Accept the Stillness

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Elena Delhagen -Accept the Stillness3By: Elena Delhagen | Twitter: @ell_del

My only child, a brown-eyed boy with lashes like feathers and wisps of curls atop his head, is just over nine months old. He is my joy and my delight, and our days are filled with wonder as he explores and adventures and discovers the world around him. After he’s tucked into bed, I collapse on top of my own pillow and focus on my body as it releases the deep-down-in-my-bones-exhaustion from the day.

This act of letting go is a gift from God. These nightly moments of purification and surrender are how I start over, beginning again always, assured of new mercies. I do try to listen for Him during the day, but I confess my hearing is dull when I am preoccupied with changing diapers and making meals and sorting laundry and to-do lists that are always discarded and half-finished.

But at night, I am centered. In the darkness, my spirit finds its way home. I am a mother who prays in the nighttime, who bares her soul in the moonlight, who seeks after the sacred in the midnight hour.

When I hear his soft cries over the monitor a few hours later, I know he’ll be unable to fall back asleep until I go to him. I curl his body up against mine, smoothe his hair, brush my lips against his forehead, and we rock. I sway him rhythmically in my arms while making quiet “shhhhh” sounds in his ear, and here, I find God all over again. I inhabit this moment with my bleary eyes and disheveled hair, desperate for rest, for both my son and myself. I dare to trust that God, both Father and Mother, hears all these prayers I breathe without words, even if the sleep doesn’t come. These nights are hard for all of us in our home. They are fleeting, yes, but still hard.

***

I pore over parenting books, scroll through articles about sleep training on my phone, bookmark several to show my husband. We’ve been here several times before in these past nine months; it really does feel like we’ve tried it all. We come up with a plan to help him self-soothe, we implement it, and it works—for a while, anyway. Then a growth spurt happens, or teething, or some other curveball parenting throws our way, and I’m back in the rocking chair at 3am with my son in my arms, begging for God to meet me here.

***

One of the books suggests gradually decreasing the amount of time swaying and shushing each night until finally, the baby learns to accept the stillness and the silence, simply allowing himself to be held.

I read that, and I am overcome by the sudden realization that nothing in this life has revealed more about God to me than motherhood.

God, like a gentle Mother, teaches us to accept seasons of stillness, of silence, not because we are forgotten but because we are learning to be held. Our choosing to lean into these moments is an act of radical trust and faith. When we stop fighting, stop moving, stop striving, there’s nothing left but our God and our very selves, and we discover the peace that only divine Presence can bring. I imagine Jesus, King of all Kings, held first by his Father in the heavenlies and later born, and cradled in the arms of his earthly mother. And I think of my son, who at this very moment is wrapped up in my own embrace, and how the two of us are being held here by hands far greater than our own, and all of it resonates so deeply within me that the ceasing and the stillness and the silence is such holy, hallowed ground.

***

It’s possible to be in the midst of a hard season and still see it as holy. When we truly understand the meaning of Emmanuel, God with us, when we take that in as our very breath and life, we see that we are never alone, even when all seems dark and quiet and still. It can be difficult to believe when our instincts are crying out against it, but isn’t that the stuff our faith is made of? The deep conviction that when we look with the eyes of the Spirit, nothing is truly as it seems?

The stillness is a winter, to be sure, and it can often be a long, bitter one. The land is barren, we groan in discomfort, and we wonder if God has perhaps hidden his face from us. But if we learn to accept the stillness and the silence, if we become as sleepy babes in the arms of their mothers and remember we are eternally held by Love, maybe, just maybe, we’ll be able to hear the heartbeat of spring resonating beneath the frozen ground.

______________

About Elena:

18035420_10158550040265191_32604530_nElena is an immigrant from Canada who has since settled in a small town in northwestern New York with her husband and son. She’s an INFJ, old soul, new mama, and storyteller. She’s always caffeinated, usually craving ice cream, and forever wanting a nap. She blogs (semi)regularly at elenateresaann.com about theology, racial justice, her years in Africa, mothering, and the fullness of womanhood.

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  • Olivia Butz

    This is stunning…”When we stop fighting, stop moving, stop striving, there’s nothing left but our God and our very selves, and we discover the peace that only divine Presence can bring.”

    As someone who bumps up against anxiety, this is such an important truth for me to hear, over and over again.

    • Thank you so much, Olivia! Anxiety has been a part of my story too, long before I had a little one. Some days it feels like one step forward and two back. But we are promised that the truth will set us free; and that truth is that we are allowed to lay it all down and be held, because God is with us in all of it.

  • Oh, Elena. I love this image of learning to be held by God…. My prayer life changed during those newborn days. While I don’t miss the lack of sleep, I do miss those still moments with God and my baby. Thank you for this stunningly beautiful reminder that those moments aren’t gone.

    • My spiritual walk has been totally transformed since becoming a mother, too. It’s a place where heaven feels so close to earth, isn’t it? Though I admit, I’m looking forward to sleep again, I will be sad to say goodbye to this season. Thankfully, God has promised to hold us all in Her hands no matter what path we are on.

  • Daniela

    Beautiful Elena, I remember those exhausted vulnerable days, I was so raw. It is a place where I was able to be still and feel God. You brought me back to it with your words, thank you.

    • Daniela, thank you for your kind words! It’s amazing to me that in the midst of feeling raw, dark, frayed around the edges – God is so faithful to show up there. There’s a closeness that I’m not sure I’ve felt before. I’m so glad you had that season too.

  • You are wise to give yourself to the practice of prayer in these days when you have so little control over the details of your life. Handing it over to Him — instead of wrestling — is good preparation for the coming days when we might be tempted to imagine that we ARE in control of the universe.

    • I don’t know if it’s me giving myself over to the practice of prayer – probably more so that I don’t know what else to do *but* pray! I have spent a long time wrestling. Being a mother has taught me so much about letting go and trust 🙂