Be Still and Know

Do I believe that I am loved?

by Alana Ramsay

If we believe that we are loved just as we are and that everything else is equally loved, we unveil a cosmic reality that is life-giving. – Dr Barbara A. Holmes

I’ve worked for Arrow NZ for 9 years and up until 2020, life was full and constantly being lived at a rushed pace. Running a busy household with kids at school, supporting my husband who works long hours for local government, serving on eldership at my local church, seeking to be a good friend who gives time to others, trying my best to put healthy food on the table (and occasionally supply some meals for the church freezer), leading a midweek homegroup and fitting my paid ministry hours in around all of this, meant that life felt like one long to-do list. My standard answer to the question “how are you?” was “good…busy…”

As an Enneagram number 6, I am committed, I like to start and finish things well, I’m hardworking and responsible. I enjoy thinking about the future and organising things. I love agendas and to-do lists. All of these things (and the acceptance I receive from others when I do them well) give me a great sense of security.

In early 2020, Covid-19 entered our world and as we moved into gathering restrictions and lockdowns, as work moved online and events slowly got deleted from the calendar, as alert levels, traffic light settings, QR codes, contact tracing, social distancing and MIQ became everyday words, I felt a rising sense of anxiety as I realised that I could no longer live my life according to the pattern I’d become used to. I could no longer be certain of how the future would look. And I was no longer sure that anything would get finished properly!

I moved into a mode of believing that after the next lockdown, life could go back to normal, I could re-fill the calendar and start rewriting my to-do lists. If I continued to look forward to the future, I’d be able to cope with the situation I was in now.

BUT my niggling thought was: if life doesn’t go back to normal, what would I have to show for all of the hard work and planning I have done?

Ken Shigematsu writes about rejecting the temptation to validate ourselves through achievements, instead embracing a life of gratitude, knowing that we are already beloved as a child of God.1 In the stillness and emptiness of lockdown, I began to interrogate myself and my relationship with Jesus. Had I been spending my pre-covid life simply doing things for Jesus, in the hope that he would notice, and therefore love me? Did I really know Jesus? Did I understand what it is to receive the unconditional love of God, or was my faith built on the false idea that I must earn love and acceptance through the things I do?

Shigematsu offers Centering Prayer as a helpful practice to develop as it focuses us on being in the presence of Jesus, hearing from the Spirit and becoming “more aware of the God who is already with us”. Centering prayer is time spent in silence, focused on a single word or Scripture while sitting quietly and breathing deeply. He observes that “silent prayer leads to a powerful change in the way we inhabit the world because it grows our capacity to pay attention to our Creator, even when we are not consciously praying”.2

Over the time of this pandemic, as I have slowed down, sat with Jesus and focused on being in the presence of God rather than on the next thing I should be doing, I have learned several lessons:3

I have learned what it really is to be anchored in the deep love of my Creator, and to know that I have value because of who I am, not what I do.

I have become more attentive to God’s movements in and around me – it has transformed my way of seeing my environment, of being in the world. I don’t need to spend my day looking to (and worrying about) the future but instead I can be in the moment, and see the Spirit’s movement in that moment.

It has helped me to offer more of myself to God and others. In learning how to be still and know God, I am able to see clearly where I should be putting my time and energy each day. I have had some divinely-appointed conversations with trusted friends as we have asked hard questions together and wrestled with what it is to be a faithful child of God through these uncertain times.

It has taught me that the gift of myself is what I can offer to the world. I don’t need to achieve things in order to earn acceptance. I don’t need to compare myself to others, or to strive to be someone different. The only person I need to be more like is Jesus.

At some point in the future, the world will begin to open up again, the calendar will fill, we will have some certainty about future events as we navigate our new normal in a post-covid world. The challenge for me will be to keep making time for contemplative practice as I continue to know Jesus more and more. I pray that I can deeply abide in his presence despite my uncertainty about the future.

1 Survival Guide for the Soul: how to flourish spiritually in a world that pressures us to achieve by Ken Shigematsu, published by Zondervan

2 Survival Guide for the Soul, p 78

3 A helpful mobile phone app that I have used is: www.contemplativeoutreach.org/centering-prayer-mobile-app/

(Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash)

Alana Ramsay

Alana Ramsay leads the Community & Operations of Arrow NZ. She lives in Auckland, has been involved in the not-for-profit sector for 25 years, and is passionate about encouraging and equipping women in leadership. She completed the Arrow Australia Emerging Leaders programme in 2020. Alana is married to Angus and they have two teenagers.

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