My dear friend, author Sarah Swafford, is guest blogging for us today! Please read and enjoy Sarah’s post about cultivating interior stillness. —Lisa
Do you ever run into Scripture passages that touch your heart, but also make you pause to think, “But what does that actually mean?” I have always loved the verse Exodus 14:14: “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be still.” As a wife of sixteen years, mother of five children, speaker, author, and also a recovering firstborn perfectionistic people-pleaser control freak (you may know the type), let’s just say that I have always been a bit of a “doer” and a go-getter. I love all my roles in life, and I also love my prayer time and quiet and reading and learning. Navigating daily life (the big and small battles) can at times be exhausting as I try to balance and maintain peace in my own heart and in my family…and tend to the countless responsibilities and tasks that are inevitable each day.
Recently, I felt compelled to dig into the above verse and pray through this gravitational pull I had to the word “still.” If you break open the book of Exodus, and in particular chapter 14, you will see that this verse is spoken by Moses to the Israelites right before the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea. Their backs were up against the sea and Pharaoh's army was charging. Can you imagine the sheer panic the Israelites must have felt in that moment?! Do you ever feel that way? Do you ever feel like life is coming down on you and you’re scrambling to “get it all done,” to protect, to guide, to reign in your emotions, to find the strength to do battle against the attacks that come at you from a million different directions? I know I do sometimes.
“The Lord will fight for you…” Yes, that is what I want! “Please Lord, step in and go to battle for me! I am exhausted and scared and overwhelmed and…and…and…” Not only does the Lord desire to fight for you, He also longs for you to ask for His help. It is not a form of weakness, but a deep realization that we can’t do it all, and we can’t do it without Him. Just like the Israelites with their backs up against the sea with a charging army, they knew they needed a miracle. And the Lord showed up for them, and all they needed to do was be still.
You may be thinking, “Okay, Sarah, right, like I can just ‘be still’ and all the tasks, chores, emotional angst, etc., will just disappear.” I know I used to think like that, that being “still” was just a little too far out of reach for my life. But as I read the book of Exodus and prayed on these verses, I started to realize that I was looking at it merely as a matter of physical stillness—to just stand around and wait for the Lord to show up and help me get it all done or figure it all out.
Through prayer, I started to realize that this verse really points (for you, me, and the Israelites) to an interior stillness, something that generally doesn’t come about overnight. If I put myself in the story, as an Israelite with my family watching Pharaoh's army charge, I’m sure I would panic and try to take matters into my own hands; but there would also be a realization that I have just watched the Lord deliver us from our enemies through a series of plagues and a host of other supernatural phenomena. As with the Israelites, so also with us: God is worthy of our trust. I have seen Him fight my battles.
So how do we cultivate this interior stillness? To be able to stand with our backs against the sea and trust; to not panic, to not flail around in our lives and try to take matters into our own hands? That’s not an easy task. I don’t have all the answers, but I know we can turn to the Scriptures and saints for a wealth of wisdom, and they would point us to the power of daily prayer and quiet stillness with the Lord. I say “daily,” but what I really mean is hourly—in the moment—in the present moment where we encounter our struggles; this is the place of battle, when we need to turn to the Lord in trust.
It is helpful to recall the ways He has battled for us in the past because this can give us confidence that He can and will do so again. Each time we do this, we slowly develop a habit of surrendering to Him again and again, cultivating a deep awareness of our need for God. By returning to Him over and over again in the small things every day, we develop the instinct to turn to Him when the big things come our way—like when Pharaoh's army is charging and there is nowhere to go.
Is it easy to trust, to turn to God in every need, and cultivate interior stillness? No, but the alternative will always be chaos, self-reliance, panic, and fear, and that is no way to live. He wants to fight for you. He has already laid His life down for you. I promise you—He is trustworthy. We need only be still.
Need more inspiration to move toward daily prayer and quiet stillness with the Lord? Check out the Walking with Purpose 365-day devotional, Be Still. And while you’re here, be sure to sign up to get our weekly blog delivered to your inbox!
Sarah Swafford is the founder of Emotional Virtue Ministries. She speaks internationally to people of all ages on a variety of topics such as: emotional virtue, dating and relationships, modesty of intentions, and interior confidence. She shares her message at school assemblies, retreats, rallies, and conferences around the world and is the author of Emotional Virtue: A Guide to Drama-Free Relationships.
Sarah is a contributor to Chosen, Ascension Press’ confirmation program, and YDisciple’s True Beauty; she has also contributed videos for www.womenmadenew.com. Sarah is a proud team member of Chastity Project and speaks at Steubenville conferences in the United States and Canada.
Sarah also works on special projects for Catholic identity at her alma mater, Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, where she resides with her wonderful husband, Dr. Andrew Swafford, and their children: Thomas, Fulton, Cate, Kolbe, and John Paul. You can find more information about Sarah and Emotional Virtue Ministries at www.emotionalvirtue.com
Now that July is here I've decided to remove the Christmas cards we received last December from the wall in the den where they are currently adhered with yellowing, curling tape.
Do not be alarmed: I'm not a scattered, hot mess of a homeowner who still has Halloween candy in the pantry; only last year's holiday cards are still kicking around. The Thanksgiving placemats, Christmas lights and nutcracker soldiers are all safely packed away in boxes in the basement.
The reason there are dozens of greeting cards still taped to the wall seven months post-Christmas is simply because, after a certain amount of time, we stop noticing things around us. Even though I'm in that room daily, I stopped seeing the cards.
I remember my first visit to my in-laws' house before my husband and I were married. I walked around their compact stone colonial and noticed crucifixes on the plastered walls of most rooms. I wasn't raised Catholic so seeing this was new to me, and I remember telling a friend, “His mom hung crosses in pretty much every room of the house!”
Are those crucifixes still there? I suppose they are, but I can't say for sure because I stopped noticing them. And I've been in my in-laws' house countless times over the past twenty years.
Six months ago I spiffed up my home office by hanging some framed prints of the beautiful Walking with Purpose free scripture printables. I don't notice them very often anymore.
It goes without saying that the way to keep a strong relationship with God is through daily prayer and Mass -- not by hanging things on the walls. Yet, while a day can begin perfectly with prayer, as it progresses, we often travel away from that perfect place and find we are no longer immersed in His presence.
I am happy to report that there is something I encounter throughout the day now that immediately brings Christ to mind. It inserted itself into my life quite unexpectedly last month when a very popular New York Metro Area radio station went off the air. It was one of those stations that played the same pop hits repeatedly, and it was the #1 station in the area for decades. (I can remember the summer before college listening to the station on a silver boombox as I begrudgingly helped my father paint the kitchen of my childhood home with Bobby McFerrin telling me Don't Worry, Be Happy in his sing-song voice.)
That pop radio station is gone now, and the Christian station K-Love took over its spot on the dial. And because I am constantly in my car, Ubering my kids around (and because I have no idea how to play music from my phone through the car sound system), K-Love is constantly on as well.
In case you were wondering, the lyrics that are currently stuck in my head are, I raise a hallelujah, my weapon is a melody...
I will admit that my kids are less than enthusiastic about this alteration to our drive-time soundtrack. I tell them their complaints hurt Jesus's feelings.
When I surround myself with music or the words from a good book, the messages I take in stay near the forefront of my brain, steering clear of the back with its unfulfilled spring cleaning tasks and new year's resolutions. Those K-Love tunes -- just like my WWP Bible study books -- offer a wealth of reminders, and a consistency of message that strengthens my connection with Christ.
The Walking with Purpose Bible study Opening Your Heart transformed me when I experienced it with a parish small group earlier in the year. When my group finished that study, my heart was opened, but as I admitted in this blog post, it might not have been opened all the way. My relationship with God was stronger, but not absolute. Love for Christ was not taking up all the spaces in my heart.
So now I'm reading Opening Your Heart again, this time on my own. And I am less concerned with completing the homework assignments and more concerned with absorbing the information; letting Lisa Brenninkmeyer's words stick around as long as they can in the forefront of my brain like the lyrics to a song. I'm allowing myself to really let it sink in when Lisa tells me that, “More than anything, He is utterly consumed with love for you, and it's the real kind of love that truly wants you to thrive.”¹
Knowing that truth, how could I not want to work on loving Him back?
Do you have any WWP Bible studies on hand that you may have read in the past? If you were to pick one up again, I assure you, the truths would grab hold of you a second time, and warm your heart with love for Him.
¹ Opening Your Heart, p. 34