BY JAKE DERRY
On paper, I should find quiet on Duke’s campus pretty easily. Not only am I a relatively reserved person, I don’t have a roommate. It’s easy to retreat to my dorm when I’m in need of time alone, but time alone doesn’t always quench my desire for peace, especially when I’m sitting at my desk and feel the weight of all my obligations. My mind is restless with the homework that I have yet to do, the exams I have to study for, and the approaching reality of life after college. My mind racing, I wonder where, if not here, can I find the fleeting quiet?
Quiet is living in the present — it is freedom from anxiety of the future and rumination on the past. I hardly doubt that I am the only one seeking quiet. I have a feeling that all of us seek a way to escape from the troubles of the world.
In the Christian community, intentional escape is known as Sabbath, the practice of taking time away from all of the stressors of life to be purposefully restful. This can seem difficult, though, especially on the college campus when you think about how Sabbath was originally spent on an entire day of the week, but the Sabbath on a day of the week is not always what it should be. Jesus breaks the law of the Sabbath when he heals on the day set aside, but he still finds ways through his life to obey the spirit of the Sabbath, the spirit of rest (Luke 13:10-17, NIV).
He was busy, which usually happens when you stir up as much trouble as he did. Wherever he went, there were crowds waiting for him to talk, Pharisees challenging his teachings, and people hoping to be healed. Jesus, like us, could not find quiet unless he sought it out. Throughout his life, Jesus took time to escape all of his stressors and obligations to be with his father. Jesus gives us a powerful example of what it looks like to be intentional about finding quiet, but it doesn’t seem very practical. Simple to say ‘take time to rest’ discounts how difficult it is to silence our worries. C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, describes this as the greatest difficulty that Christians face.
That is why the real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.
The greatest difficulty is being able to manage the “wild animals” of life, to domesticate those that can be domesticated, to let go of the ones that cannot, and to deal with the “natural fussings and frettings” of life.
In my experience, stress usually originates from future-oriented thinking. I am not as worried about taking a test in the moment as I am worried about it days before. I do not care about my grades once I have received them, but in the middle of the semester, they are one of my greatest concerns. In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis writes as an older demon who discusses with his demon apprentice how best to torment his subject. One of the tools used is anxiety. He writes,
We want him to be in the maximum uncertainty, so that his mind will be filled with contradictory pictures of the future, every one of which arouses hope or fear. There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy. He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.
The future holds, among many other things good and bad, uncertainty, and this uncertainty can cloud our vision of the present. While we have yet to find out what will happen in the future, we are sure of the present. God reminds us of this, saying, “be still and know that I am God” (Psalms 46:10a, NIV).
While there are many different ways that we can manage the chaos of life, the most effective response is prayer. We can find peace easily when we spend time with God and hand over our anxieties to Him and in return receive “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7b, NIV). When we are with Him, because He has experienced what life is like, we do not need to express our anxieties and the deep emotions they bring because God “knows what [we] need before [we] ask Him” (Matthew 6:8, NIV). Our prayers can simply be time spent in His presence talking, meditating, or even drawing, so long as we are spending it with Him in the moment that he is giving us.
The struggle to find quiet on campus is not as much the struggle to find silence as it is the struggle to find ourselves in the moment that we are given. I’d like to take this moment to escape, for a time, from the world and the future that I don’t yet know, to be at peace with God, and then return refreshed. And now to use a benediction of Paul to the Thessalonians, “may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way” (2 Thessalonians 3:16, NIV).