July 10, 2016
“Settle”: A practice that may save your life.
It’s hard for me to settle. I’m not talking about the settle of settling for second best or settling for an alternative. I’m talking about the kind of settle that we are trying to teach our dogs to do. In training our dogs to become therapy dogs, one command we are working on is the command, Settle. It means the dog is supposed to find the mat or blanket we put on the floor and stay on it for whatever length of time we decide, and to just wait there, in that one spot until we release them with a word like Okay. I think we can learn a lot about our relationship with God and ourselves through our relationship with our dogs.
Settle doesn’t mean the dog can’t move around, from a sit to a down, or even to a standing position. It just means stay in this one small place and wait for further instructions from your handler. The idea is to allow the dog a certain amount of freedom in choosing the position he/she wants, but to put certain boundaries on the dog so we know they are in one place, waiting for us for however long we need them to, and they will ‘settle’ down and wait for us until we release them. Sometimes dogs try to constantly think of things to do that will get them attention, a treat, a toy, or something for them to think about. My dog, Sam, will try looking into my face, pawing me, barking, sitting, lying down, etc. Anything to get me to be totally watching him. It can be exhausting! So I’m learning to have him “settle” on his mat for as long as necessary until I can put my attention back on him. It gives him something to “do” and it gives me freedom from having to do something with him.
I think this is a wonderful tool to have in training! I can see how much it might be needed in therapy situations. It’s a chance to have your dog simply controlled to one place but not so rigid that they can’t move a muscle. It gives the handler and dog some grace in that the handler doesn’t have to make sure the dog’s body isn’t moving, and the dog can adjust to various positions as needed. Strict obedience demands strict attention by the handler, while “settle” allows both dog and handler the freedom to pay attention to other things while still having boundaries in place.
I think about how God would want this tool in his own arsenal for relating to us. God loves it when we find a quiet place to “settle” with him, with the freedom to choose our position, but the discipline to stay in one area where we can wait for God’s instructions and release. Meanwhile, God can be putting his attention to other things in our life, knowing that we will be content and patient to leave our “settle” mat when he gives us the release word. Now, God is not like us; he doesn’t have to have a break from us in order to work on our problems, but God knows we have to have a break for ourselves and from ourselves. He knows we can be consumed with thinking and analyzing to the point where we are very stressed and unhappy, and we can even make things worse when we are in the way of what God wants to do.
It’s hard for me to “settle” with God’s plan for my life, but I know it’s needed. It’s hard to stop, be confined to one area of my thoughts or even to let my thoughts stop completely, and just stop frantically trying to figure out WHAT TO DO!! Sometimes the point is, that there is nothing for ME to do, only for God. It’s very difficult for me to find my settle mat in God’s plan for me and simply wait patiently while he works out all kinds of details that are beyond me. Does this make sense? It’s not necessarily something physical that you do, but it’s more about an attitude; a willingness to release your worries, release your own problem solving personality, release your independence, and have an attitude and a mindset of laying down all your thoughts and anxieties and just giving them over to someone higher. Someone who can actually work on your problems for you! Whether you believe God has a plan for your life or not, it’s just a good habit and sometimes a life-saving one, to lay aside your worries and just let life take care of you. In this world so filled with complexity and stress, letting your mind let go of worries and fears is not only just good common sense, but also an avenue to health. Stress is linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, liver cirrhosis, and suicide. (http://facts.randomhistory.com/stress-facts.html)
If you do believe God has a plan for your life, then he definitely wants that plan to include consistent times when you let him work in your life and you let yourself be at complete peace, knowing he is taking care of you and your problems. If you don’t think God has a plan for your life, it just makes sense to find ways to have a more peaceful life and make your body healthier.
One way I can tell that it’s time for me to “settle” and let God work in my life is when I feel confusion or a lack of peace. My thoughts go in a million different directions and I can’t really focus on anything because I truly don’t know what to do. I get irritable or depressed or anxious; I finally come to the end of thinking of my own solutions and am relieved when I realize that my problems are too big for me to handle. I need to give everything over to my handler, God, and settle on my mat while he takes care of my life. This is a good tactic for anyone, no matter what faith or background you have. People have told countless stories about how problems were solved when they simply let them go and waited for a solution from a different direction. The very act of laying aside the worries and anxieties can free your mind to let the real answers in; it can give others the freedom and opportunity to help you. It can give the universe a chance to work things out in your favor as you trust that the future will be handled somehow without your help.
Just as with the dogs, my time of settling with God is not strict, and not too regulated. It’s a time when I can choose a comfortable position, a comfortable room, a comfortable sound, location, etc. while I wait for God’s release word. When I do this: sit quietly, think positive thoughts, believe that everything will be ok, concentrate on gratitude for what I have, use soothing music to settle my thoughts, or spend time in the outdoors and with my dogs, letting my mind relax completely, I feel safe. I start to feel peace. I start to feel confidence in the future. I start to feel taken care of and I especially feel a release of tension and pressure.
Do you ever find yourself in the same state as I have? Do you feel tension and pressure and confusion about what to do in life or with some of your relationships? What about a job situation that just doesn’t seem to have any solutions? What about trying to help someone who won’t take your help or seems ungrateful? What about decisions you’re trying to make about your future that just don’t seem to have answers? Or the answers you come up with lead to dead ends time after time? Have you ever just gone around and around, thinking of thing after thing that might work, and yet nothing seems clear? Everything seems very foggy, very directionless, and you just don’t have peace about the right answer? When you find yourself in this state of mind: confused, irritable, anxious, looking for solutions that don’t work out, no peace about something, think of finding your “settle” mat with God. Think about the fact that your situation or circumstance may be way beyond you right now, that it takes a higher power to find the solution or solve the puzzle or work out the relationship.
Just as with a dog, who has limited abilities or capacities to solve the problems in their own lives, we are limited in our lives because we can’t see or know the future, we can’t control other people and situations, and we can’t get outside of our own thoughts and behaviors and see what we should do. God does have the ability to see the future and can solve any problem, no matter how big or small, how simple or complicated.
There are plenty of examples of God working this way:
Ps 107:27-31 is a Psalm about how God helps people through all kinds of troubles and dangers as people realize their own helplessness.
27 They reeled and staggered like a drunken man, and were at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distresses.
29 He caused the storm to be still, so that the waves of the sea were hushed.
30 Then they were glad because they were quiet, so He guided them to their desired haven.
31 Let them give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness, and for His wonders to the sons of men! (NASU)
Elijah was a prophet for God, who, after a great victory with the Lord in his life was then threatened by the reigning queen of the land who wanted to kill him because he had made her way of worship look bad. Elijah became confused, fearful, anxious, dejected, and depressed and felt like quitting. God called him to a quiet place in a cave and quieted his spirit by letting Elijah feel his presence. God, in a sense, told Elijah to “settle”; he gave him the immediate boundary of the cave, away from the franticness of everyday life, away from people, and away from the place where the queen had threatened his life. God told Elijah to rest and eat; after Elijah was quiet and still, and watching for God, and waiting for God, God then told him what to do next. And none of the bad things that Elijah thought would happen to him actually happened to him! He was kept safe, not killed by the queen, and called by God to instruct another prophet who would take his place. All Elijah had to do was “settle” in the place God had prepared for him, and the rest of God’s plan was carried out perfectly in Elijah’s life.
Moses, Joshua, David, the prophets, Jesus, the twelve disciples, and Paul are all people in the Bible who knew how to “settle” with God.
Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Hudson Taylor, William Carey, and Watchman Nee, are just a few examples of great Christian leaders whom God used to change the world. But they did it by having settled times in God’s presence while God changed the world because of their dependence on him
Heb. 4:16 tells us:
16 …let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. (New Living Translation)
1 Pet. 5:7 tells us:
7 Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. (New Living Translation)
Psalm 23 gives the most vivid description of this “settle” time with God. David wrote this Psalm during the most chaotic and troubled time of his life, when he was waiting for God to open the doors for him to be the king of Israel, and at a time when he was being hunted down by the ruling king, Saul, and having to hide in caves and other towns so that he wouldn’t be killed. In order to have the confidence in God to continue in faith every day, David had to learn the command, “settle” from God so that he could be at peace while God worked out the timing of his life plan.
- David said the Lord was his shepherd, his handler.
- David said he did not want for anything because of that fact.
- David said that his handler, God, led him on the right paths, near quiet water where he could lie down.
- David said that God anointed his head with oil, that he was more than satisfied because of this settling time with the Lord.
- He said that even in the presence of his enemies, God was caring for him!
Don’t you think David, in this transition time of not being the king yet, and running in fear from King Saul, and having no home for himself, was anxious and afraid and dejected and sad when he didn’t take time to think about God being in charge of his life? When he was just looking at his circumstances and not upward to his protector and friend? God wanted David to learn the settle command before going on to be in a very powerful and responsible position like being the king over a nation.
Now I’m not saying that learning how to be settled with God will lead you to being a ruler over a nation, but it will definitely lead you toward being ruled by peace and quietness and confidence rather than anxiety, fear, sadness, and depression. Settle with your ruler so that he can rule over your life while you rest and recharge and give all of your cares to someone who can change your world.
If we can learn to “settle”, and let others help us, including people, angels, and God, as well as animals, it can actually save our lives! In Dec of 2006, champion adventure racer, Danelle Balengee, and her dog Taz went for a run in a Moab Utah desert national park. She slipped, falling 60 feet down to a lower trail, and broke her pelvis, and spent 52 hours trying to figure out how to stay alive and escape her predicament. Finally, she gave up her own solutions and turned to the dog God gave her for help. She “settled” in the place where she was and waited for outside help. She was rescued because other people came to help and because those people followed her dog to where she was. She had to give up finding her own solutions and using her own independence to get out of the situation and turn to someone outside of herself for help. She had to settle and wait in faith for her rescue to come.
In my own life, I haven’t been faced with such a dire situation, but almost every day, I have to remind myself to have a settling time with God when my own thoughts and solutions are just leading me in circles and I need to turn to a higher power to give me peace and let that power work out what I can’t.
In Acts 16, Paul and Silas were shackled and thrown in prison, yet they settled with God, waiting for what would happen, and even began singing! God then released them through an earthquake and set them free! So let’s try to learn from these examples the value of the command “settle”. We need to know how to apply this command to our lives. First: always evaluate how you feel emotionally about your life or your day or some important decision you have to make:
- Are you anxious?
- Are you afraid?
- Are you sad?
- Are you confused?
- Are you thinking frantically, trying to come up with a solution?
- Are you doing a thousand things and not getting anywhere?
- Are you irritable, frustrated, making others pay for how you feel?
Maybe that’s a signal for you to “settle” and let God take over for you.
Second: Choose your “settle mat”. Your settle mat can be anything:
A place, a favorite chair, a song, a location, a way of thinking, an activity, a time of day, a favorite memory, or a favorite vision of something in the future. All that is needed is somewhere or something that reminds you to find a way to be calm, relaxed, and not attempting to fix your own life, to leave it in the hands of something or someone stronger;
Think of what is involved with the settle command with a dog. First, you have to come up with a mat, a target, an easily manageable space that is always accessible and takes no effort to produce. Then, there is conditioning the dog to look for and stay on the mat; you do this by putting rewards of treats or toys on the mat, something that draws the dog to it; you want the dog to expect and receive good things when he/she finds the mat
For us, we should use a place or memory or vision that draws us to it, that produces positive thoughts and that is loaded with good things.
When we work with the dog, any time at all that the dog spends on the mat is rewarded; everything is positive, even if they go to the mat only for a few seconds; that effort is rewarded so that they will repeat it.
For us, don’t make your settle time legalistic or restricted; make sure every effort you make to get there is rewarded; small amounts of time consistently lead to longer periods of time consistently. Make the settle mat something easily accessible; something you can get even when your favorite chair or couch or location is unavailable; memories can be obtained anywhere, anytime, a fragrance can be carried with you everywhere, a vision can be pulled out any time and any place. An object that reminds you to take settle time can work; use your imagination and use a symbol or thought that helps place you in a frame of mind of gaining a different perspective, a trusting attitude, a waiting attitude, and an expectation of having help from outside of yourself. A gratitude list identifying what you already have is good too.
With a dog, we make sure the mat is always positive and can be taken anywhere; we make sure the dog is always on our mind, knowing he/she needs a release word before the settle mat can be left behind.
What I’ve found with God, is that he will always be faithful to be positive with me, encouraging me to settle, and always attentive to where I am, and very faithful to release me; if I jump the gun and come out of my settle mindset too soon, God is very patient to show me how I can know when I’m released from the settle time. I understand my release word by how I feel: am I now at peace? Am I eager to get back to my other activities? Am I confident that the future will be taken care of without my help or that I’ll be shown the answers? Do I have my joy and calmness back? When those things are there, I feel released to leave the settle mat.
The mat has boundaries that your dog can see so they know where to stay; in our own settle time, we need to know the boundaries of our mat: if it’s a vision you are using, then don’t allow negative thoughts to intrude; if it’s a memory, concentrate on only the positives of that memory, no negatives. If it’s a fragrance, reserve that fragrance only for this recharging time, don’t make it profane by using it in every common way. If it’s a special blanket or throw, use it only for your settle time.
God is so pleased when we put down our own problem solving franticness and rely on him to figure things out. Whether you have this kind of relationship with God or not, this settle time is good for everyone, no matter what your faith or background is. Everyone needs a time to just breathe, and to let go of worries and cares and simply believe that your life will be watched over and that things will work out. Sometimes simply thinking over and over, “everything will be all right” can make you settled and ready for life again. God and your own mind and everything in the universe pulls for the person who drops their defenses and their pride and their independence and lets him/herself be cared for!
In fact, communion is about laying down our independence and our aloneness, and coming to the table to eat with others who love us unconditionally. Communion is a visible and physical reminder of how Jesus came into the world to ensure that we are already welcome at his table. He already solved the problem of our relationship with God, and we have only to come to the table. When you rescue a dog, does the dog have to do anything? No! He simply comes out of his cage or crate or some awful place by the road, and goes home with you to be loved and cared for forever! All he or she has to do is go where you are. It’s the same thing with God. If you have ever wondered if you would be welcome, you are welcome! If you ever wondered if you would be accepted, you are accepted! All you have to believe is that you can come! Don’t “settle” for anything less.