busy. I run myself ragged trying to find a proper solution or, if the problem seems unsolvable, an exit strategy. If nothing feasible arises, I may even try kicking down a door or two. Eventually, of course, I wear myself out. I’m sick of hearing myself. I’m too tired to push. I shut up. I sit down. I become still. Without fail, once I’m still, I discover the real problem and its only real and reliable answer. I’m the problem; God is the answer. I knew that all along. But what stops me from knowing it while “all along” is underway?

The Trouble with Trouble

“Be still and know that I am God,” Psalm 46.10 tells us. It’s such obviously sound, concise advice most of us can quote it from memory. Yet when trouble comes and we most urgently need to remember this truth, it’s far from mind. Why is that? The trouble with trouble is it masquerades as our trouble. It challenges us. If it overtly challenged God’s wisdom and power, we’d immediately dismiss it as a situation He could easily handle. We’d take a seat to watch Him work. The more impossible the problem got, the more we’d smile, knowing nothing’s too hard for God. We’d relax, exchanging unbearable stress for pleasurable suspense, sitting on the edge of our seats like theatergoers spellbound by an incomparably masterful playwright. We’d savor every fresh impossibility as an exciting chance to be dazzled by the breathtaking dénouement.

But trouble never appears as what it finally turns out to be—an unexpected plot twist God deftly resolves. It thunders onto the stage as a full-blown drama that turns us into unwitting actors. We’re woefully unprepared for the role it forces on us. We don’t know our lines; so we keep talking. We don’t know how to act; so we keep doing things. We haven’t seen the script, because there isn’t one. Each new complication catches us by surprise and wrings us deeper into a drama that writes itself as it goes. Regardless how we heroically try to rise to the occasion, we’re flummoxed and humiliated. No matter how many times trouble thrusts us into this position, we can’t resist believing this time we’ll figure things out—when the whole while God waits in the wings, ready to take control of the role we’ve bungled so horribly. For some reason, trouble’s false threats to our pride disable our propensity to see—to know—God is there. It sometimes takes getting perilously close to the final curtain to realize this isn’t our challenge. We’re not meant to star in this drama. We’re not clever enough to pull the pieces together. But we know Who is. At last, we see Him poised to enter the scene, and we notice the front-row seat He’s reserved for us to be still and know.

Author and Star

Psalm 46 reads like the rave review of an epic masterpiece. It leads with plaudits for the unfailingly triumphant Author and Star: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” (v1-3) In the midst of fearsome chaos, God is there, ever-present. Verse 8 serves as the review’s “Not to be missed!” quote: “Come and see the works of the LORD, the desolations he has brought on the earth.” And then verse 7 gives us a taste of the stunning reversals He stages: “He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire.” Where are we in this turmoil and tumult? We’re watching it unfold. It’s what we came to see! What should we say? What does God expect us to do? Nothing. “Be still and know that I am God,” He says, gently reminding us this is His show. He’s the Master. Imposing our ideas, opinions, and actions adds nothing to His performance.

There’s a great old gospel song that says, “He’s God all by Himself. He don’t need nobody else.” That checks out with what He tells us after showing us to our seats: “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (v9) God is the Author and Star here. Our drama may be overrun with trouble. It may surge with wave after wave of potential destruction. But He is ever-present. He has total command of the situation. That’s what we must remember as His epic masterpiece unfolds. Though the ground beneath us vanishes, mountains crumble, and tsunamis rear up with such force that entire ranges tremble, we will not fear. It is He Who defuses our conflicts. He disarms our adversaries. He destroys their defenses. Inviting God into our drama is how we escape it. When there’s nothing we can do, we do nothing. When there’s nothing more to say, we say no more.

Trouble creates drama and calls us to the stage. But our challenges are actually God’s opportunities. He takes center-stage, while we're in the front row, still and knowing He's in command.


claire said...

If it overtly challenged God’s wisdom and power, we’d immediately dismiss it as a situation He could easily handle. We’d take a seat to watch Him work.

I like that. I read not long ago something like, where there is faith there is no anxiety.

And I happen to have one cause of anxiety that looms over me, like my own little black cloud over my head that follows me everywhere.

What I just read here enchants me, for I will indeed sit in a chair and watch Godde do her thing.

Un grand merci!

Tim said...

Claire, one of my favorite verses, 1 Peter 5.7, says,
"Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." And then I love what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount: "Who of you by worrying can add a single cubit to his height?" (Matthew 6.27)

For me, practicing these principle requires conscious detachment, which is why I so love the theatrical metaphor. It's not my show...

Still, it's hard sometimes for us to take our seat. So I'll pray your strength to become a spectator, and I ask you pray mine!


PS: I am so eager to slow life's train down so I can linger a while at your place. It's so dear to me, I can't bring myself to add it to "multi-tasking." But I will get there soon!

Sherry Peyton said...

It's so hard to disengage our human desire to fix things. I am one who is constantly worrying about everything and it does not serve me well. Mostly the evils never happen yet I've spent untold hours worrying. In a sense, then, the evil has won the day hasn't it. I meditate and try to turn things over to God, but I find not long afterward that I'm worrying once again. I guess continued practice is the answer.

Tim said...

Sherry, how right you are! I particularly lose patience when things get overly complicated and everyone starts making excuses. I have to remind myself of something an old, very wise friend once told me: "Some people make careers out of not doing anything." And I think this applies across the board, from political to family life. It's very hard, for some reason, for us to disengage from stasis--especially those of us who want to fix things!

And, again, you're right. It takes continual practice. Sometimes we succeed more easily than we expected. Sometimes it's harder than we thought it would be. I don't think it's a matter of failure and triumph, though. It's probably closer to degrees. I've found when I become very conscious of my inclination to backslide into worry, I'm more able to catch myself early on in the slide!

Blessings, dear sister and friend. And the same sentiments I conveyed to Claire, I send to you. I'm so hungry to get adequate free time to enjoy your great humor and insights once again!

Peace and joy,

TomCat said...

I'm one of those folks who believe that God would not have put brains in our heads if he intended out heads to be hat racks. I pray daily for the wisdom to deal with the troubles that come my way. When they do, I divide them into three plies.

The first pile contains the matters I can handle right now. I handle them.

The second pile contains the matters that I can handle, but not until sometime in the future. I decide to put them aside and now worry over them until that time comes.

The third pile contains those matters that I just can't handle. That's Gods pile.

Tim said...

Tom, I like your system very much! I think many of us instinctively follow this order, though your conscious process no doubt brings much clarity to how you view/approach things. It's something we can call learn from.

Thanks for passing this on!

Peace and joy,