I am an avid West Wing fan. I love each witty and imperfect and passionate character. In Season 1, there is a scene where President Bartlett and his senior staff are playing poker. Being the academic he is, the President keeps asking trivia questions instead of playing the game, eventually leading each senior staffer to fold in exasperation. Among his questions, he asked, “There are three words in the English language and three words only that begin with the letters ‘dw.’ Can anyone name them please?” The speech writers, Toby and Sam, take the bait, quickly locating dwindle and dwarf, but can’t seem to remember that last word. As President Bartlett wins the hand and takes their petty cash, he reveals the third word: dwell.
Dwell may be my favorite word in the English language, and it always makes me think of Thanksgiving. Images flash into my mind of sparkling candles, pick-up football games in the front yard, a buffet filled to the brim with food that makes you gain five pounds just looking at it. I love that moment right after Thanksgiving dinner when everyone is sitting around the table laughing with full stomachs and hearts, thinking about nap time. I dwell best in the moments when I am exactly where I want to be.
Yet, it makes so much sense to me that Toby and Sam forgot “dwell.” You see, I forget to dwell, too. I spend the majority of my life achieving, earning, reaching, wanting, and running in no obvious direction. I will freely admit that dwelling is not exactly my M.O.
Dwelling is a choice, a decision to be present and known and me. To dwell is to be, just be. Wherever I am, whoever I’m with, whatever I’m feeling – I can choose to dwell.
Dwelling is in the same family as abiding, receiving, hoping, and remaining. And there is something unique about all of these words: they are active and passive at the same time. They are both an action and the absence of action. These words are only true of my life in that holy space where obedience and God’s will live together in harmony.
If you are anything like me, you love these words in theory but find them incredibly difficult to practice. If your first reaction is to jump up and do it yourself, receiving will take concentrated effort. If you protect yourself by bouncing around at a party, leaving conversations as soon as they hit that awkward moment between the shallow catch up and the opportunity for deeper connection, then abiding is likely not natural to you. If you worry that God won’t show up or others won’t stick around if they really knew you, then your hope in unanchored.
I can say with confidence that my busy, frantic way of living is not the best I have to offer the world, but it feels near impossible to say no to all the good things that want to take my time and energy.
When I am living this way, I forget that God is the Father who delights to provide for his daughter. Instead, I fear that He will take away, or ask for more and more, consuming everything like the deer in my neighborhood consume my mom’s hasta. So often, I believe the lie that this life is supposed to be full of work and void of rest, full of perfection and void of mistakes. But what I find when I submit to the demanding voices, yelling, “More! More!” is that I am full of anxiety and void of peace, full of fear and void of joy, full of pride and void of humility.
In the month leading up the my college graduation, a bittersweet time where I was forced to face the reality that my people would live states away from me, I stumbled across a little sanctuary in my Bible. When I opened my Bible to a certain page and laid it flat out on the table, the top left was the start of Psalm 23 and the bottom right, right before I turned the page, was Psalm 27:4, “One thing I have asked of the Lord, that will I see after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” Those four and a half chapter speak again and again of the Lord’s provision, protection, and action on my behalf. Day by day, I read those same chapters and watched as the Spirit built up something new in me.
How many things have I asked for? How many things have I sought after? Now, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).
Dwelling may not come easy for me, but it is life-giving and freeing. And I don’t have to wait for life to slow down or for Thanksgiving Day or even for heaven to dwell in the house of the Lord.
To dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life is my greatest prayer for me today. It is my greatest prayer for my husband, my future children, my friends, my parents. It is my greatest prayer for you. Choose to dwell, brothers and sisters!