I’ve never been more still than at my father’s funeral.
I stood, outwardly greeting people who came to mourn with us yet inwardly still, everything in me silent. I sat and listened to eulogies, even one I had written, but I felt numb. I sang our family’s favorite hymn. Yet for the first time in a long, long time, my mind was blank. I was quiet and still.
I had just stepped off a plane a little more than twenty-four hours prior. I came from a world of ministry, busyness, and mission, where every moment seemed filled with tasks that could not be ignored. Those tasks were important. Those tasks included people who had never heard the gospel of Christ before or people who had just believed. I was striving. I was trying. Sometimes I was succeeding, but often I was exhausted at the end of the day, wondering if any of it made a difference.
The Day Everything Changed
In just one day, everything changed. My dad was gone. I said goodbye over FaceTime to an unconscious version of him. We packed, bought plane tickets, said rushed farewells to our friends, and began the two-day journey home.
I returned to America to silence, to a moment suspended in time that felt raw and incredibly real while also seeming like it was just a bad dream. For the first time in a while, I had no idea what to do, how to feel, or what would happen next.
A few months before, a friend from my Southeast Asian home had shared something with my husband and me that the Lord laid on her heart. She and her husband had recently begun working with us to help equip others from their country to reach out to the unreached around them. As we met for prayer one day, this friend sensed God leading her to encourage us to “Be still.”
That made perfect sense to us. Our lives as missionaries were more than busy. We were sharing the gospel, discipling believers, and leading a team, all the while continuing to go deeper in learning language and culture to be more effective. The life of a missionary is often very rewarding. But the life of a missionary can also be packed. When your job is to reach people with the gospel, does that job ever stop?
We had good ministries going. Momentum was starting among believers to get the gospel out to more people. We were in the middle of meetings, planning sessions, and good, good things. Despite COVID lockdowns, more people were hearing the gospel and being loved on by Christians meeting their needs.
Missions can also be really hard, especially in a place where most people have never heard of Jesus or have only heard a distorted version of his story. Seeing fruit in a place like that is sometimes a slow, tiresome process. Most people we share the gospel with reject it immediately. Others might listen more than once but decide that the risk of following Jesus is too great. For those who do choose to follow, Satan does all he can to scare them into silence.
When God first impressed on us the need to “be still,” we were in what we thought was desperation-mode. Our efforts in all the areas of missions seemed to be like striving after the wind, especially in discipling new believers. We thought that if we prayed harder, worked more hours, spent more time with people, or gave more of ourselves, then we could fix the problems and see God’s kingdom come to our small corner of the world.
Yet, God’s word for us was “Be still.” And we thought we knew what that meant. We examined our schedule and tried to scale back. We took more time to pray and rest. Still, the work had to go on. Difficult discipleship had to continue because … if not us, who else would do it?
What Desperation Feels Like
A few months later, my father died, and my world went still for what felt like both a lifetime and just a few brief moments. In the days and weeks that followed the funeral, we seemed to be suspended in time, protected from outside intrusions and shielded from the stress of work.
Soon enough, work calls came in, questions about our return to Southeast Asia were posed, ministry relationships and tasks began to pick back up as much as they could online, and the overwhelming challenges of discipleship were made worse by distance and time zones. We began striving again. Our mentality went back to, “If not us, then who?” But this time, the wind had been knocked out of us and we hadn’t recovered.
I thought I was desperate for God before, but I had no idea what desperation felt like until this moment. This is where God finally met with me and showed me what he meant those few months ago by telling me to “Be still.” The key to this was the rest of Psalm 46:10: “…and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth!”
I was at a point that I could not handle our responsibilities anymore. I especially couldn’t take the endless pressure of being the main person discipling some new believers. In my desperation, I cried out to God with simple words: “I need help.”
His answer was clear. I needed to stop trying to “save” things in our ministry, even though I knew the immediate outcome was going to be disastrous. I needed to trust that God’s ways and his word are good, even when that leads to accusations and slander and possibly turning people away from the gospel for a time. I needed to be still, step down from the throne of ministry I had been trying to sit on, and know that he is God over all the people I was reaching out to and all the work that I was doing. In my efforts to see him exalted among the nations, I had forgotten that he is God over those very nations. Although I was doing good work that He gave me to do, I was striving as though it all depended on me.
In my desperation after losing my father, God reminded me that he is my strength. He also reminded me that without him, no one in my country in Southeast Asia will come to Jesus. Without him, none of my precious brothers and sisters there will follow him in faithfulness.
I released all that I had been trying to carry. Although we didn’t totally step away from everything, we made some very hard decisions in order to push discipleship to others who were still in the country. We put a few things on hold until we returned, trusting that God’s timing was better than our effort.
For the first time in a long time, I felt peace. I finally understood why Jesus tells us to come to him when we are burdened (Matthew 11:28). I finally experienced the rest he promised.
Moving Forward in Faith
That doesn’t mean that everything went well. We still faced challenges. Some relationships took months before we saw the fruit of stepping back and letting others grow on their own. But in the ten months that we have been in the States waiting for borders to open, we have seen God transform our own hearts and rescue many situations that seemed to be spiraling out of control.
Things we thought would fail completely without our constant guidance turned out to flourish in our absence. We’ve seen true spiritual growth in our friends who were languishing. We’ve connected to lost friends old and new and have continued open doors for gospel conversations when we return. I have seen in a deeper way that he is God, and he has a plan to be exalted. I don’t have to strive. I don’t have to believe the lie that it’s all up to me or that things will fall apart if I show my weakness.
When we first heard that it would be a while before we could return to Southeast Asia, we thought we were stuck. We thought about all the things we could and would do if we were only back overseas. A lot of our missionary friends have been in the same situation over the past few years. Many people we’ve talked to this past year have felt somewhat in limbo, or stuck, no matter what God has called them to.
I’ve come to realize that feeling stuck exudes from a place of pride. What it really comes down to is that we think we would be better off in a different situation than the one God has currently placed us in. Instead of being still in our hearts, knowing that he is God and looking around for how he wants us to join him in what he is doing, we think we know where we ought to be and how we would be more effective in another situation.
God’s lesson for me came at a time when I faced a tragedy I had never encountered. At that place of vulnerability and desperation, I gained a perspective I hope that I will never forget.
Being “still” is not exactly about our physical posture—taking a break, quitting something, or getting more rest. In this year’s journey to be still, my husband and I still had work to do, work that was given to us by God. We’ve still been busy. The difference has been our spiritual posture and perspective on our work. A spiritual posture of stillness brings you to a place of humble abiding, where you know that he is God and you trust that even though you can’t see how it will happen, he will be exalted among the nations.