Stillness in a World of Hustle

I saw it on Pinterest and had a visceral reaction: “Good things come to those who hustle.”

It’s the rallying cry of the perfectionist, the list-maker, the big ball of stress. I am all of these things by nature. I need an A from everyone, and I will sacrifice sleep and sanity to get it. If I know I can’t get an A, well then, I better make people like me. In moments when I’ve lost the most control, when I battle the most anxiety and fear, I find myself telling joke after joke and story after story, desperate for the comfort of approving laughter, until eventually I get home and collapse in exhaustion, like an overworked circus clown, forever juggling juggling juggling on a unicycle. Hustle, man. Sometimes it looks like a list, and sometimes it looks like a red nose and face paint.

I’ve learned that ministry tends to kick the allure of “hustle” up a notch. For many years I hoarded a strange belief that successful ministry means we’ve gotta make people like God by making them like us first. And we’ve gotta be good at this, perfect even, because we’re representing a perfect God. There’s about a zillion flaws in that logic, plus a lot of pressure—now we’re not just hustling for the sake of our own likability and perfectionism, we’re hustling for God’s. So if the church asks, we say yes. If a family in need calls, we go. If someone dislikes us, we win them over. If we sense a need inside our own hearts or our own families, we stuff it. (Passionate followers of Christ are selfless, right?) If someone asks how we are doing, we say, “Great!” (Passionate followers of Christ are joyful, right?) Juggling, juggling, juggling, and the unicycle starts to wobble.

If ministry is a plate, mine has always looked like Thanksgiving dinner. And Thanksgiving dinner is wonderful, but I imagine if every meal was Thanksgiving dinner, things would start to get a little uncomfortable. When I had each of my kids, I had to dump everything off my plate for a bit, and I both loved and hated it. Even though the full-plated ministry hustle had always exhausted me, I was used to it. The constant buzzing kept me from listening to things I didn’t want to hear, helped me hide. Now there was nowhere to hide, and the needs in my own heart and in my own family were suddenly megaphone loud, a little too raw, a little too real.

What happens when the person who considered herself the mess cleaner realizes that she is the mess?

She finds herself humbled, at the feet of a shepherd.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake." Psalm 23:1-3

I’d read this passage a hundred times, but this time I had a weird thought: He makes us lie down in green pastures, not mow them.

I’ve spent a lot of time mowing when I was supposed to lie down. I’ve spent a lot of time leading when I was supposed to be led. He was trying to lead me so that He could restore my soul. He was trying to lead me towards righteousness not for my sake but for His.

What if my plate is not supposed to look like Thanksgiving dinner all the time?  What if people in ministry are just people? People with regular sized plates? Flawed plates. Faithful to a perfect God, but hopelessly imperfect? What if God is the only perfect one, and that’s okay?

What if it’s okay to have needs, to say “no” sometimes, to lie down on the lush green grass instead of mow it? What if God is the only needless one, and that’s okay?

There, in the still place, I hear it: “Hush, daughter. Be still.”

Friend, whether your hustle is wrapped up in ministry or perfectionism or numbing or approval or in something else altogether, there is a different way.

There is the way of stillness.

Can we go the way of stillness in our schedules? We're called to die to self not to die to schedule. God created us to have limits, and to ignore the limits is a weird kind of idolatry—believing that we can be all that people need, excellent in all things, needless. Isn't God the only one who can satisfy all needs, who is fully excellent, who needs nothing? If we call Him Savior, why do we keep attempting to save?

It’s strange and beautiful that many times, Jesus slipped away from the crowds, crowds full of people with needs. I think this would strike some of us as selfish: “I know I am desperately tired, but look at that crowd!” We would go around and try to heal the entire crowd, would we not? But I suppose Jesus practiced respect for the sovereign mystery of God’s will (God does not often choose to heal the entire crowd, does He?) and the unrelenting neediness that comes from being human. Like Jen Wilkin says, “Rather than posing as self-sufficient, we can embrace our neediness as evidence that God’s grace is our only hope.” Can we honestly preach that God is a refuge when we continuously fail to make Him ours? Of course we know this is not true, but are we brave enough to fully recognize our own neediness, to let our schedules reflect it?

Can we go the way of stillness in our spirits? Likely, each person has something that provokes inner hustle, something that compels him or her to work overtime until that nagging guilt or unsettling anxiety is stifled. Mine is my need for approval and my husband's is his deep desire for significance, but faithfully and brutally, God is killing this inner hustle inside both of us, showing us over and over again how toxic it is to look for approval or significance from anyone else.

Fellow hustlers, listen as I caution myself: There is another way. We take up our cross and follow Jesus and no one else—not church members, church leaders, or church obligations, because sometimes they do not go in the same direction. When we die to self for the sake of others, we’ll find ourselves failing to safeguard our families and souls, convinced that any “no” to the church is a “no” to God Himself. We risk becoming a ministry service provider, eager for others to give us a great review on Yelp, completely missing the point that it was never about us in the first place. But, when we die to self for Jesus’ sake, we’ll learn to be still from the inside out, resting in His approval and the significance we already have in Him, even when circumstances or people attempt to tie our shoelaces together and watch us fall. My insides beg me to hustle to win them over: call, grab coffee, explain, re-explain, remind, text, smile bigger, juggle faster, but now I feel Jesus quiet my insides: “Hush, my girl. Be still.” In the stillness, we’ll develop discernment to know when following Him lines up with what others want from us and when it does not.

Dear friend, let’s practice stillness in our schedules: Does He not dress the lilies and feed the birds? If He provides so extravagantly for them, will He not give us exactly as many hours as we need to do what He has called us to do? Are not our needs a welcome reminder of our own limitations before a limitless God?

Let’s practice stillness in our spirits: Has He not already called us His beloved? Then we don’t need to hear that from anyone else. Is He not sovereign over all things? If He can separate the night from the day, surely can rescue us from unicycling and tied shoelaces and those who want to see us fall!

Today, I will be still. I will lie down in green pastures. Today, I will let Him lead me beside still waters. My soul will be like those still waters, like the glassy surface of a undisturbed lake.

In that still place, I can finally hear Him, right where He’s always been: in the whisper.

“A great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” 1 Kings 19:11-12

Dear friend, God has always been in the whisper. Let's slow down. Let's lean in.

"Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10