Most of us don’t think of ourselves as refugees. A refugee is someone who flees to a foreign country to escape danger or persecution. Displaced by whatever cause, homelessness becomes the refugee’s home.

Thankfully, most of us never know this fate—at least in a physical sense. But we all know what it’s like to become a refugee of spirit. We think we are living on solid ground then suddenly the ground of our lives quakes—a dear one dies, we lose our job, the mortgage goes into foreclosure, a significant relationship crashes–the diagnosis of a serious illness catapults us into a state of alarm.

Some of us are refugees who suffer the cruelties of nature or political oppression. But one way or another, sooner or later, every human being risks becoming a refugee of the spirit. 

The 46th Psalm begins with these words: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble.” When people speak of taking refuge in God, they mostly want a God who will shelter them, give them sanctuary and provide a safe haven from life’s trouble and tumult. More than not, people want to be close to God so they can keep their suffering at a distance.

If only it were true. The Hebrew Scriptures say the Jews were God’s chosen people—conventional Christians believe Jesus God’s chosen son. Look what’s happened to them. You better hope God doesn’t choose you.

Over the years, I have spent a fair amount of time with people who have just been diagnosed with a terminal illness. After they are devastated they get determined to beat it. They have surgery or take chemotherapy and often pray, plead and hope that God will be their refuge—and in practically every case those who pray this prayer eventually do find refuge and strength. But it’s not the kind of refuge and strength that protects them from being sick because in every case, sooner or later, these people who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness, suffer and die.

As I have sat with people through excruciating moments. Often, people say they feel like they are falling—falling into a great inner abyss. They fear they will keep falling—they fear there is no end to their pain. But in each and every instance, they say their free fall stopped. Something caught them and cradled them—sort of like the metaphor of the everlasting arms. People say that it wasn’t that their trouble was over. It wasn’t that they were cured of whatever had beset them. But in the deepest part of their being they were no longer afraid.

They still had trouble, they still had suffering and they knew they were going to die—but after they faced head on their troubles, their fears and their own death—they discovered they were no longer afraid. In their heart of hearts they knew that no matter what happened to them there was nothing to fear. In their heart of hearts they had learned that no matter whatever happened to them, all would be well.

The 46th Psalm begins with the words “God is our refuge and strength and it concludes with the words, “Be Still and know that I am God”.

There is a story about a fifth century monk who felt troubled, distracted and unfulfilled. So the monk went to the abbot asking for a teaching, asking for advice, hoping to hear a word that would help calm things down and clear things up. “Please give me a Word, implored the monk…tell me something that will inspire and motivate me. The Abbot said, “go and sit in silence in your room. The silence will teach you everything.”

In our minds there is that endless babble, the ticker tape of restless thoughts. The mind is always thinking. The mind is always chattering. But deep within each and every one of us is what is famously called, the still small voice. We cannot hear this still small voice unless the chattering mind is hushed. The practice of silence teaches us how to be quiet within even when the world is bustling without. In silence we find our way home to the wholeness hidden in the depths of our being. Learning to sit in prayer, meditation and the presence of each other—is an acquired skill and like every acquired skill, this requires practice.

Finding this inner silence is our true refuge. God is met in silence.

Among life’s greatest challenges is getting over our attachments. We all have our attachments. An attachment is your expectation, your idea, your insistence that life is supposed to be the way you think it is supposed to be. We are attached to our ideas, assumptions and expectations. But the still small voice whispers to us saying, what you have today will be gone tomorrow. Whatever you think you need, let it go—The only thing you really have is what you have, here and now. Everything you think you can’t possibly live without, one day, you will.

In our heart of hearts we all know that when ours expectations are dashed, when our assumptions about life are shattered, when our ideas about reality dissolve, only the still small voice remains.

God becomes our refuge and strength not by showing us how to get out of the trouble, but by whispering to us, from within, saying, you are my beloved—learn to be quiet and let everything else go.

Taking refuge in the still small voice does not change our circumstance—it changes us.