When I was a kid we used to take family vacations to the beach. My brother and I would spend hours in the water, body surfing and letting the waves carry us back to shore. It was a ton of fun until that one rogue wave grabbed our shoulders and shoved us into the sandy ocean floor instead of toward the shore. I remember more than once choking on saltwater, struggling to get back to the surface, as sand swirled up my nostrils. I had a few brief moments of panic before I was able to push myself out of the path of the waves.
The moments under the water, being pummeled by the waves, those moments were pure, terrifying chaos.
Chaos is unsettling, especially when it comes over us in waves. Sometimes it’s easy to look around us and see nothing but chaos.
Wildfires. Ebola. Trouble in the Middle East. Failed ceasefires. Death. Family conflict. Incredible heartache. Obliterated relationships. Nasty rumors. Failure. Mean people. All those things create swirling waves chaos in our world when we wish we could be sitting on the beach reading a nice book instead. Often it feels like we have no control, which is unsettling.
Though it’s true that we can’t keep all chaos at bay, it’s important to remember we do have control over some things. Here are a few things we can manage:
Our reactions. We may not be able to control what happens to us, but we can always control how we react to those situations. When terrible things happen around us, we can do what we can to help those who need it. When people treat us poorly, we can choose to walk away.
Our time. The great thing about life is that we all get the same amount of minutes in a day, every day we’re alive. We each have obligations–school, work, sleep…but outside of that, we get to choose to invest our lives in the things that are important to us. Of course, this also means that when we suddenly find we’re out of time for the most important things because we’ve packed too many things in (maybe in an effort to please others or because we’ve chosen to spend our time on things that aren’t always worth it), it’s nobody’s fault but our own. In the end, nobody else gets to control our time. (Um, unless you still live with your parents…then they actually do get to tell you what to do with some of your time. :-))
The level of vulnerability we expend. It’s true that vulnerability breeds deeper, more lasting and beautiful relationships. But those kinds of relationships aren’t something we have to foster with every person in our lives. Some people simply aren’t safe. And sometimes we just don’t connect with certain people. That’s okay. We’re allowed to be vulnerable only with those we choose to have that kind of relationship with.
How we care for ourselves. Unfortunately we can’t control what others do to us, and sometimes others cause major pain in our lives. But even though we can’t change what’s been done, we are able to choose how we care for ourselves in the wake of those difficult times. Caring for ourselves could mean getting help when it’s needed or being sure to eat healthy foods when we’d rather eat bad stuff or not eat at all. Or it could mean getting out of a dangerous relationship even though the thought of leaving is pretty scary. Choosing to care for ourselves, emotionally and physically, is one more thing we are able to do when things seem chaotic.
The way we speak to ourselves…and the way we allow others to speak to us. Most of us try to choose our friends wisely, and that usually means we aren’t going to hang out with people who put us down all the time. In fact, when others do try to push us around or make us feel “less than,” it’s okay to walk away and leave that conversation behind. The same thing goes for our thoughts. Have you ever looked in the mirror and told yourself harsh things? Or have you bombed a test and told yourself you’re stupid? Take those thoughts captive and re-train your brain to say only uplifting things. It’s difficult at first, but over time it becomes habit and we start to feel more settled as the young women God has made us to be.
In spite of all that, it’s still easy to feel like everything’s out of control. But the truth is, God is in control of each of our out of control situations. It sounds like a platitude, something people say when they don’t know what else to say in hard times. And truthfully, I don’t know how that works, how God can be in control and still let really terrible things happen. I guess that’s a part of faith. It’s hard and doesn’t make sense sometimes. That’s why we just keep asking the hard questions and searching for God’s answers. I’m there right now–working through a variety of chaotic situations, feeling like my face is smashed in the sand more often than not. I can only control so much. But that’s okay. The waves are okay. Because even though life seems pretty crazy, God’s given me authority over myself. And He takes care of the rest.