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When You Want to “Keep Calm and…” Can’t (don’t give up)

You know the feeling? Choas busts in the front door and calm slips out the back?

Or when that button gets pushed and the two year old inside of you starts screaming?

All of those good intentions to “Keep Calm and…” drown in a flood of adrenaline. You take a stab at managing it, or maybe you don’t.

It’s alarming how quickly even the desire for calm can disappear under pressure.

Internal chaos can morph you into a control monster with red hot emotions that fuel all kinds of action (good and bad)–but it isn’t necessarily pretty, or pleasant.

Internal chaos can also shut you right down–leave you spinning your wheels at high RPMs, out of gear and going nowhere in an ever deepening rut. You can’t do a thing–and it still isn’t pretty, or pleasant.

So is it reasonable to think we might find a calm that can carry us through whatever chaos hits us?

Absolutely. Calm is possible.

Here’s the why–stay with me–I promise this little story is related to the answer.

There are two burial sites for Jesus in Jerusalem. Yes, two. The Holy Sepulcher and the Garden Tomb. I know this because I visited them during a study semester abroad.

According to tradition and convincing archaeological findings, The Holy Sepulcher is likely The Place. But I found no meaning or magic there. I coaxed myself to appreciate its significance, but the commercialized feel to the place made it hard. Not to mention the history of fighting (yes, real fighting) between the different denominations that share control over the complex. Not exactly my idea of meaningful Christian representation.

Inside The Church of the Holy Sepulcher

The Garden Tomb, on the other hand, is a secluded refuge tucked inside stone walls just outside the present day walls of the Old City. Just stepping into it’s shaded coolness is an invitation to relax and refresh (which is exactly what I did–more than once).

A winding path through lush vegetation and colorful flowers leads past quiet nooks created for personal reflection, finally descending to a stone patio facing a picturesque tomb carved out of the limestone cliff.

The Garden Tomb
The Garden Tomb

The words over the door nurture hope:

HE IS NOT HERE–FOR HE IS RISEN

Naturally, I would choose the Garden Tomb for a quiet afternoon of study. Unfortunately, on said afternoon, every corner of the Garden Tomb was occupied in preparation for a special program.

Where to go? I headed towards the Old City, joining the current of pedestrians flowing in through the Damascus Gate. I wandered, distracted, until I noticed the entrance to The Holy Sepulcher complex.

Without thinking, I turned in, unaware that I was about to have a paradigm changing epiphany.

A staircase hugged the stone building outside of the entrance and I couldn’t resist the temptation to climb it. At the top, I squeezed myself into the slice of shade over the stoop.

Not a great study spot, but a wonderful view.

The tour buses apparently arrived in convoys, spilling streams of visitors out onto the courtyard below, until the stone pavement was covered by a sea of bodies.

Tour operators waved signs and flags and yelled at their groups so that any polite conversation was drowned in a multi-language cacophany.

Just below my perch, a young woman fashioned a strip of cloth into a garment that would both cover her bikini top, and reach her knees. No entrance without modest attire.

A tiny woman in front of her leaned wearily over a stick. Her face broke the monotony of the widow’s garb she wore, revealing a weathered face and tragic expression.

The relentless afternoon sun blazed merciless over the pedestrian gridlock, escalating the obvious discomfort and impatience.

“This place is nothing like Jesus,” I protested inwardly.

I contemplated the gold and glitter inside and the religous disagreements that unevenly divide up the site.

Also, the armed soldiers stationed along the Via Dolorosa, and the Western Wall pressing against the Dome of the Rock… and the unlikelihood of peace in the Middle East

I felt disgusted by it all, especially when I thought about the peace and beauty back at the Garden Tomb. But then it hit me… two back to back whispers in my soul that caught me completely off guard:

1) The Holy Sepulcher reflects Jesus’ real life in the real world.

The Holy Sepulcher is a representation of the world in which Jesus lived. Big crowds, mixed motivations, political oppression, religious division, conflict, corruption, dust, heat…

2) The Garden Tomb reflects Jesus’ inner reality.

The Garden Tomb is a representation of the beauty of Jesus’ heart, full of love, peace, joy, compassion

External conflict didn’t undo Jesus–he lived from the inside out, bringing beauty and transformation to his external world. And this is where lasting calm starts…

It All Starts on the Inside

That day at the Holy Sepulcher I caught a glimpse of inside-out living–the truth that if we find calm inside, we won’t be rocked by the chaos outside.

I recommitted to daily quiet time and more prayer, but, too be honest, not a whole lot changed.

Note: Don’t ever give up. Change is possible.

I suppose my desire for change at that point was theoretical. More likely than not, I knew it wouldn’t be comfortable and I was holding out for a magic wand kind of miracle.

Looking back, it’s easy to see that I really wasn’t ready to let go of those good feelings that came when I proved myself, pleased someone, or successfully jumped through yet another hoop. And the outside kudos for doing the very things meant to connect us to Jesus really complicated the journey.

Note: It takes time, but it will happen and it will be worth every bit of patience and sacrifice and struggle.

It is helpful to know that there are things, good and bad, that can accelerate the process–if we let them. Getting married, a new job, success, physical illness, mental health challenges, financial crisis, relationship heartbreak, failure…

For me, it was a good and wonderful thing. Parenthood.

Ready or not, here we come!

Our people know when what we’re saying doesn’t completely jive with what’s going on, or what we really believe, inside. Especially our kids. And they tell us–they breath our air and live out our truths.

We can exert great energy explaining ourselves and defending our head truths, or we can pause, listen, engage, and actually get curious about what really drives us.

The day I randomly told my son (always trying to be the affirming mother), “I love you the same no matter how well you play in that recital” was a big step in this journey.

He looked at me appreciatively, like he needed to hear that.

Tears came from nowhere and pushed my eyes wide open. In my heart of hearts I understood that any performance anxieties I had were going to leak out and compete with the message I wanted him to get above all else.

So I started listening. To my beloveds, to myself. And there was one day when I really heard, loud and clear, the intention, the insecurity, the anxiety behind some (sincere) nice words I was saying. (Yes, we are people of mixed motives–always–and it’s to our advantage to notice all of them).

The inside-out truth found it’s forever home in my heart and I prayed. “I get it. Help! I’m ready for inside work. And please cover for me in this process–let my kids see the good, feel my love through it all.”

I should probably mention that perimenopause moved things to roller coaster speeds (replete with the twists, turns and drops) and it was helpful to work with a therapist.

Pushing pause to listen and get real, to know myself, has been The Thing that has helped me to open up inside–creating space for change I’d prayed for.

Getting to know yourself is an adventure filled with all of the highs and lows that any adventure brings. And it’s a great deal easier if you choose curiosity over criticism in the process.

It’s scary to realize your humanness when you’ve tried to be good (perfect?) your whole life.

It’s also thrilling to feel the freedom of your uniqueness and to realize you are only called to be who you are and bring what you have.

Does this make you self-centered?

Does this eliminate your need for God?

No and no. When you give your full self, you serve better, whole heartedly. When you can listen to yourself, you will be a better listener to someone else. And, when you open up inside, you open up space for God to bring life and transformation in truly miraculous, organic ways–no magic wand.

If we cannot be honest with ourselves how on earth can we be honest with anyone else, let alone God?

You Can Start Right Now

Pause. Consider inviting God into the process.

Breathe into your belly and let that breath out.

Feel your body, every inch of it. From your right great toe up to the place where your neck meets your head. What do you feel?

Notice any tightness and tension. Let your jaw drop. Notice your emotions. Be curious, not critical.

Practice these steps often, until the exercise feels familiar. Turn the exercise into a habit, so when chaos strikes, it come naturally to do check in with yourself. This is a good starting place.

Stay aware of what’s going on inside and see what happens. And if you’d like to see how this practice recently helped me get a good night’s sleep, check this out.

Calmly yours,

Alicia

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