The Power of Calm

“Do we want to infect people with more anxiety or heal ourselves and the people around us with calm?” -Brene’ Brown

This quote immediately jumped out at me the first time I read The Gifts of Imperfection. As someone who struggles significantly with anxiety, I was challenged to consider the effect that my anxiety might have on others. Anxiety is contagious. I know this to be true from personal experience. When I spend time with stressed out, anxious people, I find myself feeling more stressed out and anxious. As a teacher, I’ve noticed that on the days when I’m stressed or worried, my students tend to be more on edge as well. As humans, I think that we tend to match the emotions of the people around us.

The sad truth is that stress and anxiety are practically an epidemic in our culture. The pace of our lives is too busy and frenetic. Living in a digital age, we are bombarded by information overload via technology. And on top of all that, we hear stories of disasters around the world on what feels like a daily basis. It’s no wonder that so many of us are crippled with stress and anxiety. And sadly I’m realizing that my anxiety has the power to seep into my relationships and negatively affect the people around me.

However, I’ve also been realizing something very hopeful. While anxiety has the potential to spread like a disease, calm is equally contagious. I believe that calm has the power to heal anxiety.

Have you ever been around someone that exudes calm? My dad is one of those people. He is rarely stressed out or anxious. He simply takes each day as it comes and doesn’t worry about the things he can’t control. He is slow to speak and quick to listen. He regularly uses his sense of humor to diffuse tense situations. He takes his time when making important decisions and refuses to rush. For an anxious person like myself, spending time with calm people can be so healing.

I want to become a calmer presence for the people around me. I’m learning several strategies for bringing calm to anxious situations. For example, when a student is upset, I’m learning that it’s important to speak with them slowly, in a quiet voice. I try to match their level of agitation with an equal level of calm. I’m learning that simply listening and asking questions can help when a friend or loved one is stressed. I’ve also realized that it’s perfectly ok not to respond right away. Taking a deep breath and just stopping to think can be a powerful strategy in a challenging situation. Although my natural default in tense moments is often anxiety and stress, I know that I can change that.

I want to learn how to be a non-anxious presence.

Advertisements

Creativity 

I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of creativity. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I recently read Brene’ Brown’s book “The Gifts of Imperfection”. In this book, she explains that a key component of living a wholehearted life is embracing creativity. She notes that a lot of people are afraid to express themselves creatively because being creative is vulnerable. It takes a lot of courage to create something new and share it with the world.

Her perspective on creativity has really got me thinking about my own relationship with creativity. For as long as I can remember I’ve always loved creative forms of self expression. Growing up, I enjoyed scrapbooking, sewing, making jewelry, and doing basically anything crafty. I also loved writing music on my guitar and had a season in high school where I wrote a new song every week! I’ve always loved writing as well. A couple of years ago, I found a stack of “books” that I’d written as a child that I remember being so proud of.

However, when I started college, my creativity fell by the wayside. Life became too busy and I experienced a lot of stress balancing school, work, student teaching practicums, and other other commitments. Looking back, I realize that I simply stopped prioritizing creativity in my life. Now that I’m out of college and working as a teacher, I have more free time again. It’s been so exciting to rediscover my passion for music and writing. And I’m hoping to explore some other creative avenues in the near future as well.

Brene’ Brown’s work has also got me thinking about the way that I encourage creativity in my students. She explains that most people who struggle with creativity have “art scars” from elementary school. They can remember a specific time that a teacher or another student devalued their art because if wasn’t like everybody else’s.  I don’t want to be that teacher. I want my classroom to be a place where my students see their own work as unique and valuable. I want to have a classroom environment where it is safe to take creative risks. I’m not completely sure yet what that looks like practically, but it’s something that I want to keep exploring. 

As You Are 

“Jesus came to bring you out of the shadows. He sees you and He loves you-just as you are, not as you should be. Let him love you just as you are.” -Sally Lloyd Jones

I read this quote today and it really ministered to me. Sometimes I feel defeated by the areas of my life that are broken, including my constant struggle with anxiety. I am frustrated by how my anxiety limits me and causes me to miss out on so many things. And at times my anxiety causes me to even feel unworthy of God’s love and acceptance.

But this is not God’s heart towards me. God’s love for me is not based on who I “should” be. He sees me just as I am. Anxious. Stressed. Unsettled. Restless. Unsure. Afraid.

And He loves me.

The Gift of Limits 

I woke up feeling especially tired this morning after a long, exhausting week. I also felt acutely aware of my limits and the ways that I pushed too hard this past week. I regularly ignore my limits. I say yes to too many things, work too late, and keep going when I know I need to stop and rest.

My natural inclination is to view my limits in a negative light. However, I’m learning that my limits are actually a gift. God has graciously created us with natural limits. We need sleep. We need food. We need rest. We need help and suppport. We were not created to be self-sufficient. We were created to need God and to need others.

I’m learning that I have a lot of limits. First of all, I have physical limits. As the teacher of a very busy class I’m learning that I need 8 hours of sleep each night and a good breakfast just to make it through the day. I have emotional limits. Sometimes the needs of my students and the people around me feel very overwhelming and I need to take time to journal or process my emotions with someone I trust. As an introvert, I have major limits when it comes to people. I love spending time with people, but I also need long stretches of alone time to recharge and feel like myself again. My age and lack of life experience are limits as well. When I encounter difficult situations as a teacher or even in my personal life, I need wisdom and advice from others.

I’m learning that these limits really are a gift. They remind me that I can’t manage life on my own. I need God. I need others. And that is something to be thankful for.

Wonder 

May we never lose our wonder. May we never lose our wonder. Wide-eyed and mystified, may we be just like a child, staring at the beauty of the King.” Bethel Music

There are moments in life that inspire child-like wonder. Just the other day I had such an experience when I was walking from my car to my apartment. In the span of just a few short seconds, I became keenly aware of the beauty of Fall- the crisp air, the changing leaves, and the wonderful sense of coziness I felt wearing my scarf and sweater. It was like I was experiencing Autumn for the first time and I felt an almost giddy, childlike excitement.

This same sense of wonder overtakes me when I drive in my car at dusk, blasting my favorite music. Or when I walk behind a waterfall. Or when I see sunlight coming through a thick grove of trees. Or when I dip my toes in the ocean. Or when I listen to beautiful harmonies. Or when I experience a moment of connection with someone I care about. There are so many moments in life that inspire wonder.

However, I think that the older we get, the more we lose our sense of wonder. We become too busy and the pace of our lives is too frenetic. We succumb to the cynicism and pessimism that is such a natural part of our culture. We become overwhelmed with the anxieties of life. And we miss the daily wonders that are all around us.

As a child, having a sense of wonder was a natural part of who I was. Now it’s something I have to fight for. In the midst of the chaotic busyness of life, I have to make conscious choices to keep my sense of wonder. Sometimes it means stopping to fully experience a beautiful song, going on a spontaneous waterfall hike, or simply choosing to fully engage in the present moment with someone I love.

I don’t ever want to lose my wonder.

True Courage

I recently took the Enneagram for the first time. The Enneagram is a personality test that examines your core fears, desires, and motivations in life. Reading about my Enneagram type was a very enlightening for me. I learned that I am a Type 2 in the Enneagram system which is known as the “Helper” type. This type posses many strengths. Type 2s tend to be warm and caring people who love encouraging and helping others. They are good at understanding people and helping people understand themselves. This resonated with me and these are some of the traits that I value within myself.

However, as I kept reading, I also learned some things about my Enneagram type that hit a little too close to home. For example, helpers have a core need to be needed. They tend to base their identity on the approval of others and need a lot of validation. While this type loves taking care of other people’s needs, they struggle to let other people help them. And can you guess the sin that they ten to struggle with the most? Pride.

This description really resonated with me. I hate asking people for help. Maybe it’s because I’m worried that I’ll inconvenience them. Perhaps I fear that they’ll be annoyed with me. However, if I’m really honest with myself, the root is pride. I don’t want to admit that I’m struggling. I want to appear like I have it all together and can manage just fine on my own.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been reading a lot of Brene’ Brown’s work. Her perspective on asking for help has really got me thinking. The following quote comes from her book “Rising Strong”:

“When you judge yourself for needing help, you judge those you are helping. When you attach value to giving help, you attach value to needing help. The danger of tying your self worth to being a helper is feeling shame when you have to ask for help. Offering help is courageous and compassionate, but so is asking for help.”

She suggests that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It is actually one of the most vulnerable and courageous things a person can do. It’s also a key component of healthy, mutual relationships. I’m also realizing that when I don’t let people in, I’m not fully loving them. Loving others means giving AND receiving. When I refuse to let people help me, I’m actually robbing them of the joy that comes from helping others. Just like helping others makes me feel good, letting others help me makes them feel good.

So I’m learning to ask for help when I need it. Because it’s actually a very courageous thing to do.

Beloved 

“The characteristic of the blessed ones is that, wherever they go, they always speak words of blessings. It is remarkable how easy it is to bless others, to speak good things to and about them, to call forth their beauty and truth, when you yourself are in touch with your own blessedness… the voice that calls us the Beloved will give us words to bless others and reveal to them that they are no less blessed than we.” -Henri Nowen 

Henri Nowen is one of my favorite authors and this quote from “Life of the Beloved” is one of my favorites. This quote speaks a simple but profound truth that has been turning my life upside down. In order to fully love others, I need to discover my identity as God’s Beloved.

As an immense perfectionist, I tend to be very self critical and harsh in the way I view myself. I’ve always thought that I could be hard on myself and at the same time graciously love others. However, I’m learning that this is just not the case. There is a direct correlation between the way I view myself and the way that I love others.

In order to show authentic kindness to others, I must be kind to myself.

In order to extend grace to others, I must fully experience and be transformed by God’s grace.

In order to act compassionately, I must practice self-compassion.

In order to fully delight in others, I must be confident that God delights in me.

In order to affirm the uniqueness in others, I must see my own uniqueness as a gift to be shared.

And in order to truly love the people around me, I must know at the core of my being that I am God’s Beloved.