The first step towards fulness is stillness.
In the previous reflection we noted that most of us live our lives at less than 50%. We also saw that living in shalom requires we are open to more life — abundant life.
Most of us know our lives are full, but this is not the same as a life lived in fullness. Which is why the first step towards fullness is stillness.
In our culture, we are programmed to ‘do’. We have lost the way of simply being. Most of us have been ‘doing’ for so long we don’t know how to be still.
In the previous reflections we established that to live in shalom requires that I be led by the Lord who is my shepherd, and that he provides for all my needs and only gives me good things.
In this next line of the Psalm, David, who was a shepherd, writes that the Lord who is my shepherd “makes me lie down in green pastures.” To get a fuller understanding of shalom, we must focus on the word ‘makes’. This word does not imply choice on our part — to be ‘made’ to do something is to be subdued by someone or something more powerful than yourself. The Lord, who is my shepherd, ‘makes’ me lie down in green pastures. He imposes it upon me. Remember, the shepherd only gives us good things, so his insistence that we lie down is part of his provision for our life in shalom. If he didn’t ‘make’ us lie down, we would continue to be human doings all the time, instead of human beings. We need stillness in our lives, and the Lord who is my shepherd makes me be still on the path to shalom.
The stillness the shepherd provides is the gift of joyful rest. It’s the gift of time set apart for the sheer joy of doing nothing.
We can see this from the Psalm — he makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters. For a sheep — and especially in the hot and dry climate of the ancient near east — a green pasture is a place of luxury; enough grass to eat until you can’t eat any more. And the still waters from a desert oasis means coolness from the heat and enough water to drink and be satisfied. This is not a picture of resting out of need alone; it is a picture of luxurious rest.
But this picture of indulgence doesn’t mean that we don’t need to rest, because if we want to live in shalom, we do. How often do we take time for luxurious rest and to just enjoy the stillness? If the answer is frequently and often, then maybe we are well on our way to a life of shalom. But if the answer is rarely and infrequently, then we can be thankful that the Lord who is my shepherd will make me lie down and lead me to places of stillness.
Yet the need for stillness can sometimes be more urgent, especially if the only times we are still are when we freeze in the midst of difficult situations, or we get so exhausted that all we have left is to stop. An experienced shepherd knows the difference between a real oasis and a mirage; he has to, as it is a matter of life and death for his sheep. In the same way, the Lord knows the difference between the kind of rest that is part of the journey to shalom and the enforced stop that inevitably comes when we don’t practice stillness and become exhausted, or even burn out.
Many of us work too hard, often at the expense of our sleep, believing that it is more productive — perhaps even more ‘virtuous’ — to work hard rather than rest. But as Solomon writes in one of his Psalms,
“It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.”
If we want to live in shalom, then we need to embrace the gift of sleep and ensure we prioritise it as a necessary part of our health and wellbeing. It is worth noting that from the very beginning, the day begins in the evening, which means one of the first things we do in each day is sleep.
We will consider how a life lived in shalom responds to troubles, burn outs and insomnia later on, but for now all we need to say is that the shepherd does not want to ‘make me lie down’ because I don’t know how to; he wants me to be still so I can enjoy being still.
The Sabbath was made for man
“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
Jesus said these words to the Pharisees when challenged about his disciples eating ears of corn on the sabbath. Jesus pointed out that David (who wrote the Psalm we are exploring) took the Bread of Presence from the house of the Lord — something which was forbidden — and even gave it to his filthy fighting men. His point? Everything which is considered holy to God is ultimately for the enjoyment of his children. Therefore, sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.
‘Remember the sabbath to keep it holy’
This is the fourth of the ten commandments and preceded only by those concerning how we relate to God himself. Remembering the sabbath and keeping it holy is a commandment. It is not optional. It is the explicit version of the more implicit line from our Psalm, “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.”
Jesus often took time out to be still and to simply ‘be’ with his Father. He needed it, and we do too.
Presence in the present
All of us can practise stillness. For some, simply stopping and doing nothing for the sheer pleasure of it may seem so alien to us that we wouldn’t know where to begin. For others, we may have spent years taking time out for meditation or contemplation and will undoubtedly know the value of stillness.
However you choose to find stillness, the wonderful, life-changing power of being fully present in this moment in the presence of the Lord, who is my shepherd and made me, is something that can only be experienced firsthand.
Wherever we are on our journey, practising stillness is necessary for shalom.
Do you want to start today?
Start with something very simple: sit comfortably, close your eyes and breathe in for 5 seconds, then breathe out for 7 seconds. Count each second; observe your breathing. Do this for a full 3 minutes.
Soon, you will find that stillness comes more naturally and you can start to notice more than just your breathing. Before long, you will be enjoying being in the presence of the Lord as “he makes you lie down in green pastures; as he leads you beside still waters.”
May you live in Shalom, and know that the Lord will make you lie down in stillness.
May you know the joy of being present in the Lord’s presence.
May you know that the Lord gives to his beloved sleep.