Retreats have always been a wonderful way for me to step away from my own crazy life and concerns. I’m able to find some rest for my speeding thoughts and generally come back feeling more creative and more refreshed. It was at a retreat this year that I was reminded of something I knew but had forgotten: how to find stillness.
Note: I’m not a doctor and this is not meant to diagnose or treat any illness. If you are struggling with mental illness such as anxiety or depression among others please talk to a trusted health care provider.
Isn’t it funny how we think we’ve learned something and then all too soon our life changes and so does that habit or belief system. For me this happened when I became a mom. If you haven’t, check out my post on living with a grateful heart in the moment. This is the post that started this whole blog thing I do.
The Christmas Birth
It all started when I was carrying my third child. I was scared. That’s the best way to explain it. Throughout the pregnancy I constantly chose to trust God, but I was still scared. I was already overwhelmed by my kids. Not only would I have three children in three and a half years, this baby was set to be a December baby! I didn’t want my child’s birthday to compete with Christmas. It seems so silly now looking back at it but life felt out of control.
I prepared for Christmas early. Then, one week before my due date, the stomach flu hit. The kids were sick and I found myself spending much of the night throwing up. I woke up the next morning knowing I needed to get IV fluids. That day I was tired. After receiving the IV fluids, I headed to bed. I remember telling Bodie I really hoped I wouldn’t go into labor. I couldn’t imagine my body had the strength to push a baby out now. That night my water broke. No going back!
We wound up at the birth center only to go home in the early morning hours because my contractions weren’t increasing. Not until the next night and a special concoction from the midwife to spur on contractions, did I birth our third son. Over the next several days my anxiety was at an all time high. I couldn’t take the sounds of children around me. I wept constantly and begged God to take these feelings from me. Christmas eve I prepared cinnamon rolls for the next morning and other than that, chose to just take in the holiday without extra responsibilities.
A Day of Rest and Stillness
Christmas morning came. The morning of the seventh day after giving birth. After six days of feeling like I was living in hell I got to experience a new Christmas. It truly was the coming of my savior because that morning, my depression and anxiety broke. In addition, my thought processes changed. It was as though I received a new programming of my mind and I could choose to accept it or to return to my old thought patterns. The weeks that followed, I practiced over and over to speak truth and gratitude over my days. I’d tried gratitude before, but now it was as though I could finally believe I was taken care of.
My brain began to slow down considerably. The belief that I was living in overwhelm became a belief that I was living in overwhelming blessings. I looked at the little things. I noticed the beauty in the wallpaper ( I also wanted to tear it off our walls) or the intricate trim in our old worn house. My brain was much slower to speak to me because I was much better able to take every thought captive and decide weather it was truth or my own fears. I was overflowing with gratefulness. I knew this was a gift. It still took a lot of focus and work but it was a gift. One doesn’t just change their thinking in a day. It takes months to rewire the brain. God had given me a gift.
A Retreat To Find Stillness
Let’s get back to the retreat. One night I listened as a speaker talked to dozens of adoptive and foster parents. She had found in her own life that after childhood trauma happened, she disconnected from her senses. In other words, the stress had caused her to avoid not just feeling the physical world but also avoiding the emotions associated with the world around her.
When God created us He made us with the ability to experience the world through our many senses. A bird chirping, a fire crackling. Then stress and fear came into the picture. Our focus switched from enjoying creation in wonder to protecting ourselves. Sometimes I feel like the chaos I live in keeps me in a zone of constantly trying to protect myself-even if just from the noise.
Stress has a way of doing this. In order to “save” my skin, I focus on taking care of the immediate needs and lose awareness of what’s actually going on outside myself. During the adoption process, I learned more about how physical growth of parts of the brain can be stunted by trauma in order to grow the lower part of the brain that controls our “fight or flight” habits. Perhaps this self protective thinking is actually what happens as we gain more burdens, stress and overwhelm. We lose the stillness and instead, our brain speeds up to protect and make gains for our stability.
As a child we generally are very connected to our senses. We find wonder at every moment. The cool grass beneath our feet (ok maybe some kids aren’t keen on this). The twinkle lights on a Christmas tree. Just listen to the song “My Favorite Things” from the movie, Sound of Music. In the story, Maria sings, “raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens” to introduce the wonders of life back to the children amidst their stress.
WONDER. The very word invokes pictures of baby lambs and twinkling lights, of wrapped Christmas gifts and an ocean’s roar. Wonder may not prevent chaos and wonder may not “cause” stillness but I would like to hypothesize that wonder and stillness go hand in hand. You see, wonder doesn’t just cause an awe for the sake of itself; it causes awe for the sake of the creator. Lights in the darkness and shiny Christmas ball ornaments wow us because of their beauty and amazement. After I found stillness in my days through keeping a grateful heart, I chose to make a New Years Goal to “have fun.” The next year I practiced taking some time to take my cruiser bike out and ride it around the yard or the road. Just for fun. Where had that zest for life gone?
I sat there listening to the retreat speaker and realized during the stress of last year and our adoption (though it was a good thing) I’d lost my grateful heart once again. It’d become an overwhelmed heart. My focus had become inward and quite protective. Perhaps what I had called “gratefulness” after my third son’s birth, had also been my wonder for life. Perhaps stillness wasn’t just about finding rest but about finding wonder as well.
Where Does Wonder Come From?
When I think of the word wonder, I remember songs like “Star of Wonder,” but then I also think of who Jesus is. Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, there were prophesies that He would be “Wonderful.” I’m used to saying his name as “Wonder Counselor.” Interestingly, in the King James version, which I like for it’s closer tie to the original language, it isolates the word “Wonderful.”
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”Isaiah 9:6
It sounds so different when you say it that way, “He shall be called Wonderful.”
According to my Hebrew dictionary, “Wonderful” doesn’t just represent “greatness” like we often think of, it is used to describe a miracle: an act that only God could do.”
The Connection between “Wonder and Finding Stillness”
If we skip to the end of this verse we see Peace come into the picture. I’m not sure if you’re beginning to see a picture of Christmas here?
- Wonder + Peace go together.
- Wonder + Peace describe Christ the newborn King.
We’re not going to find wonder nor peace unless we are finding it through this coming Messiah.
In fact, the wonder and peace talked of in this verse was meant to be in our hearts, not just in our physical lives. Isn’t that what we’re looking for? I am. I’m looking for stillness in my heart. The chaos isn’t going anywhere for another 18 years if you know what I mean!
As I looked more and more into finding wonder, I couldn’t help but see that Jesus brings it. It’s not just a “go get Jesus” answer to finding stillness and wonder. It’s realizing that He gives it as a gift. Here’s the thing about stillness.
Stillness isn’t free.
“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
The actual meaning for stillness denotes losing something of oneself. In the Hebrew, this word means to “let yourself become weak or to let go, implying surrender.” It has connections to death implying a need to die to oneself.
If being still means to drop my own worries, ideas and responsibilities, it is a form of surrender. Could it be that in the beginning stillness and wonder were connected. Wonder also needs the lack of burdens.
I’ll be the first to tell you that I haven’t completely figured out HOW to surrender all my stress and find stillness. Even so, I know faith and actions go hand in hand and while my heart may not be there I can choose to take a step in faith. For me this means that I’ve begun to stop for a moment to FIND wonder. It’s not hard this time of year either. Notice the brightness of the falling snow. Take in the smells of bread baking.
While I don’t believe stillness and wonder are the same I do believe there is a way to find a moment of stillness by pausing to find wonder in your day.
Is this a hard time of year for you? Start finding stillness by finding wonder. It won’t fix your problems (this can be such a hard time for many of us) but it will point you towards the creator who wants to find you in the stillness.
*Feel the warmth of a fireplace.
*Feel the grip of a friend’s handhold.
*Smell the grounding scent of fir branches in your home
Take it in.
I hope you have a merry Christmas no matter the chaos and seek the creator, the one who gives peace. Find Stillness in Him.
From the Hilltop,
Other Posts You May Like: