Are you overwhelmed?
August is closing in. The corner is close and September approaches and I think in just a few more weeks I’ll be sane again. I’ve forgotten birthdays, meals, and even meetings I was to lead. Once the schedule is routine, classes are comfortable, house is somewhat clean, dinner has the potential to be made. Once dates have an opportunity to reappear, ministry becomes rhythmic, volunteers are trained. Once bosses and clients are serene from their own desire to accomplish the exact list above or whose spouses have nested the family for fall and they have had their own share of dates and naps and family dinners… once all that happens, then I’ll be good. Surely just a few more weeks. Once that happens I won’t be so forgetful. Hey family, let’s just get through this season.
Is your soul echoing the demands and subsequent excuses that mine spills out? Are you overwhelmed? Forgetful? Tired?
Last night we had 40 kids in our living room. Squeezed on the couch, pushed against the wall, cramped on the floor. Music blared, pizza disappeared, coke spilled. Chaos sweetly contained and guided towards Christ by God’s mercy and laughter. Last night all flowed toward the truth that your identity is defined by Jesus, not other people.
My identity is defined by Jesus and what He says about me.
I am worthy. I am forgiven. I am loved. I am a delight to my King. So are you.
Eye contact followed, then prayer and graces. Kids filed out, parents waved and cars rolled away. It was dusk and the music remained.
But as I reflect about last night, the memory that stands out so vivid to me is Landon sitting on our porch swing, arm open for our eight year old, Abram to lounge against. Headphones on and completely drawn into his own cyber world, he rested and rocked and just sat. The calm before the storm was the tagline attached to the Instagram photo #LastNightAtFuse. And I’m reminded of the dire need for calm moments before the storm of the day.
I’m not talking about a 10 minute devotion before rushing out the door, although I would encourage myself to have one. Nor am I talking about prayer, which now lives in each breath I take. I’m not talking about community with believers, although it is of utmost importance to live real with another friend. I’m not talking about worship as America uses the word for singing and church and sermons and challenges, but please know it is crucial as well for our growth as believers. Nor am I talking about serving others through the day or pouring out in direct or indirect ministries, although I could not argue the divine rewards of such after seventeen years of pouring and growing, planting and reaping, loving and crying. To serve is mercy. Truly it is.
The calm before the storm that I seek is an inner peace that births from my soul conjoined with God Almighty.
That is it. Simple. Life altering.
New creation stuff. Lord Jesus, merge my mind with yours. Unite my heart with yours. Slip into my body and control my actions. By your mercy, because of your selfless act of sanctifying my soul, fuse mine with yours.
Okay, so I said it - I meant it - I prayed it… what now? How does that happen? I know it is divine work performed by God alone, but what can I do? Even if it is just being - how do I “be”?
Teresa of Avila, a spanish nun from the sixteenth century, brought some clarity to my question of how to live in the calm before the storm in her notable, Interior Castle which I will very roughly paraphrase to answer my own intrigue. The following is from her section entitled, “Wonderful Capacities” and references abstaining from earthly pleasures yet personally brought insight on how to live in the calm and therefore how to survive the storm.
Reason tells the soul how mistaken it is in thinking earthly pleasures are of the slightest value in comparison with what it is seeking. Faith instructs the soul in what it must do to find true satisfaction. Memory reminds it how all of those pleasures come to an end… The will inclines the soul to love God, the One in whom it has seen so many acts and signs of love. In particular, the will shows the soul how this True Lover never leaves it, but goes with it everywhere and gives it life and being. Then the understanding comes forward and makes the soul realize that, for however many years it may live, it can never hope to have a better friend… It is reflections of this kind which vanquish devils.
Use your body, as I learn to use mine.
Reason first. Form mental judgements by logic, convicted of the times earthly pleasures have failed me. Remember when I sought them to fulfill God-given needs and was left empty and broken. Watch in others how the poison of earthly pleasures misguides them. Money, passion, possessions. Don’t forget previous judgement calls - good ones and failed ones.
With reason concluded, act in faith. Faith will point towards true satisfaction which is found in Christ. Faith is not a feeling, rather an action. (Elizabeth Elliot). Act in faith, being obedient to what divine reason has instructed you to do. Faith will not fail you.
Memory may be stored in the mind, but is triggered by the heart. Rely on your heart, the heart of Christ, to dwell on His faithfulness. Allow your heart to bring up memories of answered prayers and those unanswered that you are now grateful they remained so. Praise God for His promises to the hundreds of people in our Bible and in our hearts.
Even if the feelings we desire are not there, we must still will our soul to love God. Teresa of Avila earlier writes, “However feeble such prayers may be, God values them highly.” He takes our crumbs and pennies and frantic searches and blesses them.
Then understanding will come. That is the peace we seek; the calm before the storm where we long to dwell. An understanding that all is God’s and He is all.
Daniel, in his own ways, urged King Nebuchandnezzar to love the authority of God. It wasn’t until his kingdom was stripped away and after years of stormy contemplation that the king glorified our true God. Drenched with the dew of heaven he declared, “I raised my eyes to heaven and my understanding* returned to me. I praised the Most High God and glorified Him who lives forever.” (Daniel 4:34)
I use my mind, my hands, my heart, my soul in search for peace.
Reason with your mind asking what is true.
Act in faith with your hands and feet.
Allow your heart to bring up memories of God’s faithfulness.
Let your soul guide will power to settle on God’s goodness and obey.
Anticipate an understanding to come forward and make the soul realize that, for however many years it may live, it can never hope to have a better friend.**
Don’t wait for the storm to come. Practice the presence of God in the calm knowing that forever and always a storm is around the corner. Jesus himself pleads for us to be ready.
* "My reason returned to me…” Some translations
** The final part of that sentence is a quote from from Teresa of Avila.
originally written Aug 29, 2014 and one of the few salvaged from an old blog.
photo taken by Natalie Watson