I have calmed and quieted my soul.
Psalm 131 is only three verses long. It’s very easy to miss when reading through the Psalms. Yet it captures in only a few verses two of the essential things we are doing wrong in our world, which is that we do not know how to be content, and we don’t know how to be quiet. It begins with these words: “O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.” (Psalm 131:1) Our lives, in many ways, are just the opposite of this verse. We raise our eyes very high, and we occupy ourselves with grandiose thoughts. We don’t stay within ourselves, within our limits, within our own gifts and talents. We often look to what others have, and what others are doing, and put our eyes on their race, instead of focusing on our own.
We’ve all had the experience of seeing a mother calm a screaming baby by feeding it. The baby does not know how to talk yet, and so it can’t tell it’s mother, “Hey, I’m hungry, please feed me.” It does not know how to respectfully ask to be fed or patiently wait for the food. So the baby uses what it knows, crying, to signal to the mom that it is hungry. Once the baby is fed, the crying stops, the baby is content.
Psalm 131:2 says “But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child quieted at its mother’s breast; like a child that is quieted is my soul.” This worked when we were babies, but as adults, we often lack the ability to be quieted. Our “hunger”, it seems, is insatiable. A baby, once it is fed, is content. It is not thinking about its next meal, or it would be crying all the time. The baby cries, gets what it needs, and then is content. We cry out, for attention, for money, for affection, for material gain, etc. In some sense, however, we never stop crying out, because we are never satisfied. We are always thinking ahead to the next conquest, the next altercation, the next purchase. We are worried that whatever attention or affection is shown to us today perhaps will be absent or withheld tomorrow. So we are constantly restless.
This is one of the challenges of being a Christian, to learn to have a quiet soul, to quiet down from the crying and the fighting and learn to be content. Being grateful goes hand in hand with being content. The one who is never content is never really grateful. Because rather than take time to appreciate what he or she has, they are getting restless for what they are going to do next.
Which bring us to the second thing we need to do better, which is learn to be quiet and still. It seems now in our digital age, where we are all addicted to devices and technology, we have lost our ability to just sit and be quiet. We see in the Bible that even Christ took time out to pray and to be quiet. He wasn’t going non-stop. We think going non-stop is almost expected. The one who slows down either will fall behind or will be ridiculed for not going at break-neck speed. Yet, slowing down is essential. It is essential for our physical health. We all need time off to relax and recharge. It is essential for our mental health. A wise older man recently advised me to do 30 minutes of inconsequential behavior each day. Why? Because so much of what we do has consequences and takes place under a microscope. Examples of inconsequential activities include pleasure reading, watching TV, working a crossword puzzle, or knitting. There is no consequence if we finish these activities, or if we do them well. It is necessary to have inconsequential time to rest our minds.
Most important, it is essential for our spiritual lives to have quiet time, in order to reflect on many things. Quiet time alone with God allows us to focus on important decisions, it gives us time to reflect on things we’ve done wrong in order to get perspective on how to do them better (repentance). It gives us time to meditate on the Christian way of life, so that in making our decisions, we make them under the umbrella of God. It gives us time to think about the bigger picture of life. It gives us time to find peace, to not get so upset over a mistake, or even a circumstance beyond our control, as well as to not get too elated or egotistical over a victory. Finally, it gives us time to just be in the presence of God.
One of my favorite Bible verses is Isaiah 30:15, which says “In quietness and trust shall be your strength.” Indeed, in quietness we find God. And in trust we find gratitude and being content.
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child quieted at its mother’s breast; like a child that is quieted is my soul. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and evermore. Psalm 131
Quiet your soul through prayer today. And in your stillness, focus on the things you are grateful for. This will lead you to a state of being more content.