At a recent Sunday mass the priest spoke in his homily about the amount of noise there is in our everyday lives. It is a challenge to find any amount of quiet. Oftentimes quiet is uncomfortable, and when we find ourselves in a moment of quiet, we quickly fill it with something on our list of things that need to be said or done. Finally, worn out, we steal away on vacation or retreat, desperately seeking a precious place of peace, rest, stillness, of quiet.
Why do we need times of quiet? For rest, yes. To refresh our minds and our spirits, certainly. But in our spiritual lives quiet is most essential for us to listen. Days can become an overwhelming frenzy of commuting, work, attending to family needs, caring for and developing friendships, managing our homes, bills, appointments, more commuting, prayer and working on our spiritual lives, and finally, trying to squeeze in some sleep before it all begins again sooner than we’d like. The quietest part of my day is my 45 minute-each-way commute. During this time I do make an effort to pray, to reflect, to make petition to our Lord for my needs and those of others. But while merging in traffic, focusing on the road, and dodging aggressive drivers, am I really able to listen to the Lord? To hear the quiet voice of God speaking to us in our everyday lives, we need to find a true place of quiet, of stillness, to make time to listen.
We hear over and over again in the gospels of how Jesus went off by himself alone to pray. Jesus, the Son of God, knew the importance of quiet and solitude, and regularly set aside time to listen. One of my favorite teachings of Jesus is when he calls to us in Matthew, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” Who among us doesn’t labor or feel burdened in some way? Don’t we all just thirst for the rest Jesus’ words illustrate here?
I had a particularly challenging school year this past year. I work as a middle school teacher for adolescents with autism. New responsibilities this year and the added challenge of continuing my education stretched me far beyond what I thought I could handle. I was drowning in school work and paperwork, facing pressure from my superiors, and trying my hardest to show up each day for my students with a smiling face and nurturing spirit. I recalled the story of the 12 apostles on the boat, crossing the sea, when a storm blew in and threatened their safety. Jesus, too, was in the boat, asleep. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” they shouted to him, overwhelmed and in fear. I was in that boat with them, feeling the waves crashing over me, wondering why things had to be so difficult.
One morning I came in to my classroom and found an envelope on my desk. Inside was a card, and printed on the front was a line from Psalm 46, “Be still and know that I am God.” Be still. In my everyday flurry of busyness and stress I was praying, for sure. I was petitioning God’s help unceasingly. But being still? There was just no time for that. I was looking for results, for solutions, trying to finish this school year that had become like a race. A caring colleague, who was also dealing with her share of challenges, had noticed my struggle, and had taken time to remind me of God’s word. I remembered then how Jesus spoke those same words to the waves and the storm when the apostles woke him up from his nap in the boat. “Quiet, be still!” he said, “and there was great calm.”
“The Lord himself will fight for you; you have only to keep still.” Exodus 14:14
Finding that time for quiet can seem impossible some days. We all juggle enough responsibilities to fill each moment and then some. But when we call on the Lord for help, for answers, we must also take time to listen. Sure, we “know” that God is God, but when he tells us to “Be still and know,” we can’t forget to “be still.” Stop, for some time, the fighting, the searching, the struggling. “Come away” with the Lord, even if for just a few minutes each day. “Quiet, be still,” and listen. Know, remember, trust that he is God, he hears, he fights for you, he saves. Make that time to remember all he has done, trust that he is even now working for your good, and know that you, yourself, can’t do everything. Let the Lord take some of your burden from you, give it to him, and listen. Listen for his voice, speaking to you in the quiet. I pray that in that quiet place, we will hear his voice, and find “great calm.”
Sarah Rzasa made her promise and became a Pauline Cooperator in 2014. She lives in Somerville, Massachusetts. Sarah is a teacher and a proud “cioci,” or aunt. She cooperates with the Daughters of St. Paul in Jamaica Plain and helps the children of the Holy Family Institute in Boston.