Keeping one’s cool, or calmness, is a fairly important middah, or characteristic for a person to have. When a person is calm, they can act from their intelligence instead of from their emotions. When we act from emotions, we often make mistakes we regret later.
Even though I have a fairly laid back demeanor, I tend to worry about things I have no control over, like money. If it’s there, i feel comfortable and secure. If I don’t have what I need, I worry and lose sleep over it. If I look back over the years, I have never missed a paycheck, and whenever I have been in need, the funds always seemed to be there. In a very real sense, I abide in the hands of God, and I have no reason to worry. He has always met my needs. Calmness is a choice we make about how we will respond to the world around us.
It’s a very easy thing to tell someone who is nervous or worried that they should be calm and point to a verse in the Bible. But as I look over the world and my life in particular, I don’t feel very encouraged. God was supposed to watch over the Jewish people, but He let the Holocaust happen. If we are His special, chosen people, it shouldn’t have happened, but it did. A long-time friend of mine, a Messianic leader, lost his teenage son in a fire. It shouldn’t have happened. God is supposed to protect our children from things like that. It’s supposed to happen to other people’s children, not ours, but it did. Jim Elliot, a missionary in South America, on a mission trip helping the Auca Indians of Ecuador, was murdered by those Indians along with is co-workers. They were doing good. They were there to help. It shouldn’t have happened, but it did. Jim Elliot wrote in his diary before he died, “He is no fool who gives up that which he can not keep, for that which he can not lose.” He had a view of eternal things.
The world is full of terrible things that happen that shouldn’t, and they strike at our hearts. I could look to heaven and ask “where was God? Why did he let this happen?” I choose to trust God even when things don’t go the way I plan, even though we live in a world that’s a terribly violent place. In a sense, that’s where we need to be calm; not on an island of tranquility, floating in a pool sipping tropical drinks, but we need to be calm in a world that is tumultuous and dangerous.
A number of years ago, a local painter was hired by a bank president to paint a mural for the bank’s main lobby. He asked the artist, to paint a picture that suggested peace. When the work was done, the president was furious. The painter created a mural of a violent storm with winds blowing the trees, lightning flashes and rains falling. He told the artist that he wanted a picture of peace. The artist pointed to the main tree, and in the branches was a bird’s nest, and in the nest was a mother bird sheltering her babies under her wings, and the babies were sleeping. In a very real sense, that is a realistic picture of peace; being able to sleep in the midst of the storm, because we are sheltered under the wings of the almighty.
This is the point. The world is a beautiful place, but it’s also a harsh difficult place, where terrible things can happen to us. It’s not a matter of trusting God. I trust him, but I realize that even so, things can happen, not because of God, but because of the nature of the world we live in. Having calmness in a world like this takes faith. I don’t mean the kind of faith where you tell yourself that nothing bad will happen, because sometimes it might. I mean the kind of faith where you look at the storm around you, and realize you are not an orphan in the world. God considers you his child and he watches over you and will either protect you, or at least be with you and give you the strength to go through whatever comes along.
A number of years ago, a horrible thing happened to me that almost destroyed me. It took me many months to recover, but even though it happened, I felt the presence of God with me the entire time. He was there for me and with me, and it made all the difference. God created us to go out into the world. Calmness comes from knowing God is backing us.
also posted in Riverton Mussar: A Wellspring For Ethical Change