If my soul had a mascot, it’d be the hare from Alice in Wonderland, the one who hops around frantically singing, “I’m late, I’m late for a very important date / No time to say hello; goodbye, I’m late, I’m late, I’m late.”
I have a frenetic soul. I’m easily torn in multiple directions with different priorities. I tend to overthink and overanalyze, wondering if I’m currently doing what I should be doing. In its hurried state, my soul can’t distinguish between good, better, and best.
Like a top, my soul continues in this frantic spinning until one of two things happens: either I run out of energy or someone gently interrupts my spin cycle.
Busy vs. Hurried
A section of John Ortberg’s book Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You recently interupted my spinning—particularly a conversation between him and his mentor, Dallas Willard:
Dallas pointed out to me once that there is a world of difference between being busy and being hurried. Being busy is an outward condition, a condition of the body. It occurs when we have many things to do. Busyness is inevitable in modern culture. If you are alive today in North America, you are a busy person. . . . Being hurried is an inner condition, a condition of the soul. It means to be so preoccupied with myself and my life that I am unable to be fully present with God, with myself, and with other people. I am unable to occupy the present moment. Busyness migrates to hurry when we let it squeeze God out of our lives. . . . I cannot live in the kingdom of God with a hurried soul. I cannot rest in God with a hurried soul.
Guilty as charged. I quickly slip from outward busyness to inward hurriedness—and my joy, peace, and clarity of purpose are the casualties.
Stillness Before God
Thankfully, I have a Father who loves me too much to watch my hurried soul scurry about. Even in the necessary busyness of life as a wife, mom, and minister of the gospel, he refuses to let me live in a hurried state of soul. Instead he intervenes, reaching down to pick up my spinning soul, stilling me in the palm of his strong hand.
He waits until the dizziness wears off, and then, through the Spirit, calls to mind Jesus’s words to another friend: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has the good portion, which will not taken away from her” (Luke 10:41).
In our age, the choice to still oneself before the Lord and his Word often feels unproductive in the moment. However, such an “unproductive” choice not only has dividends into eternity but also powerfully changes the present.
We often gain stillness of soul by physically slowing down, but we can maintain that same stillness in the throes of everyday life. When we’re anchored in the eternal and unchanging character of God, we have access to that stillness even in the midst of great busyness. Psalm 46 displays the Lord as the source of stillness:
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. . . . There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fail. God will help her at the break of day. . . . He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Ps. 46:1–2, 4–5, 10)
The psalmist paints a picture of peace in the midst of turmoil. Such peace draws its power from the character of God (“our refuge and strength”), the presence of God (“God is within her”), and the promises of God (“I will be exalted”).
River of Peace
There are two Hebrew words for river, nahar and nachal. In Psalm 46, the writer chooses the word nahar, which refers to a perennial stream, a river that continues to flow, as opposed to nachal, which refers to flood beds that are dry except in the rainy seasons. The purpose is clear: God’s character, presence, and promises are continually available to God’s people, no matter the external circumstances or pace of life.
As believers, we have the constant, steady, gladdening stream of the Holy Spirit within us at all times and in all circumstances. The mountains may be caving in or the errands may be piling up, but the river of grace rushes on.
The Holy Spirit enables me to be still and still moving—to be busy in my outward life, yet unhurried in my soul.
Father, still our spinning souls. Sit us beside the constant river of your Spirit, so that even in busy outward circumstances we may not be hurried, but held. Amen.