I’ve been thinking about storms a lot. A couple of weeks ago, Hurricane Florence devastated parts of the East Coast. We have daily political storms in this country, led by our “Stormy” President.
Storms are ever-present. Literal and figurative.
I’m no stranger to storms. I grew up in Oklahoma, a place where tornados are so common that people grab some popcorn and go outside to watch them instead of run from them. I lived in Florida for a summer and experienced my first tropical storm, then later had to evacuate for Hurricane Dennis, which was just a month before Katrina.
I was on a plane taking off from Guatemala with my wife and a group of students a few years after that, and we flew into a massive storm. The storm slammed the plane with rain and lightning, tossing it from side to side. Passengers screamed, the stewardesses ran for their seats, and pilots gave instructions over the intercom in Spanish— it was terrifying.
Here’s the thing about storms; you can’t control them. They happen whether we want them to or not. Some years may be worse than others, some areas may be more consistently hit than other locations, but either way, storms are going to happen. We call them “acts of God” or “acts of nature” for a reason. You can debate why they happen — does God send them, is it the environment, or a rain dance. Whatever the cause, they happen.
This is also true with storms caused by people. Here’s a little known fact about people — you can’t control them. As much as we may want to, we can’t control what other people do. We see this to be true throughout history. People will create conflict, drama and chaos.
Storms are inevitable, whether they are acts of nature or acts of people. What I’m interested in is how we respond to them.
How we respond to storms both forms and reveals our character. Our response is the only part we can control.
There are two main types of responses that I see:
I remember driving in the tropical storm in Florida and seeing a huge piece of metal roof, flying around like a feather. This is one way to respond — untethered, blown around by the chaos. This can be our response. We can be tossed around by the wind and waves, effected by every chaotic event. This response is signified by continual worry, riding an emotional roller coaster, and a quick temper.
This reactionary response can become so ingrained in a person, that they almost NEED to have something to worry or fret about. They scour the news and internet for chaos. Drama follows these kinds of people.
You’ve seen this response, right? Maybe this is the way you respond. Maybe this response is influenced by a personality type or past experiences. But we can all agree that we don’t want to respond this way. This response can be exhausting.
Is there a healthier, more productive way to respond?
I love watching palm trees in a storm. They appear to be frail and thin, but can withstand fierce wind better than any other tree. They bend, but don’t break. They remain anchored because of their roots.
An anchored person can observe the chaos while remaining calm. They may bend, but they don’t break. They can stand firm with deep roots and a firm foundation.
These people bring a non-anxious presence to the world. Instead of being reactionary, or being tossed around, they respond with patience, peace, and a lack of hurry.
These are the kind of people you want to be around in a crisis. These are people worth following and learning from.
The Waves and Wind Know My Name
My all-time favorite album cover, is Thom Yorke’s “Eraser.” The image is haunting and meditative and provocative. It’s inspiring to me, probably because it reminds me of Jesus.
One of my favorite stories about Jesus takes place in a storm. He’s on a boat with some of his disciples and it’s being tossed by rain and waves, and the disciples are freaking out. They frantically race inside the boat, only to find Jesus taking a nap. Often, what gets talked about or remembered from this story is what Jesus does next. He calms the storm, as only Jesus, or a Jedi, can. He then tells the disciples, “You of little faith, don’t you know even the waves and wind know my name?” Which is a pretty epic thing to say. It’s like he’s taunting the storm.
But, that’s not my favorite part of the story. My favorite part is that Jesus was
taking a nap
on a boat
in the middle of a storm.
I think this qualifies as being a non-anxious, non-reactionary presence. While everyone around was freaking out, he was asleep. Who does that?
This is not a call for avoidance or resignation. There is an interesting term called the “Ostrich Effect,” in which people hope problems go away by ignoring them. Sticking our head in the sand and pretending nothing bad is happening, is not acceptable.
We need people who are willing to speak up for what is right and do something, more than ever.
Also, I’m not downplaying the real pain and fear that people experience when in the middle of a storm, literal or figurative. The pain is real. People lose their loved ones and their homes and much more.
But, here’s a question: Who do you think has the most influence?
The anxious, reactive worrier — quick to speak, eager to have a hot-take, quick to come to conclusions, and instantly reacting to every issue?
The anchored, calm, and thoughtful leader. Quick to listen, slow to speak, thoughtful, and resolute in the pursuit of good and truth?
Ghandi, Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, Jesus — these leaders made great change while being anchored. They understood the gravity of the storms surrounding them. They didn’t avoid. But, they gained influence by being steady and resolute.
Here’s my hot-take. We need steady, calm, and centered people, more than ever. We need thoughtful people willing to listen to issues, without rushing to conclusions in stress. Regardless of your religion, political perspective, or cultural background — this is the kind of person we need, this is the way to progress, this is what our world needs.
Some lifelong and deep questions to ask ourselves:
What is the foundation of my life? Am I anchored? Or am I tossed around, based on circumstances?
How can I dig my roots deeper? Are there practices that I can do to train my soul and mind to be calm and peaceful?