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An Axis of Rest for Times of Uncertainty

Walking past a sink full of dishes, a cluttered coffee table, and my writing desk with deadlines awaiting attention, I escape to the back porch, curl up on my damp couch in my pajamas, and savor each sip of steeping tea in my cupped hands. Listening to a cacophony of bird chatter with my eyes closed overrides all other senses. Slowly, I begin identifying each chirp, squawk, and haunting coo of the mourning dove among the chorus. A gentle breeze blows through towering pines like the shimmy of grass skirts swaying on an empty stretch of beach. And an imaginary blank canvas rolls out over my worries, pushing anxiety and doubt to the edges. 

This day is a masterpiece awaiting inspiration, but stress threatens to block it out. In my second year practicing Sabbath with an online community of nearly 300, I’ve learned that peace and purpose are often found in the whitespace. 

Anne Morrow Lindbergh suggests we strive “to be the still axis within the revolving wheel of relationships, obligations and activities.” But lately, I’m less like an axis and more like the bent rim of a blown out tire driven on longer than would seem prudent. I’m overextended and depleted. But in stillness, I find restoration. Harnessing whitespace gives me stability and keeps the wheels of my life moving as they should.

As I tune my ear to hear the trills of a bird choir over the hum of a distant lawn mower and the thrum of vehicles racing past, my chest expands. A few breaths of quiet solitude carve new tread for what awaits. 

* * *

Yesterday, I crouched on a small stool in the thick air of my garage surrounded by a hundred boxes pulled from the attic. The stool, painted with the words from a nursery rhyme, was pulled out of a dented cardboard box labeled Harrison’s Nursery in black marker. We’re moving to England in two months, sorting through a lifetime of memories. My son, now a teenager, is deciding which boxes stay in storage or ship on the crate. An international move forces the determination of value and the definition of priceless when convenience is no longer an option. 

While I’m creating small stacks of preschool artwork as mementos from an era, my daughter’s graduation from high school is imminent. In twelve weeks, we move her into a dorm room one state away from our temporary house. Each item in her bedroom is a decision. What must be boxed and stored, taken with her to college, given away, or discarded? She didn’t plan to make so many decisions after she moved the tassel to the left. I didn't anticipate them either. The same way I didn’t plan on watching my husband leave for work in blue jeans with a stack of boxes and packing tape.

What do I do with the hundreds of books on the shelves in my office? He asks of me, a writer, this impossible question. His job and paycheck end in a few weeks. For someone who requires certainty, the unknowns of the future for me can be a test of inner peace. And a revelation about the foundation for which I’ve built my life. Thus, my quiet morning porch ritual.

I’ve learned that extended summertime seasons of the soul aren’t a true indicator of strength and endurance. When the branches of your life are full of low hanging fruit ripe for picking, anxiety seems distant and impersonal like watching someone else suffer with sickness. Choosing trust in uncertain circumstances creates soul resilience, an unshakeable peace during winter’s harshness, the season where empathy does good work. 

Sabbath-keeping is a sturdy axis when the storms of life threaten spring’s hope. The choice of rest when responsibilities pile up seems counterintuitive, yet carving out routine time periods with the Creator provides a steady center while life continues spinning. 

It is when we cannot control outcomes that the depth and breath of trust becomes revelation. 

* * *

As we sort through musty books, gilded picture frames and old trunks, we aren’t victims of circumstance but co-conspirators in a faith journey. We’re making the choice to leave a beloved job and move to another country, walking through the pages of our story without knowing how the end will turn out. Relationships and open doors of opportunity are the scaffolding for our decision, using leadership experience and a track record of influence for broad reach and divine purpose. We’re waiting for the installation of walls and windows while we sort and pack. Making a life change before knowing specific outcomes seems foolish to outsiders and even to some who know us. 

But even the resurrection of Jesus was received as an idle tale by those who knew him personally.

“Why are you looking for the Living One in a cemetery? He is not here, but raised up. Remember how he told you when you were still back in Galilee that he had to be handed over to sinners, be killed on a cross, and in three days rise up?” Then they remembered Jesus’ words. They left the tomb and broke the news of all this to the Eleven and the rest. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them kept telling these things to the apostles, but the apostles didn’t believe a word of it, thought they were making it all up. But Peter jumped to his feet and ran to the tomb. He stooped to look in and saw a few grave clothes, that’s all. He walked away puzzled, shaking his head. (Luke 24:8–12, MSG)

This is our ninth move in twenty-five years of marriage, each one divinely appointed. Many shook their heads in disbelief but hindsight makes them believers. Faith doesn’t require the assurance of numbers on a paycheck or amounts of square footage. And knowing that doesn’t mean I’m superhuman without emotion. 

My need for certainty often silences faith. Instead of trusting in the process, I begin creating scenarios based on the limits of my experience. I visit What-if-ville often. Taking surveys, collecting opinions, making mental flow charts of potential outcomes and it all leads to the same place — acute vulnerability and fearfulness. My need for certainty sabotages the inner voice pulling me to slow down on the porch. I mistake who I am for what I do and suddenly, I am a punctured wheel of anxiety rotating on a bent rim of self-doubt.

I know my axis is wobbly when writing becomes about acquiring “likes” or followers on social media platforms instead of passion pouring out. Perspective tilts when parenting my children becomes about maintaining peace at all costs instead of investing in relationships. When gifts chosen for others are about convenience instead of well thought out. When moving slants toward possessions and money instead of influence for purpose and the fulfillment of calling. When I choose more on my plate instead of stillness and quiet with my Maker. That is why I’m here with the birds on my back porch.

* * *

Later that afternoon, on the way home from running errands, I stop and pick up senior class gifts for my daughter and four of her closest friends. As I stand at the counter next to my mother-in-law, waiting for curly ribbon to be tied around the handles on each of five gift bags, I am captivated by a piece of artwork propped up behind the cash register. 

“I love that piece of art,” I casually comment, breaking into a random conversation between sales clerks. 

A rectangular canvas of textures and muted colors — steely blues and neutrals — form an antique birdcage with silhouettes of birds perched inside and out. 

Overhearing my random comment, the shop owner stops what she is doing and brings the rendering closer for inspection. She points out the letters and numbers stamped in the lower right corner — PS4610. I didn’t notice them at first glance. Turning the canvas around, she reveals the handwritten message and the signature of the artist on the back between naked pieces of wood framing.

Be still and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world.”
Psalm 46:10

A masterpiece in a gift shop becomes the sacred echo to the message of morning whitespace.  Sabbath is the string pulling the pages of life together into one big, beautiful story of adventure in the book of life. Creative wonder winks from the Artist who is our axis in times of uncertainty. Don’t miss the still small voice among the noise of busyness or the anxiety of uncertainty. It may sound a lot like bird chatter.

Shelly Miller rests on the beach in Pawleys Island, South Carolina, with her husband of 24 years, two teenagers, and a trusty camera. In conjunction with her blog, Redemptions Beauty, she started the Sabbath Society in January of 2013, because she wants to live into the restful perspective cultivated on vacation all 52 weeks of the year. When not resting, find her chatting on Facebook and Twitter.

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Reader Comments (12)

Shelly, this is so lovely, and the exploration and adventure into the whitespace of the unknown future held firm by a known God, is incredible, isn't it? It's exciting when He invites us into new seasons, even as they are sometimes mysterious and ripe with uncertainty, He reminds us to be still, to rest, to wait and watch--He's always at work.

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKris

Shelly, As always I find calm among the chaos in your words. We "busy" ourselves with the every dayness and lose the perspective of those whose words have meant so much. Praying for all as these many transitions are being made. While I know it will be difficult to leave many behind, I know you are resting in those mustard seeds already planted from the past years.

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAndria

Thank you for your honest and vulnerable story which is reminding me that the uncertainty is drawing you closer and closer to your Lord. I can picture you resting your head on his chest and listening to his whispers of love and care. He is your security and your resting place. When you look back on this time, you will say, "oh my, how faithful He has been to us."

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

I knew it! That's where we have met...we passed each other in What- if-ville. We exchanged smiles while our minds raced a head of us.
But really, its helpful to learn more about your progress. And I have had the same thoughts with regard to my books.
The next morning, following my conversation with Neil, I sat on the new sofa looking around the room. It was as if I was having a conversation with God. I was telling Him, "you know, this is about what is truly important and what I cling to".
I have moved a fair bit as well. What's one more time.....

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCeleste

"...hindsight makes them a believer". Yes. This is where tangible evidence of our Lord's impact on our lives can be found. Treasure the gifts showered across every portion of the journey. Trust in His continued care into the future.

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

Co-conspiritors on a faith journey. I like that, Shelly. Your sabbath-keeping always inspires this girl who grabs the sabbath moment by moment lately. You know I've been keeping you in prayer, my friend. Lovely encouragement here.

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterlaura

Shelly, the greatest surprise to me as a member of the 'Sabbath Society' was the things I DIDN'T need to bring with me to my 'quiet time.' (i.e., a Bible or a devotional.) I, too, have a deck and a chorus of birds each morning accompanying my listening time and it is less about me reading and talking that just getting better at hearing what the Spirit of God is saying. Whitespace, Sabbath, quiet, rest--whatever we call it--we need it. Well done!

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJody Lee Collins

A beautiful call to the quiet of heart, even when the cacophony surrounding us gives us a sense of confusion. Thank you for sharing.

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKelly W

The past 3 years my husband of 46 years has been fighting cancer. Last Friday things began spinning out of control upon receiving a phone call that put an end to the last medical hope we had. I have been following you Shelly for some time now. Yes, my axis broke. We just sat and observed it. Once we realized both of us were still breathing, we remained quite still, waiting, not really knowing for what, but because there was not anything left to do but still waiting. Another phone call this Friday arranging .....every thing possible that can be done....back in motion. In our stillness with Him, and upon reading this, I know our axis is Him! Our trust is Him! And the swing on the porch and birds singing is my 'let's get ok' place. Thanks so much Shelly! Feel used by God dear lady!

June 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSandy

I found myself thinking of you this morning, Shelly, and your Sabbath community. I am thinking of the way the practice of sabbath keeping trains us in the art of carrying sabbath within us through the rest of the week - this is what enables us to be that "still axis" or, as someone else put it "the pause between two notes." I don't envy your transition as I am knee-deep in so many of my own, but something about all of that letting go and choosing does help us, I guess, to return to that quiet space again and again, out of need and desire. Thank you for sharing your journey with us!

June 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKelly Chripczuk

I read this line over and over. So much goodness in this word picture. "Choosing trust in uncertain circumstances creates soul resilience, an unshakeable peace during winter’s harshness, the season where empathy does good work."

June 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCarey Bailey

Beautiful, Shelly. Your words breathe peace.

June 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterChristie Purifoy

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