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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Staying Put

(photo by Pexels)

Psychologists tell us when we encounter danger or trouble, we act out of one of two human impulses: fight or flight. This means we either engage in combat with the danger or we head for the hills. But in his book, Earth Works, Scott Russell Sanders says there is a third impulse out of which we can respond to danger: we can stay put. He writes, “when the power we face is overwhelming and neither fight nor flight will save us, there may be salvation in sitting still.”

By “sitting still” Sanders does not mean paralysis. “I mean something like reverence, respectful waiting, a deep attentiveness to forces greater than our own.” He gives the example of the Miller family he knew as a child growing up in Ohio. They lived on a nice parcel of land, but suffered through three tornadoes! The first one carried away their mobile home. With the insurance money, they built a small house on the same spot. Several years later, tornado #2 took off their roof. The Millers rebuilt again, adding a garage and second floor to the house. A few years later, the third tornado “reduced their upper floor to kindling” and sucked the water out of their pond. Soon after, Sanders moved from Ohio, but the last he heard, the Millers were planning to rebuild yet again.

Sometimes we may opt to stay put. (Photo by Kindel media – Pexels)

The Millers’ devotion to their place might seem foolhardy to some. But Sanders notes: “I suspect that most human achievements worth admiring are the result of such devotion.” He asks, if “the shine goes off our marriage, our house, our car, our job, do we immediately trade it for a new one?” He acknowledges there are times we may choose to do so. For someone in a physically or psychologically abusive relationship, for example, the best option is often to “run.” But, says Sanders, there might be other times “for staying put, confronting the powers, learning the ground, going deeper.”

When I read this chapter in Sanders’ book, I immediately thought of St. Benedict, that wise 5th Century monk and the father of Western monasticism. To this day, Benedictines take a vow of “stability.” In short, this means they commit themselves to a particular monastic community for life. Evidently, Benedict had no use for some monks of his day who flitted from monastery to monastery in search of the perfect community into which to put down their roots. Benedict disapproved of this constant movement. As one Benedictine website puts it today: “Contentment and fulfillment do not exist in constant change.”

I have met a number of married couples who, when they encountered a “rough patch” in their marriage, stayed together and worked through their problems–sometimes with the help of a counselor or spiritual guide. Most told me their marriage was better because they BOTH had decided to “stay put” AND to do the HARD JOB of working things out. In the process, they learned invaluable knowledge about themselves, about each other, and about true love. Something similar can happen when individuals enter a particular religious community. At first they may be in awe of the members they meet. Everyone is so kind, so prayerful, so devoted to mission. But, sooner or later, they will see the failings in their fellow sisters or brothers and encounter the shortcomings in the community at large. When a second-year novice had become disillusioned with her community, she went to her novice director and complained about the other novices and vowed members as well as the ways things were being done in the community. Her novice director said jubilantly, “At last you see our shortcomings. Now finally you can begin to love us!”

Sometimes “staying put” can be the right choice when we are confronted with danger or serious trouble. It can be an invitation to go deeper, to gain greater self-knowledge, to grow in patience and compassion, to heighten our awareness of the Divine in our midst, and to channel our love into a life-long commitment to something (or Someone) greater than ourselves.

For reflection:

When you recall some of the difficult situations or serious “rough patches” in your life, did you ever opt for “staying put”? If so, are you better off for doing so? Why or why not?

Did you ever opt for fight or flight? Looking back, was that the best decision for yourself?

How do you prevent “staying put” from morphing into paralysis?

Do you agree or disagree with Sanders’ words that “most human achievements worth admiring” are the result of some form of “staying put”? Can you give any examples?

I’ve chosen a song by Carrie Newcomer, “I’m Learning to Sit Without Knowing.” Some of the words touch upon the themes of this reflection: “sitting without knowing… I cool my heels and start slowing… learning it’s a process… here’s the clear space that I’ve chosen… learning to live with what takes time.”

I invite you to write a comment below sharing your insights and ideas on the reflection itself, the photos, and the song. Thank you!

24 Responses

  1. Good morning, Sister and thank you as always for a beautiful and timely thoughts. I am ‘sitting’ with something very hard right now. Have been ‘sitting’ with it for many, many years. I think it is caught in paralysis because if you chose to sit with something, you need to truly give it over to God. And I’ve been holding on to it–not letting God ‘have it’. I’m going to try to consider this now and see what I can do to let go of what I’ve been sitting with and truly give it over to God. thank you so much, Sister. I do hope to meet you someday!

  2. Good morning, Sr. Melannie…
    Good morning, all…

    Like Karen, I, too, thank your for your “beautiful and timely thoughts.” And as a Benedictine Oblate, I thank you for the reference of Saint Benedict and his Rule! A few things: one, “salvation in sitting still.” I love that, makes me think of that verse from one of the psalms: “Be still and know that I am God.” Two, “learning the ground going deeper,” words I’ve written in my journal, words I will think about today. Three, my wife and I have lived in the same house since 1988. People often ask, “Now that the kids are gone, are you going to move?” We always answer, “Maybe someday,” but I hope that day never comes. People always know where to find us, they haven’t had to change our address in their address books in thirty-five years. We are right here — write us a letter, come and visit; we will write you back or welcome you in!

  3. I’m learning that “staying put” is not taking the easy way out. It requires relying on God’s grace, opening several gifts of the Holy Spirit when the mission given starts out deceptively easy and becomes more and more changellenging to fulfill. How grateful I am for the inspirations like yours that come along to smooth my path. Blessings, Sister.

  4. Most of us have troubling issues. Like Karen, I too have been “sitting” with it for a long time. God knows my heart & has heard me when grace, strength, & patience has been requested. I put my trust & faith in God that He will show me the way through this & He has to some extent. However, if the challenge involves other people, who aren’t in the same page as you, it can be difficult to keep sitting. Deciding when it’s time to get up & move forward then becomes another layer.

    I trust the Lord that He will provide, or maybe He has already, for which I need to “see” the opportunity to resolve or be at peace with the problem. That’s my prayer today.

    I pray for everyone who is struggling with their issues or concerns. I know I’m not alone.

    The song was comforting & beautiful.

  5. Sister, you have chosen the theme of my life over the past year. It was a challenge to continue my patience through many medical treatments. But I kept coming back to my goal of handing it all over to God, and that was my secret. Quiet, patience and doing nothing but contemplation are not given their due in our society. Thank you for your gifts of meditation and song.

  6. Hi Sr. Melannie

    Once again, thank you for this beautiful reflection! I’ve always been of the mindset to try and “work things out” and not abandon your goals if there is some ray of hope still left. “In quiet and trust, your strength lies”. Isaiah 30:15.
    I admire the family that kept rebuilding their home. Staying put is great advice in so many ways. May God continue to bless you and all your efforts!

  7. “Staying put” in the Lord is also very important. So often our spiritual life wavers as distractions and temptations occur. Trust is at the heart of “staying put”, and God will never move away. He will walk with us.

    Father John

  8. Good morning, Sr. Melannie! Thank you for this. I can see this idea applying also to anyone choosing to remain with a faith community, heck, the whole institutional Catholic Church for that matter! And I am a huge Carrie Newcomer fan, so happy to see her song here!

  9. I loved this essay. I used it for my meditation, asking God to show me why I chose flight from one of my relationships. As usual, He didn’t answer yet, but I have no doubt He will at some point. At 81, my definition of fight has mellowed considerably. While a harsh, judgmental homily made my blood boil, I “fought” back with a gently written email explaining why I was saddened by the insensitive words from the pulpit. And I will stay put, still attending Mass at my parish, praying for that priest.

  10. Sister, good morning. Thank you for this reflection. In the last few days I’ve had a feeling that I need to “keep still”, or as the words of the song say “learn to sit still”. I need to “learn to sit with what takes time”, learning I can’t do everything, cure anyone, or make anyone do what I want or think they should. Because of many responsibilities taking care of various family members I have felt guilty sitting still-praying and processing what is happening-I rush from one “fire” to the next. You have just given me permission to “learn to sit with what takes time.” I can’t fix any of the health and other issues in the lives of those I care for, but I can bring calm. You have brought peace to me with this reflection and that peace will move on to others in my life. You and your site are a wonderful blessing.

  11. Beautiful and perfect for a very cold, snowy day. I have sent this on to my children and a dear niece who worry me with how much they worry about how to solve everything right away.

  12. Thanks, Sister Melannie,
    Staying put runs so counter to our cultural push to move on to the next thing on our bucket list. Maybe we should get into that bucket and hang onto the handle for a while!

  13. thank you, Melannie! your reflection is continued reflection for me from yesterday’s gospel: “Come and see.” “They stayed with him that day!” It is important for me to “stay with” the Lord Jesus every day. so yes, stay put in this bitterly cold winter, trusting God is in control of his world, now and always.

  14. Staying put can also mean staying put while advocating for change. Sometimes that is the most effective option. Sort of what Jesus did in his time on this earth.

  15. Thank you deeply, Sister Melannie, for the wise thoughts. Yes, amen, with the proviso that we are graced with the wisdom to know the difference between accepting or staying and–to the contrary–resisting or leaving. On the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birth, I also consider how he, Jesus, Gandhi and other advocates of non-violent resistance show a third way to inspire people to transform bad situations for the good of society.
    Consider the cosmos, provided to us by All-loving, All-healing, Creation. The choice between accepting chaotic entropy now dominant and–to the contrary–creatively resisting the loss of species, degradation to air and water quality, desertification, etc. is a choice which our Savior proposed: love each other, including non-humans, actively, concretely, now.

  16. Thank you so much Melannie for sharing your thought & reflections. I too have experienced times when I chose flight and then fight mode during trying times. I have found though that waiting it out, trusting God to see me through brought the deepest and most meaningful peace and lessons that stay within me. Patience is very hard sometimes. Loved the beautiful music reflection too.

  17. Staying put

    Sr. Melannie,
    Thank you for a lovely meditation on staying put, and may God’s healing hand be upon you in your hip replacement surgery this week.

    So, isn’t“Staying put” really just another way of asking the Spirit of God for guidance?
    Everyone has heard about “fight or flight”, but your little blog really sets the concept on its ear!
    Fight, Flight …
    or Pray for guidance.
    The third option.

    Finding your way to prayer as a spontaneous response to life’s struggles is really a very high end “life skill” and a learned behavior of saints.
    I am reminded of something in Thomas Keating’s teaching on contemplative prayer. He says, the “quiet mind” is not really just a place to seek as a refuge, and it is not an escape … rather, it becomes a frame of mind, a context, that you can “come from” in the course of your daily life and its struggles. It’s the Spirit of God welcomed, as your indwelling Advocate … and Counselor. It’s being awake to what Samuel was taught to say: “Speak Lord, (I’m going to stay put and…) your servant is listening?”
    Sometimes fight.
    Sometimes flight.
    But, wherever you are “put” … Always Pray.

  18. Dear Sister Melannie,
    Yes, when the ship starts rocking, sit out the storm, do not jump overboard,
    Jesus did not abandon ship in the storm, he calmed the waves instead and taught
    a lesson about faith. Storms come and go, but life goes on. When the ship starts
    rocking hold on to the side but do not abandon ship. Pray with hope and faith.

  19. Staying put transcends the dualistic flight or fight, that have proven unhelpful, even harmful to making choices. When do I persist? Is my persistence a denial of a reality or necessary for for fruition? Is it acceptance or giving up?
    Do I stay in marriage or ‘find myself’ outside of it? Do I give toddler grandchildren a home, or allow a system to place them?
    Staying put allows for an unfolding, a process for possible answers. When I flee an uncomfortable situation or resist an unpleasant reality, I forfeit god-centered thinking.
    I am thrilled with this discovery of staying put. What a relief! I can stay awhile in place, not tethered to flight or fight options.

  20. Thanks for introducing me to new music. A line in the song, “There’s something holding steady and true…” brought thoughts from Psalm 46 to mind. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear; though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea…The Lord Almighty is with us…our fortress…He says, ‘Be still and know that I am God…’ “

  21. Thank you, Sister! A very retrospective thought – provoking blog! In my experience- after after “staying put” for a long time and relinquishing it to God, he nudged me to make a move! Sometimes it takes a long while!

  22. Finally, finally, finally, I got your blog without going through your email. To my delighted surprise, it turned up without a hitch! And a good blog it is!! As usual.
    Thank you Melannie…I like staying put. Your messages are so often on target.
    I thought of the quote which I believe is from Wordsworth: “S(he) is type of the wise who soar, but never roam.”
    Thank you, again, and stay well and warm! Mary Ann Flannery

  23. Sr. Melannie,

    I am praying that all went well with your surgery today and that you are back on your feet and once again running the race… or perhaps staying put for a while. May the Holy Trinity continue to pour Her blessings upon you and through you!

  24. Dear Sister Melanie,
    I pray your hip replacement surgery went well today. And, I hope your recuperation is easy, compete, and fast.

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Hi and welcome to my blog! I’m Sister Melannie, a Sister of Notre Dame residing in Chardon, Ohio, USA. I’ve been very lucky! I was raised in a loving family on a small farm in northeast Ohio. I also entered the SNDs right after high school. Over the years, my ministries have included high school and college teaching, novice director, congregational leadership, spiritual direction, retreat facilitating, and writing. I hope you enjoy “Sunflower Seeds” and will consider subscribing below. I’d love to have you in our “sunflower community.” Thank you!

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