Aspiring to Live Quietly

Christina Ribbens is the RUF Intern at The University of Michigan. Originally from Blacksburg, Virginia, Christina has been living in Michigan for the past five years—first in Grand Rapids where she went to Calvin University to study History, Data Science, and Graphic Design. After volunteering for a year with RUF at Michigan, giving rides and meeting with students here and there, Christina is now at Michigan full-time as an intern. In her free time, Christina enjoys doodling, improv comedy, hosting pancake parties, and watching obscure sports.

Part of the RUF Internship includes a study program, and during a reading the other day I found a reflection on 1 Thessalonians 4:10-12:

But we urge you, brothers… to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.

I was struck by the simplicity of that call. It sounds peaceful, straightforward, maybe a bit pastoral (in the shepherd sense, not the clergy sense). Very Wendell Berry—living righteously in the woods, quietly loving the earth and leaving fresh bread on an ailing woman’s back porch. It does not feel very much like my life as a RUF intern.

Some days it feels like my job is entirely about minding other peoples’ affairs and my work is more with my head and heart than my hands. What does it look like to “aspire to live quietly” as an intern? As a ministry?  

Quiet in a literal sense is rare, meaning it can be extremely uncomfortable (think when conversation stalls at a dinner you’re hosting). If things are quiet that means that something is wrong. But it is its rarity that makes quiet so powerful and so important—a moment of silence in a packed stadium or a time of confession in a church service. Silence can allow us to exhale. It gives time for our mind and our heart to speak to each other and for God to speak to us.

This is hard to find in the busyness of life. But the less literal sense of a quiet life is also hard to commit ourselves to. How can we model a quiet life to students pursuing important degrees and influential careers, who craft their every commitment to improve their resume or reputation?

If you’ve ever driven through West Virginia on I-77 you’ve seen signs for the Tamarack Marketplace. My family spends a lot of time on this road and it’s become a bit of a running joke just how many signs there are for this exit. Variations on the tagline “The Best of West Virginia” attempt to lure you to this combination rest area and craft mall, and while I have stopped there a few times, the thing I will always remember about the Tamarack is the incessant pleas to visit, not the handcrafted WVU cutting boards or fine selection of sauces.

I think in our work on campus the temptation is to become another flashing sign, trying so desperately to make sure students know we exist that we forget what we’re offering. We run around trying to look fun and shiny while never being rested ourselves nor effectively offering rest to our students.

To stick with the illustration, how can we model the restorative quiet of the West Virginia mountains more than the frantic noise of a roadside attraction?

“Quiet” brings to my mind words like unobtrusive or easily ignored. And that feels like the opposite of what I should be in this job. I. haunted by the mythic figure of “the intern that changed my life,” who pierced their soul with a look and with a single question broke open the floodgates of their repressed emotion and shame.

Aspiring to be quiet feels like I’m risking being forgettable.

But we’re here to make much of Jesus, not ourselves. Our aspiration as a ministry is that Jesus is more enduring to students than we are, that our reputation on campus is identified by the work of Jesus, not our engaging personalities.

When is it fear that is prompting us to be loud? When is the jury of Large Group size and retention of freshmen directing our energy more than the example of Christ?

Following his call may mean that sometimes we are loud and hand out free things and hang up colorful posters—but not in the pursuit of growing our own significance.

When I remember that I’m pointing to Jesus and not myself I am freed to live quietly. I can listen more than I speak. I can take a day off. I can even be forgettable.