Photo: Eileen Benthal

Two weeks ago, the Lord used our golden retriever puppy, Imani (her name means “BELIEVE” ) to send me a scripture. She came bounding down the stairs from my office — it’s usually, a bad thing when the puppy is foraging in my office — with a bright orange sticky note in her mouth. The note had 1 Corinthians 10:13 scribbled on it.

“God is faithful. He will not let you be tested beyond your ability but will show you a way out so you can endure it.” 

God and Imani’s timing were perfect. I was just heading out the door to a very long day of appointments in Manhattan to discuss some very disturbing results on my daughter’s most recent brain scan.  

The results revealed the reason for her neurological decline. She was no longer able to walk or even balance on her own. Her speech was slurring and she was easily confused. Her fragile baseline was worsening because of large areas of hemorrhage in her brain, including one that was causing structural compressions in critical areas of the brain controlling things like breathing. 

I held onto the promise of that scripture and years of experience that the Lord would indeed help me find ways out of this testing so as to endure this new season of trial. But I was having a very hard time sleeping. Anxious thoughts were plaguing me and zapping my strength. The words “Be still and know I am God” (Psalm 46:10),  kept coming to mind. But stillness escaped me in the waves of anxiety and fear that threatened to overtake me. 

Finally, in desperation, I pictured myself running into the arms of the Lord and taking refuge there. As anxious thoughts hit, I said “God, you are my refuge and strength — I need you to help me deal with this anxiety and fear.”

I recalled a verse I had memorized from Psalm 46: “God is my refuge and strength — a very present help in times of trouble. Therefore, I will not fear.”

This little exercise of faith began to work and I realized it was more than spiritual practice. It was also a mental exercise of visualizing myself in the comforting arms of the Lord — so close that I could imagine hearing His heart beat. And the repetition was much like working with weights to strengthen muscle. The muscle memory of mind and heart was recalling God’s faithfulness in the past and gave me new hope for the future — despite foreboding brain scans.

I built my endurance with these exercises until at last, I realized a few days had gone by and I was sleeping better, and functioning during the day without the weight of anxiety that had plagued me earlier in the week.

The situation didn’t change — in fact, it got worse.  But I had indeed found a way out by reminding myself of some simple truths that calmed my fears. Everywhere I looked — Psalm 46 was being brought to my attention — in texts from friends, in emails and on social media.

It was the Lord’s way of confirming the scripture which was delivered to me by our golden retriever puppy. The Lord was sending me a way out from the struggle, through lessons in Psalm 46, so I could endure it and find peace. 

I took some time to look up Psalm 46 in its entirety.

The words I kept hearing in my mind — “Be still and know that I am God” — are also from Psalm 46:10. Reading that verse in context reminded me that stillness is hard work — a battle, really — between collapsing under fear or trusting the Lord’s presence in the midst of trouble.

The preceding verse describes the Lord as a warrior and gives a little more wisdom on how to enter into that state of stillness we all long to experience.

He makes wars cease…breaks bows, shatters spears and burns shields with fire”. (Ps. 46:9)

These verses describe God as a warrior who fights for us to be still so that we can recognize God is ultimately in control and His grace will see us through.

One translation of verse 10 reads: “Desist — stop fighting! And know that I am the Lord above all.”

Stillness is hard work. It’s a battle of the mind and the soul. 

Most people struggle to find stillness because we think of stillness as the absence of noise — quiet — like the quiet you find sitting by the water watching the sunrise or the sunset.  Finding stillness in nature and in our daily environment helps us to connect with ourselves and God. Disconnecting from noise helps us find stillness.

But the truth of Psalm 46 is that stillness is available even in the chaos of “present troubles” as we take refuge in God. To be still doesn’t require the outside chaos to cease. But it does require that we take authority over the internal murmurings of chaos so that we can readily see God’s hand at work.

When we read the words “Be still and know I am God” it conjures up images of quiet and peace. But putting back the exclamation point —”Be still! And KNOW I am God.” — emphasizes the point that we can choose stillness by an exercise of the will and a turning over of our minds and hearts to God. We can change our chaos to quiet by doing what we can to control the environment and manage our state of mind and heart from within by surrendering to God.

The other night, I was startled awake by my daughter’s screaming in pain. She is currently in the neuro-ICU, recovering from very difficult brain surgery — a decision we made because of the issues I mentioned above.

While the surgery was successful,  the recovery is very difficult and slow. Residual blood and air in the brain and muscle spasms of the head and neck are causing a lot of pain. The motor and speech deficits caused by the hemorrhages will likely take some time to overcome.

It’s a very difficult time for her and I’m also struggling with the new normal as I lie next to her in a sleeper couch. But reflecting on Psalm 46 and what it means to be still has been a wonderful help and a way out to endure the struggle.

When Johanna woke screaming in pain, the stillness of the night was broken. The nurse and I struggled to help relieve the pain. Pain medications help but are limited because of her conditions.

It felt like we were in a battle to regain stillness in the environment and in Jo’s body. I did what I could to change the external and internal environment with prayer, praise music, massaging painful muscles and diffusing essential oils into the air to restore stillness to her body and soul. 

In a final request for help, Jo reached her little arms out to me to ask me to hold her in my arms. I wrapped my arms around her as the songs of praise to God flooded our mind and soul and helped us return to sleep. The fight for stillness was assisted through our active participation with God’s grace. 

Being still to know God is in control is possible in the midst of every battle that we face. Whether we are facing seemingly insurmountable troubles or just struggling to sleep — taking refuge in God’s grace and working to control the environment around us can help us find the stillness we seek.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.