TO BE QUIET
"Study to be quiet, mind your own business, and work with your own hands, as we commanded... Godliness with contentment is great gain." (I Thessalonians 4:11; I Timothy 6:6)
Quietness and contentment are not topics that turn heads these days. In fact, when I decided to write this installment on those concepts, I wondered how many would read past these first lines.
But, for me (and this blog is about my own thoughts) these topics have become not only very intriguing, but great challenges. As I have become older, and as I look back from the second half of a life journey, I regret that I did not "study to be quiet" all along.
In our busy world of appointments, schedules, demands, both external and internal, the concepts of quietness and contentment are not often hailed as virtues. In western culture, we are encouraged to be involved, accomplished, movers and shakers. We are told that to be blessed, even of God, means that we are always "on the way up," "thrust to new levels," and graced with ever increasing responsibility and prominence.
I think this is especially true of the boomer generation. We were raised with the challenge of such leaders as John Kennedy ringing in our ears, told not to ask what could be done for us but what we could do for our country, to be the generation that would make a difference, correct the wrongs, achieve great things. We were told we were special, because we were born to the returning warriors, and that we were destined to carry the world beyond war and injustice. Great responsibility devolved upon us, by virtue of the timing of our advent. And, we were also very privileged, told to believe in ourselves as capable of most anything, and treated as if it were true.
While there may be nothing intrinsically wrong with such goals, I wonder how supported they are by Scripture.
For St. Paul, "great gain" consisted of just the opposite. It consisted of a quiet spirit, and a profound, unearthly contentment. And the condition of quietude was actually commanded! He did not consider it an exotic option, but an absolute spiritual essential.
These virtues were rarely ever taught to us, if at all. And most of us never learned that they needed to be "studied" as a discipline.
Quietness and contentment are hard to achieve. They require a form of work that is antithetical to the work of this world. They require surrender, self-control, humility...and practice!
Nor does Scripture promise that by keeping this commandment we will experience heights of glory in this world. Paul, who had learned "in whatsoever state" he was, "therewith to be content" (Philippians 4:11) wrote this from prison, a captivity that would ultimately lead to his martyrdom. In worldly terms, he was no hero. He was a loser. Yet, how liberated he must have been!
One of the hallmarks of a quiet spirit, according to Paul, is the minding of one's own business. We certainly cannot be content or quiet when worrying over our own problems, and to launch into an interest in the affairs of others makes for a murky existence indeed. We are to keep quiet, do our own work and let others do theirs. We are not to keep track of their failures or successes, their shame or reward. The jealous, the judgmental, the busybodies and rumor mongers need not apply!
But, lest we think the quietness and contentment Paul spoke of denote lethargy and apathy, we should think again. Nobody changed the course of the world more than St. Paul. Paul the Contented, Paul the Quiet rocked the earth for Christ. Because when he did speak up, when he did challenge the rulers and powers of this world, it was Christ who spoke through him.
Righteous contentment and quietness do not stand idly by in the face of evil. Because the contented have done their spiritual practice, they are capable of great feats, and their faith moves mountains.
This is a paradox. "In quietness and confidence shall be your strength," said Isaiah. When we study to be quiet, we are flexing our spiritual muscles. When we exercise our faith, we can do all things through Christ.
We can change the world through our quiet contentment.