I got this tattoo last summer while in the midst of one of the hardest struggles I’ve ever faced in my life. While the circumstances aren’t something I’m ready to share at this point, I do want to explain why I had these words inked on my skin because the message applies to all of us during these trying times.
The scenario that caused my suffering was unexpected and totally out of my control. I couldn’t change what happened and just had to take the emotional beat down for what it was. Not unlike the pandemic we are experiencing.
But, after a month of being unable to function, breathe, or manage the turmoil inside me, I realized that what happened wasn’t going to take me out. It was my ‘thoughts about what happened’ that were killing me slowly. I knew that if I didn’t get a grip on the storytelling going on in my mind, I was in deep trouble.
You see, our bodies don’t know the difference between what’s actually going on in front of us and what we are thinking about. We will respond the same physically whether the event is happening in real-time or we are playing it out in our mind. Sweaty palms, heavy chest, anxious gut are just a few flight or fight reactions we can have even if we are just imagining a scenario.
So, I was putting myself through a living hell every time I took up residence in my head. All the ruminating about what happened, the stinking thinking, was destroying me physically—even though the circumstances that caused my suffering were over and done with. Every time I chose to play things out in my mind, I relived the original trauma and paid the consequence.
I knew I needed to get underneath the noise in my head and “embrace stillness” if I was going to survive and make it through to the other side of my ordeal. I had to turn off the narratives and get quiet so the only voice I heard was God’s gentle and loving whisper. And since I was having a hard time doing this, I chose to literally embody the message on my skin to help me along, and it worked.
The practice of embracing stillness saved me. To be honest, it’s what is saving me now.
I’m a praying person. I believe in miracles. God has done more than enough to prove to me over the years that he’s always with us, working out our struggles and sitting with us in our pain. But I needed more than professed faith and trust and surrender to get me through last summer. To be honest, I’ve needed more than that many times in my life with other traumatic scenarios.
I needed to understand what my thoughts were doing to me. Because even if I was praying and telling God I trusted in his handiwork, if I was also filling my head with fear, worry, regrets, or worst case projections, then the prayer wasn’t helping me. I was still attempting to control the uncontrollable or make sense of the things I’d never understand.
My tattoo is now a permanent reminder of God’s encouragement to ‘be still and know.’ And I’ve been practicing being still ever since. Meditation has become one of my spirit animals. Yoga is another. For me, that’s what it took to quiet the racing thoughts so I could let God love me. So I could heal. So I could give up control once and for all, and simply know God is God and I am not. I’m a firm believer that Jesus mastered the art of embracing stillness. Just think about all the thoughts he had to turn off on his walk to the cross.
Unfortunately, this pandemic isn’t a one and done traumatic event. It’s a reality we face every morning we wake up, so it’s doubly hard right now to stop ‘thinking about what happened,’ considering it’s still happening. But, we can still find peace in the stillness. Every moment we can get beneath the anxious chatter in our heads: the narratives we are spinning, the fears we are projecting, the inner critic we are listening to, the better off we are.
When we do our best to quiet these thoughts and spend more time in our heart, we will find renewed energy in the stillness. And if we struggle to do this, we need to ask for help, scream for help, beg for help--and be okay doing so.
You all have my heart.
How can I help?