Chaos is noisy. It is distracting. It is consuming. It is promised as part of our journey in this world.
John 16:33 – In this world you will have trouble. NIV
Ecclesiastes 8:9 – As long as men and women have the power to hurt each other, this is the way it is. MSG
It is what it is? Not terribly encouraging. Stress is a killer that no one can escape. Marriages and families are breaking apart. Friendships are disintegrating. Hopelessness and despair are at an all time high. Feeling anxious? Depressed much? Me too.
But we aren’t meant to stay stuck there. The rest of John 16:33 says Take heart! I have overcome the world!
That’s cool for you, God, but how do I get a piece of that action? Seriously though! Enough is enough. Everyone has their limits. I hit mine too many times to recall.
WHY CAN’T YOU JUST MAKE IT GO AWAY??
Because chaos has an important job to do. Chaos drives us to either hide, protect ourselves, and wait for it to blow over, OR, it drives us to action, either helpful or dysfunctional. Those options are often dependant on the kind of chaos we experience. To be honest, most of our chaos is created by our own choices and behaviours that produce very uncomfortable natural consequences. But sometimes undeserved and unexpected chaos is unleashed upon us. I have experienced both. You can read about some of those experiences in my earlier blog posts.
For now, I want to take a deep dive into chaos survival. Chaos made me weak. It eventually made me strong. Chaos is loud. It can distract you to the point that nothing else exists inside your head. But if you learn from it, chaos will diminish and leave peace in its place.
When I was young, undeserved and unexpected chaos drove me to hide. I learned how to protect myself, however unhealthy those coping strategies were at the time. I hunkered down and waited for it to blow over. And blow back in again, and blow over again… This type of chaos resulted in me developing unhealthy self-protect strategies.
I learned to isolate.
My bedroom became my safe space. I got my own room at age seven, since no one wanted the youngest to be their roommate. No sympathy please – it was awesome! I came home from an after school birthday party one day to find my mother had completely redone my room. Pink walls, a new bedspread covered with pink roses. New Holly Hobbie curtains at the windows. New fuzzy pink rug by my bed. I was thrilled! In that moment, I felt completely loved by her.
Isolation was comforting. It was safe. I had freedom to think and feel whatever I wanted without fear of reprisal or rejection. I spent many happy hours reading, writing letters to my pen pals, playing board games by myself, doing jigsaw puzzles on a board I would slide under my bed so the pieces would not be disturbed until next time.
I remember one Christmas Day my mother yelled up the stairs to me – “Lisa! Get down here and start having fun!” That was not my idea of fun, but there was no escaping. So I made an appearance. I ate a couple cookies. I did a few dishes. I quietly went back to my room, my radio, and my puzzle. I wasn’t missed until it was time to eat and do dishes again. Effective in the moment, but isolation fed my steadily growing depression.
You are familiar with the under-the-bus strategy. Throw someone else under the bus – who cares how they are impacted. As long as I’m not the one in trouble it’s all good. Or the more passive-aggressive throw myself under the bus strategy. I’ll just dive under the bus now to save you the trouble. I’ll just blame whatever it is on myself.
Are you happy now? No? Fine – I’ll roll out a sleeping bag and light a fire – looks like I’ll be here awhile. Feeling guilty yet over my self-sacrificing campsite? Excellent. My job here is done.
We can all agree that this is incredibly unhealthy and manipulative. This kind of mindset fosters a damaged personal truth. In order to be safe I have to get you before you get me. Because you are going to get me. So my guards have to be up all the time. I have to be in control of everything all the time. Only then will I keep myself safe. It’s easier to blame it all on myself than deal with you when you are angry over something.
Denial is a popular response to chaos. It’s so much easier to ignore chaos and pretend it’s not that big of a deal. Let’s all put on our happy masks so no one knows what is really happening behind closed doors. After all we don’t need to share all our dirty laundry with everyone we meet. If people knew what we really struggle with we would feel embarrassment. Shame. Unworthy.
But at some point chaos will not be denied. It will not be contained. It bursts out and controls your life.
Here’s how I learned to stop chaos from controlling me. It starts with honesty. I had to call it what it really was. Abuse. Co-dependence. Not equipped to deal with the parenting challenges facing me. Not able to deal with the critics judging my marriage/kids/life. My emotions were going haywire and I felt like I was on a crazy train with no way to stop it.
The next step in recovering from chaos is to give it to God. You have no control over it anyway. And guess what – you aren’t supposed to have control. God is supposed to have control. But he isn’t going to pry it out of your hands. He is a gentleman. He will wait until it is offered to him. So I gave up. I handed it over. And God got busy!
With God in control, my co-dependent behaviors were revealed. I learned how to put boundaries in place. I learned that I could separate my choices from my feelings. I learned that it was OK to not be OK. I learned that my feelings were valid and important, but I had let them take over.
Let’s talk about my crazy train.
I gave God control of my train but my emotions were banging loudly at the door of the engine room. They were not happy about getting kicked out of the engineer’s seat. They were used to calling the shots. That was the first of many important boundaries that I set. The boundary between my emotions and the engine room helped helped quiet the chaos. I was better able to focus on where God wanted to take me.
It’s a big train with plenty of cars and a very comfortable caboose. My emotions are welcome in any other part of the train. Sometimes they are loud and distracting. They bombard the engine room door demanding access. Sometimes they are calm and they just chill out in the caboose. Most of the time they are somewhere in between. They all have an important job to do. They all deserve to be acknowledged. They all inform my choices. But they do NOT get to make those choices. They will always be on the train. But they are never allowed to drive.
Anger is a good example of this. We are taught “Be angry and not sin. We think, “If anger makes me sin, then I should just avoid anger all together. That will prevent me from sinning.” I believe anger is a valid emotion. Just as valid as peacefulness, joy, sorrow, frustration, or any other. Anger has an important job to do. Without anger, slavery and exploitation would be acceptable. Without anger, parents would not come to the defence of hurting children. Bullying would be ignored in our culture. Corruption among our leaders would be expected. Anger matters. It has a lot of important things to say.
But it doesn’t get to decide the ultimate response.
Anger, fear, frustration, injustice, hurt. They are very distracting. My mind was constantly focusing on the chaos. It’s all I thought about. I couldn’t see any solutions. I couldn’t feel any relief. That’s when God helped me realize that I didn’t have to wait for the chaos to stop before I could be OK. I could choose to let go of the chaos that others were creating in my life and leave them for God to deal with. I could choose to focus on what God wanted from me.
That is really hard to do when chaos is screaming at you, jumping up and down in front of you, demanding your attention. But it must be done or you end up right back on the crazy train. When I began to exercise this principle of let go and let God, I had to do it several times a day. Eventually it got easier. I recognized the distraction sooner and could refocus on God more quickly. The chaos in my mind quieted and I began to feel some relief.
Here’s where I need to add a very important disclaimer.
If your chaos is a result of others hurting you, abusing you, or steamrolling over your boundaries to do what they want anyway, please understand that these are very important issues that must be dealt with.
Forgiving and letting it go for God to take care of DOES NOT MEAN that you stay in a situation where those abuses and hurts and disrespect of your boundaries continue.
Please seek help! Please seek safety! Please seek professional counselling! Everyone needs help unpacking the hurt and setting appropriate boundaries. Help is available no matter your situation. If you don’t know where to start, ask someone you trust to help you find the resources you need and deserve.
You matter. You are stronger than you think you are. God has not forgotten about you. He has solutions to problems that haven’t even arisen. You can conquer chaos in the name and power of Jesus. Do you feel that flutter in your heart? That’s hope. And it belongs to you. Hang on to it!