Anger. Distrust. Blame. Fear. Hate.
Pointing fingers and sharp words have filled our screens in the past year as divisions in our country and world have widened. The chasm between our political parties, religions, nationalities, races, and classes has never seemed wider.
During the summer of 2016 I stepped back from writing as much to focus on my family and some big life changes. In the midst of the growing anger spewing forth in social media newsfeeds and media outlets, I found myself withdrawing from much online presence at all. I felt like all of the negativity was seeping out between each keystroke and suffocating me. Mounting anxieties in my personal life mixed with all the fear and anger were becoming just too much. As a writer whose work appears mostly online, I wasn’t sure how to continue. I wanted to retreat, to just run away from it all.
Then, in the midst of more racially-charged violence sweeping our nation, a ray of light appeared in a darkening online world. Scrolling through stories on facebook, about ready to shut it all out, I received an invite from a friend to the Prayers of the People event hosted by Deidre Riggs.
It was a simple idea. Log on at the same time or whenever you can and post prayers in this time of great need and pain. It wasn’t a huge event. About 400 people logged on. But the impact was profound, at least for my wilting spirit.
Peace. Humility. Brokenness. Love. Unity.
In that simple online space I saw hands grasping for the Father, for each other across the divides. In spite of them. Because of them.
Startled by the soft touch on my shoulder, I turned to see the concerned eyes of my seven-year-old daughter peering into my own tear-filled eyes. I scooped her up into my lap and together we read the prayers aloud and talked about the events in our country that had prompted them. We talked about the way so many were returning anger for anger and how Christ calls us to love our enemy instead.
I walked away that day with a conviction that running away wasn’t the answer. Staying and fighting is. “Prayer is how we battle,” Deidre posted. Someone commented: “Prayer is how we battle not only injustice but our own anger and discouragement.” I was broken in that moment because I realized I had been tempted to just retreat, to back away and throw up my hands. I asked God to keep my eyes open, to show me how to do battle.
I’ve been thinking about those prayers a lot these days, revisiting that facebook page to read the prayers and learn how to live them. We stand at the precipice of a change in our country that threatens to further divide us. So much fear swirls around the unknown ahead...
I stare into the gleaming white lights of the Christmas tree until they blur together and dance across my vision, that tree adorned with symbols of peace and hope:
The star that lights the way to the one who delivers. The angel that sings of peace on earth. The manger that holds the hope of the world inside.
We love to sing and ponder the wonder of this time of year, to hold the beauty of a silent night close to our hearts.
But so often our hearts are anything but at peace as the holiday draws near and the flickering lights mock us. Hope seems out of reach and a silent night is all but a story in a children’s book that we can’t imagine being our reality.
What then? Does Christmas offer anything when all is not calm and bright?
So much unknown darkens the heart of Christmas for me this year. The gloom of declining health of family members casts a shadow over celebration. The grief of a life in transition and the uncertainty of what lies ahead in the coming months hangs over all our festivities. The never-ending parade of duties overshadows the sacred Advent call to waiting and expecting.
And that’s just my tiny little world. I can’t even begin to name the darkness that threatens to overtake so many people this season — the fear of what is to come in our divided nation, the death raining down on a city under siege across the world tonight, the bombs claiming more and more lives each day.
As darkness threatens to close in, I sit in the quiet where tiny dots of light are piercing the night. It’s here in the dancing shadows cast down by the sparkling evergreen reminder of hope that I realize this: peace comes with a cost.
I think about the land the Word became flesh in all those years ago, the people Christ came to when He became a babe. The Israelites had a history of wanting redemption without the cost. So do I...
I have a secret addiction.
It started out as this little thing. Everyone else swears it is harmless, even helpful. But its influence grew stronger in my life. It became indispensable . It’s my smartphone and I want to throw it out the window!
I was pretty late to the whole world of being connected to the Internet 24 hours a day via an electronic device that makes you prefer chewing off your arm over forgetting it at home. I swore I was sticking to a paper calendar, to checking my email only at my computer.
I only caved two years ago. Now, like everyone else – I am hooked on something I both need and despise. I see a room full of people mindlessly checking social media instead of talking to those next to them and I want to burn every last phone in the room. But then I find myself sneaking my phone into the bathroom so I can just check that one email I need to get to.
Technology is supposed to make our lives simpler, right? A smartphone is a minimalist's dream. You can have your contacts, books, calendar, directions, work, shows, and even your Bible all in one place. So much in one little device. Right at your fingertips.
It may have everything I think I need in one shiny little computer that tucks neatly into my purse, but I find that it creates more chaos than it eases in my life. My phone may save me space for all the functions it does for me, but it is my mind that has become a tangled mess of more junk than I need. The clutter in my soul has become overwhelming.
The voices I let into my head have been magnified and are just one little swipe away. There are really only a few voices I need to listen to every day.
I have this pretty little print by Lysa TerKeurst on my mirror that reminds me of the voice I need to seek first: “We must exchange whispers with God before shouts with the world.”
I don’t look at those words often. I usually glance past them to the phone sitting on the counter. It’s this little portal to all the to-do lists screaming for my attention, the dings from my calendar telling me I better get moving or I’ll be late, the opinions waiting to shove their way through all the noise to assert themselves as the right ones.
Then there are those little voices that don’t shout above all the noise. They just quietly try to edge their way into all my mental chaos, the million things running through my mind that I have to attend to. They are the voices that ask, “Mommy, look?” or “Honey, how was your day?”
Being connected to the world all the time is easy, but it is anything but simple. It’s complicated and tiring. We are not designed for constant connection. I know this but I am ever so slowly learning to live it...
Do you feel overwhelmed with all the voices shouting for your attention, find yourself hating the chaos and longing for peace and rest? Join me in the Mudroom for a look at cleaning out the clutter in your soul. Join me there?
That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
I didn’t realize until I started looking at the qualities of a quiet heart, just how clear it is in Scripture that fear is the opposite of peace.
Listen to any message on the well-known story in the gospels of Jesus calming the storm and it usually focuses on the actual act of calming the storm. One thing I have noticed as I have been looking at the gospels through the lens of what Jesus was doing is that Jesus’ peace was never broken. There He was sleeping in the middle of the storm, not taken by surprise by it.
In fact, it was Jesus’ idea to go to the other side of the lake. He knew what was coming and He led the disciples straight into the storm.
So often, I think I treat God as if He must not know the storm I find myself in the middle of, forgetting that He knows all and leads me every step of the way. Instead, I scream at Him, “Don’t you care about me in the middle of this storm?”
Not only did Jesus lead His friends knowingly into the storm; He went with them. He didn’t send them out into a frightening encounter with the wind and waves alone, but He went right along with them, the power to command the elements in His grasp.
I’ve got some burdens on my heart in the moment, some storms brewing in my heart. It is so natural for me, like the disciples, to forget that Jesus is right there in the boat with me. He is not troubled because He knows what is ahead and He knows who holds all the power. And He’s right there with me.
Fear will lead to a lack of faith and a heart that is raging against the storm, yelling at God to come save us.
A quiet heart will trust that He already has saved us, knowing we might have to pass through a storm or two. But we won’t do it alone.
Quiet is something I only know in the late moments of the day when the two wild ones are asleep. Many days I am awoken by four year old wonder, a steady stream of words and questions in my ear. All day they fight for our attention, a tangle of words tumbling over one another. They want to be heard and to make their presence known.
Even in the final hours of the night, he creeps into her bed and we hear hushed laughs coming from her room. Only when they both drift off to sleep is all quiet in our home.
Sometimes I crave those moments but even then, all is not quiet in my mind. To-do lists and deadlines loom, tomorrow's worries tease the corners of my thoughts and replays of today's mistakes linger.
Real quiet is more than the absence of noise. It is something inside the heart.
It is peace.
Look up the definition of peace and you will see the words quiet, tranquility. Quiet and peace are one and the same in the heart and mind.
So often I spend my time looking for the absence of noise instead of perfect peace. All of the busyness of life can stop and still there be no peace. Avoidance and distraction can masquerade for a while but only God can really bring the perfect peace I am looking for.
Isaiah 26.3 says, "you will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!" Keeping my thoughts off of my fears or my worries isn't going to bring peace. Keeping my thoughts fixed on God and His truth is where the quiet will start to take hold of my heart.
"God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing," said C.S. Lewis. Today I need to stop looking for peace in the world, for an absence of chaos and noise. There is no such thing. If a quiet heart is at perfect peace, a quiet heart is stayed on Him.