One of the central themes in The Fault in our Stars is the idea of the impact of our lives. Augustus is desperate for his life to count for something. At the end, however, he comes to this realization:
The real heroes anyway aren’t people doing things; the real heroes are the people NOTICING things, paying attention. The guy who invented the smallpox vaccine didn’t actually invent anything. He just noticed that people with cowpox didn’t get smallpox.
I’ll be honest. My first reaction was to recoil a little from his conclusion. Probably because I, too, have always had this longing to do something great in the world, for my life to count and leave a legacy that far outlasts my actual presence on this planet. When I think of heroes, I think of people who DID something great. The idea that greatness is about noticing things, not doing things is a bit repellent to me.
It’s not that I’m against noticing things, but that I’m for doing things.
But if I’m honest, that’s been part of my struggle. I have a hard time with the concept of being. Being loved. Being still. Being in God’s presence. With just simply being me. I feel I have to earn love. I feel I ought to be busy doing something, not wasting time being still…especially since what I DO is going to earn love and determine my lasting legacy. And don’t get me started on the challenge I have with the concept of simply being in God’s presence.
And yet He tells me, “Be still and know that I am God.” Be. Be still. The “and” is ambiguous to me—is it be still and do this other thing of knowing that He is God? Or is it be still, and in that being still, only in that being still, perhaps because of that being still, I will know that He is God? I don’t know for sure, but I know where to start. I need to start with “Be. Still.”
Which brings me back to Augustus Water’s observation—the real heroes aren’t people doing things; the real heroes are the people noticing things, paying attention. He didn’t say it exactly, but in some ways he implied the real heroes are the ones who are still enough to notice in the first place. The real heroes are the ones who know how to “be” without having to “do”. The doers have a hard time noticing. I know because I’m one of those. I miss so many things about the people around me because I’m so busy doing I forget to see them, to notice them.
I know that’s true with people, and I strongly suspect it’s the same with God. I am certain I miss so many things about Him because I’m so busy doing that I forget to notice Him. I don’t notice the ways in which He has extended His love to me. I don’t notice the things in creation that speak to His beauty, His power, His greatness, His perfection. I don’t notice the things He would say to me if only I would be still and know that He is God—because I struggle with the “be still” part.
I still think the doing is important. Even a cursory read of James would support that fact. (Don’t be hearers of the word only, but do what it says—James 1:22.) But as I think over this idea that sometimes the most important thing we can do is to notice the world around us (as the smallpox vaccine inventor did), I wonder how true it is in the spiritual realm as well. What if the most important thing we can do in our relationship with God is not what we DO, but what we NOTICE about Him? What if it’s more important for us to open our eyes and be aware of his love and goodness and answers to prayer and all his many attributes? What if the most important thing we can do is to really SEE God…and if that SEEING only comes through being still so that we can be available to notice.
When John received (and wrote) the book of Revelation, he was alone on an island, exiled. There wasn’t much he could do there. No one to preach to. No sick to heal, no poor to bless, starved to feed… There was no one to do anything for, and nothing to do except survive. So John surely had a lot of time to be still and know God…and notice God…in ways he may not have been able to do before. It seemed there wasn’t much to do to make a lasting legacy there on the Island of Patmos…but Revelation came. John, in his stillness and increased sensitivity and ability to notice the things of God, hear the voice of God—John received revelation from God. That revelation is one of John’s great legacies that he left behind. In that place where he could do nothing, he received something which affected the course of mankind.
I suspect Augustus was on to something. I suspect the real heroes in the Kingdom of God aren’t simply the ones who do the most, but the ones who are still, who in that still notice the most about God and able to receive the most from God. I suspect the ones who are the most still before God end up being the very same who actually do the most good, but that the doing comes from a place of being, not the other way around.
Oh Lord, let me learn to be still and know that you are God. Teach me to rest in your presence. To see your goodness and your greatness and your love, working itself out in the world. Teach me to hear and to know your voice…and to make being with you a priority over doing things for you.
 Green, John. The Fault in our Stars. New York: Penguin Group, 2012, page 312.
 The Bible is full of such examples. Aloneness, a “wilderness” experience, is pretty much prescriptive in the Bible before there is revelation or breakthrough or the launch of a ministry. Abraham. Moses. Jesus. The Israelites. Daniel. Paul. Need I go on?