by Sarah McClaflin, 6th grade teacher
Be still, my soul. Four simple words:
“Be” – we exist because God created us for a specific purpose His own glory
“Still” – a state of contentment and rest, not fretting or looking for an alternative
“My” – that which we are responsible for and can manage, remembering that we cannot change the actions or motives of anyone else
“Soul” – the inner being that is constantly offering counsel that we listen to more than any other advisor
Kenneth Osbeck relays in his book 101 Hymn Stories that the familiar hymn, “Be Still, My Soul” originated in the seventeenth century in Germany during a movement known as the Pietistic Revival. Leading this time of revival in Berlin, Philip Jacob Spencer encouraged singing, which led to a great revival of hymnody in the country.
One of the most prominent hymn writers of the time was Katharine von Schlegel. Born in Germany in 1697 at the tail end of the Reformation Movement, it is no surprise she was a member of the Lutheran church. As the Pietistic Revival itself was characterized, the lyrics which flowed from the heart of von Schlegel were also characterized by “genuine piety, depth of feeling, rich Christian experience, and faithfulness in Scriptural expression.” This is clearly portrayed in the lyrics of “Be Still, My Soul.”
I am so thankful for the translation work of Jane Borthwick over one hundred years ago, as she made the outpouring of von Schlegal’s heart accessible to my own. Heading into a new school year with a new headmaster, new families, new fears, old hurts, a larger building, and numerous other unknowns, I’ve been meditating on the lyrics of this beloved hymn.
Anticipating changes with a still soul has always been a challenge for me. I fight the temptation to take up the worry, anxiety, and even exhausting enthusiasm that relentlessly knocks at the door of my heart.
Last year I had the opportunity to incorporate two new foundational curriculum changes (math and history) in my classroom. During this process, I often battled thoughts that ranged from, “I can’t make this or that work!” to “I am physically and mentally exhausted. Where will the strength and enthusiasm come to teach today?” The comforting phrase, “. . . leave to thy God to order and provide” became a constant reminder to press on, ask for help and guidance, focus on the next right response, and grow in my faith.
This coming year ushers in our new headmaster. The extensive search and interview process that the board and administration conducted last year was definitely full of unknowns and lofty expectations. As a staff member, I began to wonder if our school would continue to function as it had or if radical change was going to be implemented. What would that mean for me as a teacher and my children as students? What about the Petra community? Would the new headmaster understand what it is like to lose a leader who loved us so well? Would he or she embrace that, even though we know it is time to move forward, there is still a feeling of loss associated with the past?
As worry and fear would begin to build in my heart, the Lord would bring to mind the beginning of the second verse of this old hymn: “Be still, my soul, thy God doth undertake to guide the future as He has the past.” Then, when the staff first met Craig Dunham, I found myself in awe at how the Lord had perfectly prepared this particular individual to lead our school with purpose, humility, and wisdom. Here was a man who, in spite of his own fears and hurts, clearly continued to love – the Lord, his family, other people, and the work God has given him to do. When he accepted the position, there was great relief and anticipation about what this coming year will bring.
As we prepare for this coming school year, I’m still doing some individual heart searching with the following questions: Is my soul still and at peace, or am I fretting and unsettled? Do I regularly remember that the Lord is on my side or do I think I am fighting these battles alone? Am I leaving to my God to order and provide or am I insisting on my own way? Is my confidence in myself or in Almighty God?
Other questions: Am I running to Jesus to soothe the hurt in my heart or do I forget that He longs to comfort and assure me? Am I remembering that the suffering I may be experiencing right now is temporary and that as a believer in Jesus Christ I have a unique future hope? Do I know with confidence that God is who He says He is and His existence is not dependent on my belief or actions?
In the lyrics of each stanza of “Be Still, My Soul,” the author acknowledges that life is filled with things unknown, disappointment, grief, sorrow, change, and pain. Yet for the believer in Jesus Christ, all of this is eclipsed by the hope and confidence that we have in future glory. And still, we have a present task here and now, for each day brings choices and decisions to make. Some may seem significant – purchasing a home or caring for an aging parent; others may seem less so – stopping to pick up a forgotten item at the grocery store or helping with homework Regardless, each one is an opportunity to trust in an all-powerful, all-knowing, faithful, loving God to bring resolution rather than relying on ourselves to try to do so alone.
As we approach the beginning of another school year, we will encounter multiple opportunities each day to choose to be still and know that God is God (Psalm 46:10). In our stillness, we can meditate on God’s faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23), rejoice in His blessing (Philippians 4:4-8), remember who we serve and the indescribable gifts He has already given (James 1:17; John 3:16), and anticipate the future with hope and confidence (I Timothy 4:10; Philippians 1:6). We are children of God – blessed, chosen, sealed, adopted, forgiven, and loved (Ephesians 1; Romans 8).
These truths, kept in the forefront of our minds and on the turf of our hearts, will sustain. In the midst of new procedures, old habits, malfunctioning technology, and inspiring lectures, these ancient words remain, and we can continue to draw new strength from them.