The pleasure and practice of slowing down

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you,” Matthew 6:33

We just returned home after a week-long Thanksgiving vacation, when my husband began to pull out the multitude of Christmas decoration boxes we have accumulated. If he is feeling inclined to climb up that ladder and put Christmas lights across the roof, who am I to hold him back?  But, I wasn’t ready for those boxes to pile up in our hallway. I had laundry to do, lessons to plan, grocery shopping, and a few other details on my Saturday calendar.  My heart started to race.

“I’m not going to get to the decorations until next Saturday,” I explained.

There, I said it. The guilt of leaving it undone for a week was gone.  But, the anxiety remained. One more project to do.

Only I can take responsibility for the number of Christmas decorations I have to place through the house.  I am the one who cross-stitched all the family stockings, sewed the stuffed santas which sit atop kitchen cupboards and collected all the Christmas plates, frames and nativities over the years. I collected them in order to create a festive home, a place of celebration for my kids to enjoy and remember. But this year, the decorations created stress.

Saturday arrived and I was ready to begin the great decoration overhaul. As I emptied boxes, dodged the kids dancing around the floor with their dog, and answered phone calls; the stress began to rise again.  Visions of projects undone danced in my head.  I glanced into the living room and saw the place I have created for rest.

My Bible lies on the end table, my notebook and devotional book wait for me. A warm throw and coaster for my hot tea invite me to come and sit. I carved this small place of solitude out months ago, a place in the center of my home which is hard to walk past, without hearing the Lord whisper to me:

“My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “LORD, I am coming.” (Psalm 27:8).

In the midst of the noisy laughter and prancing of dog feet, the mess of the boxes and turmoil of projects to come, I turned my back and curled up on a small corner of the couch. I breathed in long deep breaths, and exhaled slowly. (I am learning to slow my body down and give it rest from the physical consequences of stress.) Then I quietly talked with my Lord. I read His Words to me, let Him speak to my heart and discussed the day with Him.

Our lives are spinning with activity, meetings, and media attachments. If our bodies are not constantly on the go, then surely our minds are!  It is a rarity to experience rest in this culture amidst the stress we have created.

To live with simplicity and slow ourselves down, includes bringing our minds back to the rest of our Shepherd.  When we seek Him first (Matthew 6:33), His kingdom and His righteousness, we are allowing our minds and our whole-self to be lined up with the Shepherd of our souls. It takes practice to pull ourselves away and make it happen. There in our solitude, we find pleasure in slowing down and hearing from the Lord.

As I walked back to my Christmas project, my body felt at rest; my mind focused on the things that matter most to me, and my spirit renewed and filled with His Spirit.

I finished a good portion of the decorations, and put the rest of the boxes back in the closet for another year. I decided to cut down my own Christmas decorating expectations in order to be about the simple more pleasurable things in my life: like baking goodies, laughing with my kids, and enjoying the gift of timeless and eternal moments with my Lord.

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This inevitable stress

Given the amount of stress in my life, I figure I should be the skinny little thing I was in high school. I’ve been clinging to that philosophy while the pounds cling to my waistline. I finally realized the talk show docs and nutritionists are actually referring to me when they say stress will cause fat to hang on to our bodies! So over the course of a year, I have been examining my lifestyle and this inevitable thing called stress.

You and I can’t avoid stress. It comes in good packages like the holidays, or it comes in dreadful doses of uncontrollable events. We can maintain some degree of stress maintenance with our diet, activity level and time management. But what about managing the stress in our soul?

Are you flying with the turkeys?

There are many wild turkeys that strut around our city (yes-real turkeys). They hang out at the schools and walk around suburban streets. They crack me up! I was driving my son to school one morning when I eyed a few fat turkeys wobbling down the road. Suddenly one turkey decided to take flight.

His big ole body lifted into the air while his wings leisurely flapped. Closer and closer we came toward each other, his body flying low and wings flapping far too slowly. My heart pounded as I saw his face in line with mine through the windshield. This turkey was not gaining height. Just as I imagined this humongous wild bird crashing through my windshield, he managed to skim above the hood of my car…my heart now pounding with relief.

Let stress take flight

I haven’t forgotten my wild encounter with that turkey, and I picture him in sharp contrast to the majestic eagle. The Scriptures tell us those who wait on the Lord will mount up with wings like eagles. I have read when an eagle senses a storm is coming, it flies to a high spot and waits for the wind to come. When the storm hits, it spreads its capable wings and soars above it.

You and I can’t avoid the storms of life: sickness, disappointment, loss, the daily grind. But can we actually rise above it? Isaiah 40:29-31 gives us this promise,

“He gives power to the weak. He increases the strength of him who has no might. Even the youths faint and get weary, and the young men utterly fall;
But those who wait for the Lord (who hope in Him, talk with Him, listen to His Words),
shall renew their strength and power (be invigorated);
they shall lift their wings and mount up as eagles;
they shall run and not be weary (they won’t give up),
they shall walk and not faint or become tired.”

It’s God’s desire for us to rise above our trials. Thankfully, He has not purposed us to mount up as turkeys, who carry the load of their body while struggling to gain height. He has provided a way for us to prevail over and even conquer the stress in our lives.

This is my desire as well. When I cling to the stress, it clings to me. Why settle for flying low and slow with the weight of stress on my back? Instead, I’m choosing to cling to the promises and love of God.

Waiting on Him is a deliberate practice of sitting quietly in the presence of God. It requires listening to His Words and choosing to trust the God who made me. He then gives me the perspective and tools to mount up as eagles above the storms and stresses of my life.

Meditate on Isaiah 40:28-31 today. What is God inviting you to do? List the promises He makes for you in return.

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