My sophomore year of high school I failed two classes, which, while disappointing was an improvement from the four classes I failed my freshman year. I was a curious case. The teachers loved me-I was respectful, likable, came from a great family, and had better than average social skills-but my test scores were abominable.
During the years my wife taught high school English, she loved to bring me in as a guest speaker to her class once a semester as an example to her students that High School doesn’t have to define the rest of your life. It was a compliment, I think.
Things were not headed in the right direction, and graduation seemed unattainable until one day my mom got a call from my Spanish teacher. My teacher said that she loved having me as a student, and explained how my grades baffled the teachers, but she thought she knew the problem. Her sister had a similar problem and visited a doctor to get tested for an attention deficit disorder. I know it’s a common diagnosis now, but back then, in the mid 90’s, it was still considered a serious disorder. Desperate for any solution, my mom tracked down the doctor’s number and set up an appointment to have me tested.
At the appointment, the doctor performed a 10 question test, describing scenarios and reactions to certain situations, and when I handed the test back to him, he told me that if a student scored 4 out of 10 on the quiz they received an ADD diagnosis, I scored 9 out of 10.
I listened as the doctor explained to my mom what it was like for someone with an attention disorder to try and sit in a classroom, and for the first time in my life I felt like someone understood me. He explained how I was present in the room, but my mind was a million miles away. I explained how I would hear the bell ring to start class, and the next thing I remember the bell would ring for class to end, I had been day dreaming for 50 minutes oblivious to my surroundings.
That doctor might as well have been the prophet Elisha because the medication he prescribed was a healing potion. Over the years I’ve tried to explain it to all my straight A, over-achieving friends what it’s like to have a brain with no boundaries, but they don’t get it, they can’t. Everything changed after that doctor visit. It was if when my mind would begin to wander a roadblock would go up and keep me focused on the task at hand.
Through the miracle of medicine, and a praying mother I was able to rebound and graduate high school, and thankfully High School GPA isn’t brought up in adult conversations, but as silly as it sounds for everyone who breezed through school, graduating was one of the biggest challenges and accomplishments of my life.
I can’t remember when exactly, but at some point after high school I stopped taking my medication, and now for the most part, I live my life 3-5 minutes at a time. If they made a movie about my life, Dory from Finding Nemo would probably be best cast in the leading role.
To this day I have to pray with my eyes open, any attempt to focus while I pray, or kiss my wife for that matter, is thwarted once my eyelids shut. My mind is never still, always moving, dreaming, thinking, worrying. Truth be told, stillness scares me sometimes.
I love the story in the Gospels where Jesus calms the storm. According to Mark, Jesus was sleeping on the boat below, while the disciples were upstairs trying to navigate through fierce waters. When they were out of options, and death was imminent, they decided to wake up Jesus. Stepping to the edge of the boat, with one of His most impressive miracles, He spoke the words “Peace! Be still.”
When the creator speaks, nature listens. Immediately the storm subsides, and the winds and waves become calm. The disciples couldn’t believe what they’re watching. “Even the winds and waves obey Him,” they said.
Every time I read those words I think about the church choir my mom sang in when I was a teenager. She had the same seat in the choir loft every Sunday, on the left side about halfway up, and her glasses had a glare from the stage lights so I never knew if she was watching me on the second row put my hand on my girlfriend’s leg. Most of the time she was. Most of the time I got punished.
She was the soloist for a song called “Peace Speaker.” To this day, every time I read the story in Mark, I breakout into song in my best soprano opera choir voice. I even stand up when I hit the key change.
Like the disciples, I’m most amazed by God’s power when I face my darkest storms. When I think I’m going to die, or I may even want to die, God’s ability to calm the storm amazes me all over again.
It wasn’t until later in my life when I noticed a distinction in the words Jesus spoke, that brought new meaning to that old choir song my mom used to sing. What I noticed was so obvious I’m not sure how I missed it before, but I did, and I bet you did to. I missed the punctuation!
I had always read “Peace! Be still” as “Peace be still.” Read it again. Do you notice the punctuation? When God said, “Peace! Be Still.” He wasn’t giving a single command; he was giving multiple commands.
First, Jesus declared “Peace!” Second, He commanded, “Be Still.” The punctuation is powerful because it separates a declaration and a command. First peace, then stillness. After I noticed the punctuation, I read with new eyes. I began to wonder how many times in my life a lack of peace was not because of a lack of God’s miraculous power, but instead my inability to be still.
With this new punctuation revelation old verses came to life again. God speaking through David in Psalms said, “Be still and know that I am God.” When Moses and the Israelites were standing at the Jordan River, and the Egyptian soldiers are about to recapture them, God tells Moses, “Stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today.” When life feels shaky, the hardest thing to do is nothing. In the words of Mark Batterson, “God doesn’t just play chicken; He also plays flinch.”
My personality is a “fixer” so standing still instead of finding a solution to a problem is not in my nature. That’s probably why peace is found in stillness, because it’s the last place I usually search for it.
I’ll never forget the emotions of panic, anger, and inadequacy I felt driving home from the hospital after losing our first pregnancy in a miscarriage. Doctors and friends tried to tell us it was “normal” but my brother already had two kids, and none of our friends had experienced a miscarriage that we knew of. When a doctor tells you one out of every three pregnancies is lost, but you don’t know any, the stats don’t mean much. When all your friends and family are having babies but you can’t make it to the second trimester you hear voices in your head telling you, “you’re losing.” You hear voices taunting, “what if you’re never able to have kids?” You want to move on, you want to stop crying, you want to get out of bed and have a “normal” day, but you can’t stop thinking about, it dominates your mind.
That afternoon, we arrived home and fell in the bed. I think it was a Thursday, and we didn’t get up until Monday. We ordered pizza delivery five times in those five days. We didn’t feel like doing much of anything. I held my wife as she cried more tears than I knew she had in her body. The worst part for me was knowing I couldn’t fix it. There was nothing to do but be still, so we were. Sweatpants, pizza, prayers, tears, and syndicated cable shows was our world for a while. We couldn’t have told you then what we know now looking back, but those days of stillness brought peace.
We weren’t crying because we were mad at God; we were crying because we were hurt and scared. But lying there watching the ceiling fan turn, it was as if every turn gave us new breath. We could have gone to visit family, or distracted ourselves with friends and games, but spending a few days in stillness was medicine for our souls. That bed was God’s operating table for a heart transplant. I didn’t sleep much, I mostly just laid there with my eyes open looking at the ceiling. I wouldn’t call it praying per se, but it was something spiritual. Maybe it was prayer with my eyes open, the only way I know how. We had just experienced the first major storm of our life together, but it was what we did during the storm that helped us experience God’s “peace that passes all understanding”- nothing.
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