Do you ever feel like you are full of contradictions, all wrapped up in one body? I am both a people-pleasing conflict avoider and *at times* a stubbornly argumentative aggressor, which can be confusing but makes more sense in light of my Enneagram number (6). I want to please others but sometimes just cannot seem to stop myself from getting into an argument about something that’s important to me. I inevitably feel embarrassed if not ashamed after these encounters and feel a bit like my evil twin took over my brain, upset some people, and then left me to deal with the fallout. Because I know this about myself, I’m working on showing better restraint and giving myself time to think before reacting, which has proven difficult but beneficial. In my anxiety, I feel an almost uncontrollable need to be in control (of myself and my environment, rather than be controlled), which expresses itself as scurrying about, preparing for the worst case scenario, and letting myself feel like I am doing something about whatever disaster awaits.
Recently, I had been fretting over an upcoming situation that was going to thrust me into uncomfortable proximity with someone with whom I have a challenging relationship. The clash of the other person’s unhealthy boundaries with my unhealthy boundaries can make for an unpleasant, unproductive time together. I find myself trapped in a pattern of trying to please the un-please-able and then feeling angry that all my efforts to behave well have been ineffective. I have trouble asserting myself in a firm but healthy manner without the motivational nudge—ok, shove— of anger. Lord, help me.
So. Now that you can see what a picnic I am, I want to tell you about what happens when God enters the picture. In order to appreciate the greatness of the Lord, you have to appreciate the imperfection He has to work with in yours truly.
I’ve prayed often about this relationship and asked for God to change my heart. As I was anticipating the upcoming situation, I woke up a few days before the Big Day and read Exodus 14:14:
The LORD will fight for you while you [only need to] keep silent and remain calm.
-Exodus 14:14 (Amplified version)
I had been so focused on praying about what to DO, I guess I forgot a little that God is doing something, unseen and unbeknownst to me, without my help. I was asking for help so I could do something about all the turmoil I anticipated but had forgotten that He might already be doing something.
I am crazy in love with Jesus, but I still sometimes have an underlying, quiet, subtle belief that He doesn’t care too much about my silly affairs because He has more important things to tend to. How easily I forget how smitten He is with His children!
Certainly, some situations call for action, while others call for waiting quietly and expectantly on the Lord. However, even when a situation does call for action, I no longer want to be a slave to my impulses and personality—the default settings that are programmed into my brain. I want my responses—whether they include action or restraint— to be chosen, intentional responses, not thoughtless reactions. So often what seems good to me in the moment is actually detrimental, and what seems harmful at first glance is sometimes wise and mature boundary setting in the long term. Because I can’t always count on myself to choose wisely, especially when emotions are running high, I need to cultivate a holy dependence on the Lord for direction. When He doesn’t give a clear answer, I can rely on what I know about His character, His word, past experience, and a healthy dose of common sense. Sometimes when I pause and listen, though, He takes me down a very different path than I would have chosen on my own.
I decided to trust that He is fighting for me, that He sees and knows and cares and has it under control. I chose to keep silent and remain calm when I wanted to speak up, assert myself, and get all worked up.
That decision, which I felt peace about only because He said He was fighting for me, freed up my mind and energy to enjoy the delights that were right before me: my firstborn’s newly toothless grin and the way my two year old scrunches up her nose, crinkles her eyes, shrugs her shoulders, and beams at me whenever we make eye contact, love oozing from every part of her teeny tiny being.
I finished the day feeling deeply grateful, fulfilled, and delighted as I sat in silence in His presence. More often than I’d like to admit, I have hard time being present with Him and with those whom I love, but this day, it felt easy and good. He pulled back the curtain and gave me a glimpse of the delight that awaits when I follow His lead, which in this instance meant keeping silent and remaining calm, trusting that He is fighting for me.* The scurrying, worrying, and mental chatter dissipated, and the joy that was set before me was almost more than I could bear.
When I lean on His wisdom, I am actually in more control than when I clamor for control that wasn’t mine in the first place. When He leads the way, my reactions become thoughtful responses, which gives me control over the only thing that is mine to control: my own wild self. All of that previously wasted energy spent trying to manage what is not mine to manage (i.e., situations and the feelings and behaviors of others) becomes available to enjoy a quiet mind, a calm demeanor, peace in relationships, and the beauty the Lord has set before me.
Show me your ways, Lord,
teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.
*I want to emphasize that “keeping silent and remaining calm” is absolutely NOT the right thing to do in every situation. We must ask the Lord for discernment and courage to speak up, stand up, and take action when He leads us to. In this particular situation, my speaking up would not have added anything beneficial to the situation.