Be still. Those two words have followed me my whole life. I was told to be still and pay attention in school. I was told to be still and eat my food at home. And most often, I was told to be still and be quiet at church. Be still. Those words are from the Bible. But there is more to them. The full verse is “Be still and know that I am God.” When you add on that last part, being still becomes a lot harder.
I was raised a Sunday Christian. We only prayed over holiday meals, never before bed or together as a family. God was only mentioned when my mother, a Sunday school teacher, pulled out her lessons on Saturday night to prepare for her class. Church was a social obligation. My family went through the motions each week. Put on nice clothes, our Sunday best, load into the car for Sunday school then the worship service. By noon, we were released and headed to join the other Baptists at restaurants like Furr’s Cafeteria, Luby’s, or Western Sizzlin.’ Then we would return home, put away the church clothes and go about our weekend, never discussing the Bible or the lessons’ we’d learned.
My current preacher, so different than the spiritual leader I was raised around, calls those types of people once-a-week Christians or Sunday Christians. He consistently reminds us that God should be part of every moment of our lives. Prayer should be like talking to an old friend and one should pray, even if just a word or two, whenever one needs the comfort of the Lord. Becoming this type of a Christian has been a long process for me, one that started when I was just a little girl.
I have always struggled with religion. Well, I have struggled with trying to fit myself into the type of religion I was raised around. My parents are strict southern Baptists. Mom grew up going to tent revivals – like the ones you see in the movies, with people fainting and speaking in tongues. I was raised on the strict principles she grew up with. No drinking. No dancing. No mixed race marriages. God was for Sunday’s and Christmas and Easter. God was distant and far apart from us. I was expected to be quite and sit still in church. I didn’t have to listen to the sermons, but I had to look like I was listening. It was all about appearances. I was terrible at being that kind of a child. I was a questioner. I never accepted an answer without demanding the how or why be explained too. Questions during the sermon were not allowed. I did not fit in at my parents’ church.
From childhood, I questioned the faith of my parents. It seemed too narrow and too closed off. It seemed so old. I visited the churches of my friends and mostly just learned all the jokes those kids knew about Baptists. By the time I was out of high school I’d stopped going to church altogether. But God wouldn’t leave me alone. He kept working on my stubborn heart and showing me that He was watching over me. Looking back at my angry youth, I see Him following me like a shadow, pulling me out of trouble and out of the messes I’d created for myself, putting Godly people in my path, slowly turning me back toward Him.
By my late-twenties I was working my way back to church. Not my parent’s church though. I couldn’t go back there for anything other than the Christmas Eve service with my folks. I was, by then tattooed and boisterous, and stuck out way too much in that church. I would wear pants to church, something that was completely taboo among the women there. I instead started watching other churches on TV and trying out different religions. I read the Koran, studied up on Catholicism, and even learned a bit about Buddhism. I was busy trying to find something that fit my questioning mind.
It was a bench that changed things. Well, it was the words on the bench. “Be Still And Know That I Am God.” It was carved on the highest slat of an old wooden bench in a shaded and hidden corner of a shaded and hidden courtyard in a centuries old abbey. The abbey, Iona Abbey, was on a tiny, holy island on the west coast of Scotland. Over four thousand miles from home I found the peace in the Lord I’d always wanted. That holy island, that ancient abbey, that hidden bench – they came together, joined forces with my shaky knowledge of the Lord, and set my feet on the right path.
It was a trip to Ireland and Scotland that lead me to those words on the bench in the Iona Abbey. A group from my parents’ church was combined with two other groups from churches across the US for a two week, guided tour. My mom invited me to go with her. And on a holy island I had never even heard of, I turned a corner and found an old wooden bench with words carved into that changed my life. I took those words to heart and was finally still. I started to change my life from that day forward. I stopped trying to force things to happen. I stopped being angry about the things I couldn’t control. And when everything got too much to bear, I would go and find a place to be alone where I could just be still and pray.
I still struggle. I think most Christians do. I now belong to a tiny, non-denominational country church. We worship in jeans and flip flops, but the faith that spreads through that little church is greater and stronger than anything I ever felt in my youth. The level of acceptance and love those people offered me, instantly, is humbling. I didn’t deserve such a welcome. Yet they welcomed me, without question, just the same. I never knew that a church, and the Lord, could be like that until the day I took a chance and walked into that little church.
I’m still filled with questions. I always will be. I will never have definite answers to all of those important questions running through my head. Not until I get to Heaven at least. But I do have a pretty good idea about the answers. I’ve learned how to pray and put my faith first. Most importantly, I’ve learned to listen. That quiet voice in my head and my heart helping me with every decision, that gut instinct to help without first asking what is in it for me, that peace that I carried in my heart home from Scotland, that is my faith and my God. I am proud to say that I am not a once-a-week Christian. My faith is part of every moment in my life, thanks to that special little bench and those eight simple words – “Be still and know that I am God.”