What Stillness is Teaching Me About Purpose
I'm sitting on a couch watching a herd of ungulates chew their cud outside my living room window. Pretty dreamy, right? Okay, maybe cows aren't the most exciting animals, but that's precisely what strikes me about them. They slowly roam about the wheat field - deliberately unhurried and unworried. They do not fuss over the day's to-do list, nor do they envy the greener pasture next door occupied by their long-horned neighbors. They don't perform or strive to earn their keep. They just exist, and yet their needs are met.
I grew up on this cattle farm, paying very little mind to them for my first 18 years of life. In fact, I couldn't wait to get as far away as possible from the perpetual smell of manure. I left 10 years ago to attend college at Pepperdine, with no plans of returning to rural America. Yet here I sit in 2019, watching life unfold in ways I never anticipated, learning more lessons from cattle than I ever imagined possible.
Let me be clear, I would opt for people-watching over cow-gazing any day, but about two months ago life took an unexpected detour. I woke up one morning in December unable to feel my legs. Several emergency room visits, hospital stays, and hours spent in MRI machines would reveal lesions in my spine, as well an abnormal mass in my paraspinal muscle (which I didn't even know was an actual body part). Barely able to stand on my own two feet after a week-long hospital stint filled with heavy duty steroids and endless bloodwork, the doctors sent me home and told me that 30% of patients experience a full recovery (to which I responded: only 30% doc?!). I've experienced some improvement from a few of the most debilitating symptoms, but I'm still left with a continual numbness and tingling in my legs that is eery and frustrating. There's a long road ahead, we hope one that includes complete healing, but right now I'm left with ample time to sit here on my couch and process all of the strange ways my life has changed in 2019.
Now, if I'm being honest, sitting still or staying in the same place for long periods of time is not my forté. For as long as I can remember, being busy and on-the-go has made me feel alive. This was a characteristic I embodied even as a child, and one that I experienced tenfold as a Pepperdine student. My time at Pepperdine represented the most fun, challenging, and growth-filled years of my life, introducing me to rewarding experiences and exceptional relationships that I cherish to this day. Coming from rural Oklahoma, I eagerly dove into the new environment headfirst, wanting to embrace and experience as much as possible. Like many students might do when a plethora of amazing opportunities exist at their fingertips, I over-committed often. Infinite clubs, convos, and even club convos beckoned to occupy every ounce of free time one might have in an already challenging academic environment. Not to mention the beach, which is where friends and I would gather (peanut butter frozen yogurt in tow) late at night once the day's events finally subsided. Post-Pepperdine I continued to search for ways to fill my life to the brim with the purpose, service, and leadership that my alma mater had encouraged me to pursue.
My Pepperdine friends and fellow alumni were doing incredible, life-changing work around the world and I wanted to follow suit. This led to a few years of exploring, working, and volunteering around the globe in places like Guatemala, Haiti, India, and Kenya before landing in San Francisco, my dream city, to continue working in the nonprofit sector. Five months ago I was still living there, working in an industry that I love. All the while, I kept anticipating, rather ignorantly, to find my niche and reach some pinnacle sense of fulfillment in the work that I was doing, yet that fulfillment never came. Everything was increasingly fast-paced and busy, yet the pace of life that once gave me energy, now left me empty, burned out, and utterly discontent. I was doing 'good' things with my time; however, I mistakenly operated under the mindset that a busy schedule equated to a life of purpose. Laser-focused on my own agenda, I rarely, if ever, took time to pause and rest in the simple reality that I am not what I do, I am simply God's beloved.
Reflecting on the tumultuousness of the last few weeks, it's interesting that the words I need to hear the most in this season, are the same words I needed to hear each stop along my journey. Oftentimes our lives can be brimming with good things, but sometimes we are so blinded by good things, or "pleasant ins" as C.S. Lewis would say, that we settle in them not realizing that God has something deeper in store if we simply pause to listen. Instead, we continue to put our trust in ourselves and our accomplishments. We take our lives into our own hands, claiming that our plans are better than God's. There's a name for that which most of us don't like very much: idolatry. Anything we look to for fulfillment outside of God, anything that our heart screams 'If I just have that then my life will have meaning,' and anything that we can't imagine living without, is idolatry. It could be family, achievement, social standing, relationships, your competence, skill, physical beauty, a political or social cause, and even your ministry. As Tim Keller puts it, "Our hearts are idol factories." We repeatedly take the good gifts that God has given us and make them the ultimate, or penultimate things. Sure the pursuit of them may make us temporarily happy, but they will end up robbing us of the ultimate treasure and fullness that God has available to us.
I love Eugene Peterson's translation of Luke 12 and the image it invokes. The passage calls us to 'Steep ourselves in God-reality.' As a heavy drinker of tea, I appreciate the timing and precision with which certain types of tea must be steeped. I love to watch as the tea swirls and infuses in the water, not all at once, but slowly and rhythmically, saturating every drop with its color and flavor. What once was plain and colorless now gives off the fragrant aroma of the leaves which transformed it. Our lives are the same. Steeping ourselves in God-reality means opening ourselves up and allowing God's power to slowly transform every particle of us. Our creator wants us to enter the eternal Kingdom, and promises that our human concerns will be met. We are called to stop preoccupying ourselves with getting so that we can respond to God's giving. If we're able to do that, we will be so transformed that our very presence gives off an aroma of love to those around us (2 Cor. 2:15).
I think some of the best steeping happens in stillness. Tea doesn't steep properly if you're jostling your mug around, why would it be any different for us? In a culture so strongly averse to stillness, quieting oneself is extremely difficult to practice. The only reason I'm embracing it now is because of the circumstances thrust upon me, but it's a practice that I hope blossoms into a habit. I desire to enter this new season of life with the self-permission to step back from time to time, and steep myself in the vast and powerful goodness of wherever I am or whatever I am doing. I aim to embrace this truth: that life can be full right where you are, in whatever you are doing (or in my case, not doing). It's not the next thing or achievement that fulfills you, but your ability to find joy, peace, and kindness in whatever situation you find yourself. Don't get me wrong, I still want to travel, to live with purpose, to join that club, to go be somebody; but I don't want to allow those good things to become my identity.
It will take me a long time to fully grasp that I am loved and worthy apart from what I do. I'm attempting to embrace it more every day. Not from an office or a mission field, but from my cozy living room in Oklahoma, where my husband and I watch the sunrises and sunsets with eager expectation - not to take a photo - but simply to enjoy God's handiwork. (Okay, okay. I take a picture every once in a while, but it's just because the cows are pretty adorable). Some days that's harder to do than others, and on those days I just try to remind myself - aren't we more beautiful and worthy than the lilies (or the cattle) in the field?
Kacie Scherler received a BA in Intercultural Communication from Seaver College and an MA in Social Entrepreneurship from Pepperdine Graduate School of Education and Psychology. With a passion for women's empowerment and poverty alleviation, she has worked for nonprofits including Kiva, Fair Trade USA, and Village Enterprise. She now resides on a farm in Oklahoma with her husband Zach Abney and their cat Maurice.