Learning to be Still

by Alyson Rockhold

I have lived in four countries in the last seven years. I used to think that I was made to be a missionary because I loved the challenges of going, moving, and exploring new places.

My calling is based on God’s command in Matthew 28:19 to “Go and make disciples of all nations,” so it makes sense that I’ve gotten really good at going. The only problem is, “Go” isn’t the only command in the Bible. 

Sometimes God says, “Stay.” He instructs us to “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Unfortunately, I am not very good at staying.

This spiritual deficiency became very obvious last year. In March 2020, my husband and I were transferred from Zambia to Kenya. We decided to stop over in Tanzania for a 2-week vacation to visit old friends. Within a few days, Covid hit, the borders closed, and we were trapped. 

While my family worried about my safety, I was more concerned for my sanity! With no work, no social events, no electricity, and minimal entertainment, I quickly became stir crazy. Like a weightlifter who only exercised one side of her body, I was imbalanced in my ability to follow God. 

So much of my identity was wrapped up in my work. I was most satisfied when my days were full of meaningful tasks. Sitting, waiting, and being still seemed like impossible feats. Yet the borders remained closed, and I stayed stuck.

I felt useless, irritable, and on edge. So I began begging God for something to do. When it got too noisy in my head, I started writing down my thoughts.

For years, I’d kept a prayer journal with small entries here and there. Now I was filling up multiple pages a day. There was something soothing in pushing a pencil across a page: at least I was doing something!

Over time, I wrote myself into stillness. 

It’s challenging to explain how this happened, except to say that I know God was there. He taught me how to write a few words, and then pause to listen for His Voice. I slowly became more comfortable with sitting and waiting. The silence wasn’t so scary when He was there with me. 

Writing helped me lay down my addiction to going and learn to be still. God used writing to teach me that my identity had nothing to do with my productivity, no matter how fused the two concepts were in my mind.

I’d always prided myself on being a super productive Martha, but God was slowly teaching me to choose “what is better.” By God’s grace, I was no longer so “worried and upset over many things.” I was learning to sit at the Lord’s feet like in Luke 10:38-42.

Once I finally started understanding how to “Be Still,” God ordered me to “Go” once again. 

The sudden shift in energy was palpable: after 4.5 months of staying, my husband and I now had 48 hours to go. But with the borders to Kenya still closed, we weren’t able to go to our long-awaited destination. So our mission agency told us to return to the U.S. and await further instructions. 

I sat on the plane wondering: What was the point of staying if it didn’t get me where I wanted to go?

Then I re-entered noisy, chaotic America, and those lessons about silence and stillness sustained me.

When the dream of ever getting to Kenya faded, the ability to separate my identity from my productivity kept me sane.

Later I asked God what I was supposed to do in the U.S., and He turned my writing into a ministry.

In the end, staying prepared me for going: God wove the two seemingly opposite concepts together in ways I would never have asked for or imagined. And that weaving has continued over the last year of being “stuck” once again — this time back in the U.S. 

But this time, I’m not quite as obsessed with wondering when I’ll get to go again. Learning to be still and know that He is God shifted my priorities and clarified my purpose. And maybe that was the point all along.

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Alyson Rockhold has served as a medical missionary in Haiti, Tanzania, and Zambia. She recently published a 7-day devotional about learning to be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10). You can access it for free by clicking here. 

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A Life Overseas is a collective blog centered around the realities, ethics, spiritual struggles, and strategies of living overseas. Elizabeth Trotter is the editor-in-chief.