Be Still and Know That I Am God

craig-brown 01

by The Rev. Craig Brown, LMHC, LMFT

Fear. In all its forms – from slight concern to sheer terror – fear is perhaps the most potent emotional force in the world. Certainly, with the onset of the Coronapocalypse, fear itself has become, dare I say, a pandemic.

Fear is the body’s gift to us in times of crisis. It is there to help us flee a deadly threat. Faced with danger, our brain shifts all its activity to its emotional core, and produces a transformation: the adrenal gland activates, the heart pumps frantically, the lungs flood our system with oxygen, our muscles tense . . . and we are ready to run.

We wouldn’t be able to survive long in this world without fear. Yet, it can swiftly grow out of control, taking us over and dominating our lives.

So, Jesus counsels us away from fear. He doesn’t condemn fear as a sin, but calls us away from it. Again, and again He tells His people, “do not be afraid,” “do not worry,” and, “fear not.”

But one cannot simply not fear. There must be something else Jesus would have us do instead – something that can replace fear, or at least contain its power. So, what overcomes fear?

The answer is found in Psalm 46. The Psalm is a meditation on God as the refuge and strength of His people, and on the powerful things He does for them to overcome the devastating forces of this world – both natural and human. The Psalm crescendos with verse 10: “be still, and know that I am God.”

Be still.
These two simple ideas contain a wealth of wisdom – wisdom that can unseat the power of fear.

It turns out that we cannot be still and frantic at the same time, or, terrified and peaceful. Enraged and joyful. Hopeful and despairing. We cannot sustain two opposite states; we will become filled with one while we abandon the other. Psychologists have long applied this truth to helping people overcome fear: if a person can remain calm in the presence of a thing that triggers their fear, eventually that thing will cease to inspire fear.

So, “being still” mitigates the nerve-jangling force of fear. In practical terms, the easiest way to be still is to calm the body and focus the mind. We calm our bodies by soothing them – breathe deeply and slowly, relax your muscles where they are tense and coiled, let clenched fists open, let hunched shoulders settle down. We focus our minds by giving all our attention to an aspect of the present moment that is harmless – the play of light on the leaf of a plant, the shape of a book, the sensation of breathing, the gentle whisper of a ceiling fan. None of these things are terrifying, and when we let ourselves notice them, we have less attention to offer the thing that frightens us. 

When we are still, we can notice that a typical moment is not all that scary. In fact, most moments are neutral to positive. When we notice that, we give the emotional core of our brain less to react to, and we tend to calm down. 

As Christians, the most powerful thing we can notice in any moment is God Himself. God inhabits every moment and every circumstance. While our attention usually focuses on the things of this world, these things are of little consequence compared to God Himself. To turn our attention to Him in the midst of a fearful moment is to recognize our ever-present Savior and Lord, who is fully engaged in that moment, and who is more powerful than any force on earth (Psalm 46).

To know that God is God – to really know this – is to utterly undo the power of fear. It is one thing to say “I know this thing is dangerous”; it is another to say “I know this thing is dangerous, but look – there is God Almighty, my fortress and my deliverer! I put my trust in Him!”

Focusing our attention on God is perhaps the most profound form of prayer. It takes practice. But the more you practice it, the more you will know that God is with you, and that He utterly eclipses every power in heaven and on earth – even COVID 19. In your life, may the voice of fear fall silent as you practice His Presence. Be still, and know that He is God.