If somehow you have missed out on the bizarre pop culture trend that has brought this image to every major retailer near you and just about everyone elses Pinterest page, let me illuminate you.
"Keep Calm and Carry On," was the stiff-upper-lip motto of the British -- particularly Londoners -- during World War II, when they were in constant threat of German bombs. Even before the Olympics in London, this slogan and sign caught on. Target carries a line of paper products that says "Keep Calm and Birthday On" in hot pink. On Etsy, you can buy a sign that says "Keep Calm and Expecto Patronum" (for all you Harry Potter fans).
And just this last weekend, at the MOPS International Convention in Grapevine, Texas, the MOPS staff were wearing shirts that said "Keep Calm and Mother On."
A noble sentiment. I really wish I were calmer. I wish I were more even tempered. I wish my spirit was more settled, that my brain moved slower, that my anxiety -- spiritual and otherwise -- was less.
Before I left for the convention, as I blogged in "A Mother or an Entourage," I was feeling overwhelmed by the preparations needed to leave my children. But even more than that, I was besieged by spiritual anxiety, which I can't write about when it is currently affecting me. The details are not important at this moment (I'll get to them in months to come, I'm sure), but I was struggling with God. His love for the world felt far off to me; I couldn't quite believe in it. And I was mad about this, because what I really wanted to do was go to this leadership convention with a full heart, ready to worship, learn, and have fun. I didn't want to attend seminars on encouraging other young mothers when I didn't feel encouraged myself. I didn't want to be battling my rebelious heart and my anxious brain the whole time.
I told this to my pastor Shelly, both before I left for the trip, and I was crying to her in the lunch lobby outside the workshop from which I was playing hooky.
"Look around you, Amanda," Shelly said. "Do you see all these women crying?" She was right. Throughout the long weekend, there were pockets of women with their arms around each other, praying and crying as they fought their own demons, internal or external. Many of the leaders were in pain. But they were leading anyway.
The night before I got on the plane, I was considering not going. This was perfectionist thinking, friends, the kind I have sworn, in writing and in front of live audiences, to put an end to. But old habits die hard.
Do you ever think this way?
If I can't worship with a whole heart, I won't worship.
If I can't lead without making a mistake, I won't lead.
If I can't know the answer to all my questions, I'll just stop asking any.
If I can't feel the peace of Christ at all times, it must not be real.
My primary mental problem, is that when I experience doubt, fear, or anxiety, especially about God himself, I tend to want to go into my laundry room (sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively), shut the door and try to figure it our by myself. I don't feel I should approach God until I'm totally sure what I think about him. I don't want to tell any of my Christian friends what is going on.
This is not a good idea. If I find it hard to understand the heart of God when I'm seeking his presence, how could I possibly do better when I'm consciously hiding from him and his people?
The final speaker at the MOPS seminar was Kay Warren, wife to Rick Warren of Saddleback Church. She spoke primarily about shame. In order to have real community with other women, she said, we have to allow them to see the things about us for which we feel ashamed. God is not afraid of our dark places. As God's followers, we need to boldly enter the dark places of others and shine light into them. Sometimes that means crying together. Sometimes, it means shouting. Sometimes it even means shouting at God. Ironically, this honesty about our shame leads to connection and hope.
I was in Paper Source yesterday (one of my favorite places) making a return of excess black envelopes. The woman in front of me was buying half a dozen greeting cards, and I saw this one as it was being scanned.
I left the counter immediately and got one for myself, which cost me all my store credit plus one dollar and 15 cents. On the way home, I thought of so many people I could send it to, and by sending it to them, I would have been showing them compassion in the best way I could think of. "Your situation/relationship/life/illness is tough right now," I would have been saying. "Go ahead and freak out if you want to. I will listen. And when you're done, we'll see if we can't find some hope in this situation."
Fact is, I can't afford to send this card to everyone I would like to send it to. So I am blogging it to all of you instead, and hopefully not violating too many copyright laws to do so. Then I am saving it for myself. It is currently on the bulletin board in my laundry room, the place I go to freak out.
And every time I have gone in there in the last 24 hours, I have felt that perhaps God is sending this card to me.
"Go ahead and freak out, Amanda," he might be saying. "I can take it. Read Lamentations. Read the Psalms. My people have been bringing their woes, complaints and confusion to me for thousands of years and yours are no worse than theirs. I am not offended. I will give you answers at the right time. And forget trying to hide from me in the laundry room. I'm in here, too."
Today, I read Psalm 139, verses 7 through 12.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, "Surely the darkness [in my laundry room] will hide me
and the light become night around me,"
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
Whatever you're doing right now...keeping calm and carrying on...or freaking out and throwing things...God is with you. He's not afraid of your doubt, anger or fear. And he loves you. So don't even bother trying to hide.