You’ve seen it—the “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster. It was designed in England at the beginning of WW II. Despite not being well received at the time by the Brits, the Keep Calm slogan has had a resurgence of popularity. You can get t-shirts, hats, posters, and mugs with variations on the theme.
Keep calm I’m a ninja.
Keep calm and swag on.
Keep calm and hug your dog.
And this beauty—keep calm and aaah, a spider!
For lots of us, this is the wrong beginning point. It is the wrong assumption to assert that we can keep calm because that means we have a modicum of calm to start with! Are you stressed out? Or maybe, are you stressed out, but pretending not to be?
For lots of us, we often don’t know we have another choice. Saying “keep calm” is like saying, “go lasso the moon.”
So for those of us who have no calm to keep, let’s start at a different point. Let’s start from the point of learning about cultivating calm and still and letting go of anxiety as a lifestyle. This is one of the guideposts for wholehearted living that Brené Brown uncovered in her research.
Calm is maintaining perspective while managing emotional reactivity in the moment. First, we practice calm when we don’t over-identify with our emotions. Calm helps prevent the hard emotions from carrying us away.
Second, Brené found in her research that calm people breathe. People who are being calm and emotionally centered in anxious situations breathe. So, play along with me. Take a breath. Now, take a really good deep breath. That is the breath of calm.
Live into your daring leadership by breathing more. Before you answer a stressful question, breathe and silently pray, “Help, Lord.” Before you send that e-mail that is worrying you, breathe and pray, “You’re here, Lord.” Lots of my pastor friends and I love that breath in Hebrew is “ruah.” Ruah also means spirit or wind—the breath of God, the spirit of God. Breath and spirit are connected. When we cultivate calm and stillness, we reconnect with God.
Now let’s define the next part of this, stillness. Stillness is, created by clearing the emotional clutter and allowing ourselves to think, feel, dream and question. It is quiet of the soul. We can get there through many ways: walking, singing, sitting silently in prayer, painting, or trimming trees. Think about when it is you hear God’s voice the best.
Before it ever emerged in the research, calm and stillness were God’s ideas, called sabbath. Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy—to keep God’s people whole. Sabbath rest and stillness free us from emotional exhaustion. They invite us to see that God’s love and presence are for us to trust God has us even when sin and the brokenness in our lives say otherwise. Sabbath is countercultural in a society that says, “just do one more thing.” If we are seldom calm but often exhausted, we will struggle to hear God’s voice and discern God’s best for our lives and community.
Jesus prayed in stillness. The gift of being still is that we may see more of God and less of the troubles. No wonder Saint Paul wrote to the Romans, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (12:2). How do we transform our minds when they are packed with racing thoughts all the time?
On the cross, Jesus gives the gift of stillness; we don’t have to worry about our futures or our pasts. Jesus gives forgiveness, second chances, and new beginnings.
Maybe the new slogan should be, “Create calm and carry God’s peace.”
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