Being still is something I continue to struggle with, nearly ten years after starting a blog called “Be Still and Know” which is both ironic and a completely natural human experience. Lately, I’ve felt this lack of stillness in my need to distract myself from moments that felt uncomfortable. While I’ve grown a lot in recognizing when the desire to control my feelings has taken over, it turns out I’m creative in tricking myself into thinking I’m accepting my feelings when I’m actually not.
A couple weeks ago, while home in Humboldt, my sister Sarah gave me Ann Voskamp’s book Waymaker to read. I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump after a couple books (one for fun and one for school) that I didn’t enjoy at all. So, I embraced this bookish serendipity and started to read. Sometimes just the right book comes along at just the right time. Thank you, Jesus!
After marking several passages throughout the book, I came to these lines: “…Driven and motivated to always feel okay is not a steadying way to navigate your one life. If your only way to navigate your inner landscape is to manipulate, control, and dominate your outer landscape, you’ve lost the map to joy” (Waymaker, pg. 302).
Oh, this is so relatable! Previously in life, my attempts to control my outer landscape involved excessive planning, many rules around food and exercise, and generally avoiding anything that would upset me. In recent months, I’ve found myself turning addictively to an afternoon coffee, alcohol at night, bedtime snacking, and a compulsion to scroll social media. I somehow started watching cheerleading stunt and jump roping reels on a regular basis!
While I’d learned that planning, monitoring, and rule-making were red flags that I was controlling my emotions and needed to practice acceptance and surrender to my beloved Savior, these newer habits crept up on me slowly and insidiously. They were little, common activities that I could easily justify. However, in my heart of hearts, in those moments I became still enough to listen, I knew that these activities were all meant to make me feel “good” and/or repress feeling “bad”. They were control strategies, many of which (as a diabetic) had real consequences for my health.
Years ago I read a book called Women, Food, and God by Geneen Roth. Since many of the routines I was noticing surrounded food, I decided to pick it up again to see which passages I’d marked in my previous read. This one hit home:
Eventually, we get so tired of trying to fix ourselves that we stop. We see that we’ve never been able to make ourselves good. Never been able to accomplish ourselves into being someone else. And so we stop trying. We see there is no goal, no end place, no test to take. No one is keeping score. No one is watching us and deciding whether we are worthy enough to ascend. As one of my teachers once said: “You can’t be stuck if you’re not trying to get anywhere.” Eventually we see that it was the investment in brokenness, the constant effort to fix ourselves, that was the very thing that kept the wholeness at bay. If you think that your job is to fix what is broken, you keep finding more broken places to mend (pg. 72-73)
My attempts to fix myself are, again, somewhat more concealed than they used to be. Now, it seems that I’m trying to fix my emotional reaction to life by repressing my feelings and continuing to cope well, regardless of the hard moments I experience. On some level, I decided to keep marching on and handling everything well by not breaking down or letting the difficult feelings in. But, I needed to control my inner landscape through my outer landscape of distraction, stimulants, and/or numbing.
Being still is not enough, in and of itself. Learning to trust God in moments of struggle, anxiety, or fear is the most rewarding work. When I distract and/or numb, I am literally blocked from accessing the peace that trusting God delivers. Allowing myself to feel pain and discomfort is the path that leads to experiencing God’s love and provision. He’s is always God and always tenderly in-charge of my life. True peace and comfort comes when I rest in His goodness with nothing in the way to distract me.