By Lauri A. Swann

Sleepless Nights: An Invitation to Stillness

Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” — Psalm 46: 10, NIV

As one who is constantly surrounded by noise, I appreciate moments of silence. I also appreciate sleep. However, I do not appreciate silence when I am seeking God for an answer, but I also do not appreciate not getting my sleep. Ironically, God loves to interrupt my sleep so that God can speak. Just the other day I was struggling with my future and the decisions I needed to make, the answers I desired, and I found myself wide awake in the middle of the night. Mind you, I have begun to truly experience peace that surpasses all understanding, but every now and then, I have pop-up moments, particularly at night.

I have come to understand my sleepless nights as my night shift — my time to get to work through prayer, my time to hear from my supervisor, my time to get with the Boss. I must admit, however, that I am not the best employee. Sometimes I obey, but more often, I fight to go back to sleep. This night, I lost the battle. I got up and went before the throne — literally. I went to the bathroom. I did not go empty-handed. I knew this pattern, so I reached for my Bible and notebook and off I went. There I was alone with God on the throne seeking to be at the throne. 

I could not silence my thoughts, so I practiced a meditation tool that I learned in seminary . . .

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know that I am.

Be still and know.

Be still.

Be.

I repeated it over and over again until everything became still. The house was already silent, but I needed to become still. I realized then the difference between silence and stillness. To be silent means to not speak, to not make an audible sound. To be still means stop moving; do not touch, speak, and, in some scenarios, breathe. You can be silent but not be still. When I was in the bathroom seeking God, I had the silence, but then came the stillness — in my thoughts, in the moment. It was in the stillness, when all became like a freeze frame, that God entered.

One of my favorite passages of Scripture is found in 1 Kings 19:5-18, the story of Elijah in the cave. Elijah, a great but weary prophet, seeks rest or restoration in a cave. God speaks to Elijah to come out of the cave to draw Elijah back to his true source of restoration, God. God speaks to Elijah and asks him what he is doing in the cave. Elijah explains that he is hiding because the Israelites are seeking to put him to death. God replies by telling Elijah to come out for God is about to pass by.  Verses 11-12 read:

“Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” 

After the earthquake, after the fire, was the whisper. Did the earth shift and the fire burn because of God’s heavenly being intercepting earth’s atmosphere? Did the earth shift and the fire burn because God had to clear away the distractions for Elijah to hear? Did the earth shift and the fire burn because God wanted to get Elijah’s attention and prepare his ear for the whisper? Whatever the reason, God created an atmosphere for stillness. Sometimes God will create shifts and burns, or chaos for cleaning, so that the stage is set for God. Have you ever walked in the middle of the street after a snowstorm? Everything is still. And because of the stillness, you are more awakened to your breath, the crunch of the snow under your feet, the movement of your being.  

In the midnight hour, when I could not sleep, I was introduced to stillness. And in my stillness, God entered and whispered.

I encourage you today to find a place of silence. And in your place of silence, find your way to stillness. God demands full attention, and God will not compete with any other voice, or distraction. And, the next time you awaken at night, do not get upset. Come out of your cave of sheets, that false sense of comfort, and be still for God, your Lord, is about to pass.

Lord, I thank you for using so many opportunities to speak to me. I thank you that you will do anything to get my attention, even it if means waking me up in the midnight hour. I am so thankful that you have taken the time to call me out of my false sense of security and into your stillness. As I continue to draw closer to you, help me, to look at my interruptions as your calling card, as your invitations to come to the throne. Thank you for beckoning me. Thank you for wanting me. Thank you for loving me so.  Amen.

About the Author

Lauri A. Swann received a B.A. from Syracuse University, an M.A. from The George Washington University, and her M.Div. and D.Min. from Wesley Theological Seminary where her thesis was Sex Trafficking within the Black Church Community: A Call and Response. She currently serves as the campus staff minister of InterVarsity's Graduate and Faculty Ministries, Black Scholars and Professionals (BSAP) Fellowship for the Washington, D.C., region, specifically on the campuses of Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). Before joining Intervarsity she served as both a youth and young adult pastor and taught in both the private and public charter school systems in Washington, D.C. She is married to Kevin and together they have three beautiful children. Lauri blogs at Peeling Oranges at Midnight.

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