I've never liked silence.
I've never liked stillness.
I've never liked staying.
“You need to learn to be comfortable with the ordinary,” my therapist said. “You’re addicted to chaos.” As much as I hated to admit it, she was right.
I think you’re a little addicted to chaos too. How do I know? Because we all are. We’re all rushing and looking and longing for the next thing, refreshing our social media feeds for new posts, checking the news to see what scandal deserves today’s outrage.
I used to think the opposite of chaos was calm. As I write this, I’m sitting at my desk on Easter Saturday, surrounded by messes of papers to be sorted, looking out upon a backyard that needs to be mowed, seeing in front of the windows a Christmas tree that’s still up, hearing small noises of our many pets (currently two dogs, one cat, a chinchilla, and a bearded dragon), and waiting for my husband and six children to return from a camping trip that I couldn’t join because I’m recovering from a major knee surgery. If calm is the opposite of chaos, I’m doomed.
Thankfully, the opposite of chaos isn’t calm; it’s being centered. When the cacophony of chaos clamors all around and coaxes us to join in the noise, being able to reject that call used to feel impossible. I didn’t bother. Lean in was my motto. Join the chaos. Shout for your voice to be heard. Light more fires, bang more drums, get yo’self a megaphone and rain down snark and sarcasm and all the other currencies of an uncentered world.
I’m an extrovert, obviously. One of my dearest friends – as introverted as I am extroverted - feels none of the draw I described above. But still, the chaos beckons her to draw closer, with demands to say yes when she wants to say no and to say no when she needs to say yes. It lures her to define herself in terms of others, rather than being centered in her own unique calling despite feeling like it – and she – is not enough.
I’ve considered myself to be centered for most of my life. But I never, not until recently, understood what it meant to be steady at the core of who I am. My core terrified me. I didn’t want to go there. I didn’t want to examine that. I put it in a box and wrapped it up with pretty paper and a tidy bow, scared to let anyone – including myself – know what was inside.
“Can you recommend a therapist?” I found myself texting my friend Sam a year and a half ago. Half out of confusion about what I felt inside me and half out of fear that I would never recover from my bestie’s suicide six months earlier, I knew I needed to find words for the chaos in my soul. I didn’t know if therapy would help, but I figured it couldn’t hurt.
I wanted a quick oil change and go on your way sort of fix. I walked out of the intake session realizing we needed to take apart the whole damn car and rebuild her. Actually, it’s more accurate to say that the car was on fumes, leaving a trail of parts behind, battered and off balance and dented all over, and barely yet miraculously still avoiding the scrapyard. Therapy didn’t break me; I showed up barely holding anything together.
Brene Brown describes her first appointment with a therapist after her breakdown/spiritual awakening of 2005 in her book The Gifts of Imperfection. (Side note: this is a must read. Seriously.) Her therapist started with “so what’s going on?" Brene shared the reason she was there and followed with, “Some specific tips and tools would be helpful. Nothing deep. No childhood crap or anything.”
That was me. I was going to therapy because I knew something was off with me. I figured it was all the change in recent years: a few recent deaths. friends who abandoned us because of HIV. the adoption of a sibling group of three in 2013. the diagnosis of epilepsy for one of our children less than a year prior. our first adoption in 2012. births in 2009 and 2007, with chronic disabling illnesses diagnosed for me in 2008. all the growing up that brought for me and my husband, having met with young love at 18 and married at newly 23. I wanted to talk through all of that. Nothing deep. No childhood crap or anything.
I tease my therapist now that she clearly hasn’t addressed the life change issues I came there to sort out. Instead, since I met her, more has changed than stayed the same. I set healthy boundaries with some loved ones that they rejected, and now we’ve been estranged for more than a year. I drew closer to another family member as she decided to join me in not allowing abuse - worse in our childhood but continued through adulthood - to continue unchecked. We changed churches. I ventured into political writing I thought no one would read, yet my pro-life piece about the 2016 election has been read by more than a million people now. I became the subject of news stories instead of the writer. I found myself kicked out of my old familiar Christian spaces for being too liberal (and this was before I voiced my affirmation of the LGBTQ+ community), and I lost my job. I got some piercing and tattoos and a new haircut. I had a major knee surgery.
Some judged all this new change as new chaos. That wasn’t it, though. Having lived life uncentered for so long and tossed about by chaos, stepping back into who I am and what really matters – the very acts of centering, as I finally unwrapped the core of myself I’d kept hidden so long – brought definite changes. Those changes, though, were the result of stripping away chaos’s shame and dressing myself in healthy vulnerability.
I know this re-centering in Christ has disappointed some people. They were comfortable with my contortion to fit the chaos. Having only met that side of me, when I unfurled my origami girl self, they experienced my new shape and size and voice as a personal loss. I have no plans to change to fit back in their boxes of who they imagined me to be, but I get that it can be hard to see someone else change from who you thought they were. If that’s where you stand, I won’t apologize for letting you down because that would have required letting myself down and rejecting God’s calling for my life; I will, however, say your feelings are valid. Whether or not I share those emotions, I acknowledge that am different outwardly than I used to be, so I hope you give yourself permission to feel whatever you need to feel as you decide if the value of our relationship to you is conditional on my remaining in the chaos place. I'm not going back, so the choice is yours.
When I lived in the throes of chaos, I was chasing after Jesus and feeling like he would round the corner just as I was getting close. When I stepped away, I realized I was pursuing an idol of Christ fabricated by what my friend Jen Hatmaker recently called “the Christian machine.” While the false god of American Christianity drew me deeper into unrest, the true God embraced me with real rest as I centered myself in him.
I’m staying here.
I’m savoring stillness.
I’m lulled into peace with silence.
And I’m praying you’ll find your center someday soon, if you haven’t already.