Calm and Quiet in Psalm 131
This week, Dan Allender is joined by his wife, Becky Allender, to continue our series about the profound depths of rest we are invited to in Psalm 131. Becky and Dan reflect on what it might mean to calm our hearts, our minds, and our bodies, so that we can navigate the loss and chaos around us in a new way.
Dan: “The implication is that we need to calm ourselves and quiet ourselves, and that is something we actually are given the ability to do by our God. And our failure to do so actually creates immense complications.”
Becky shares how the aging process has taught her something of what it means to foster calmness in her life, and how she has developed new practices that help quiet her, reminding her that it’s okay to be a human being who needs to remove herself from chaos. Sometimes that act of removal looks like physically removing yourself from a chaotic context, like going for a walk before saying something unkind. Other times, it might look more like the ability to hold a calm space in your mind, to settle into a moment of quiet in your body even in the midst of chaos. As we’ve discussed before on the podcast, taking a step back and pressing pause is not a sign of weakness, because it’s okay—even right—to be a human being with human needs.
Dan: “I’m caught up in frenzy. I have to relinquish panic, striving. I need to relinquish the necessity to get it all done and done well or done perfectly. So in one sense, calming is a turning away from intensity, anxiety, in many ways the unknown.”
Becky: “And I think just that removal from the chaos is the very first step.”
Dan suggests that the Psalmist is also writing about something beyond removing chaos—after the turning away, there’s a turning toward. “Quiet” in the text seems to imply growing something of peace—shalom—and allowing the wellness of your heart to emerge and grow. That is a deep growth process, one that connects to the image of “a weaned child” in this Psalm. Becky and Dan return to that metaphor, and to the idea that growth comes with loss and cannot be achieved overnight.
We need to join God in shalom, and we need to have practices that actually lead us to that end.
Dan: “There is great loss, there is great new beginning. Both hold a lot that needs to be accounted for as we try to hold this image that our soul is like a weaned child. So we need to know, how will we endure and engage our own losses and soothe those? How will we actually hold our new freedom, and the uncertainty and, in many ways, fear as to what comes in the middle of that? […] How do you think about that interplay of loss and uncertainty?”
Becky: “Well, not fondly. Again, it’s the human experience, and we’ve certainly had a lot of experience with both of those. It’s a hope of mine to befriend it when it happens, because you know it’s going to happen, and write it out in a better way without freaking out and going to great despair. Because truly, life is so much larger than I’m aware of many times.”
When we attempt to fabricate a sense of peace or manipulate chaos by our own will, it’s connected to the fundamental impulse to force our way back into Eden—which often shows up through addiction, pornography, or just being consumed by our work. This takes us far beyond the realm of tasks and checklists, into something much deeper. It reminds Dan of when Becky encourages him to take a bath—not just for the task of getting clean, but to have the warmth wash over him and let his body come to rest.
Dan: “In many ways, distress opens the door to realizing I cannot make the world work. And that needs to be soothed—not confronted, not attacked, not blamed, but in some ways, honored with care rather than just mere judgment.”
Becky: “The thing that came to mind is kindness, to not be in judgment against myself that would put me at odds with my heart, but actually have a gaze of kindness, and stopping and trying to feel and understand what is going on.”