Beside Us in the Chaos

Excerpted from ‘Chaos Can’t’

Excerpted From
Chaos Can’t
By Allen Arnold

Our globe is being shaken harder and harder by the forces of chaos. And as it becomes more shaken … so do we.

Chaos comes in a variety of sizes and flavors. It hits in ways we never saw coming. It affects our health, finances, marriage, friendships, faith, family and dreams. The trail of devastation can result in the loss of a job, the loss of hope, the loss of patience or even the loss of life.

After numerous encounters, we develop a low-level dread of the next news alert, the bill in the mail or even what tomorrow holds. Just getting through the day becomes our goal.

If we want to break this cycle of chaos—and I’m guessing everyone who is reading this does—then we must move from being surprised by it to being prepared for it. This takes us from playing defense to offense.

A simple but powerful tool in overcoming chaos is to note how it usually begins. Almost always, it starts with an external event that tries to move internally.

You get a panicked call from your friend. A diagnosis from your doctor. A past-due bill you thought you’d paid. An inflammatory comment on social media.

That external situation snags you in its vortex as it accelerates. Then that chaotic swirling tries to get inside your head and your heart.

To cope, we find ways to ignore, numb, or medicate the craziness. We’re desperate for relief.

Yet it never seems to come. Not really. The toll chaos takes on our lives is catastrophic. It tries to infuse us with fear, shut down our heart, steal our hope, destroy our dreams, and erode our creativity. It affects us physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually.

I’m sorry for what it has cost you. Though I’ve never walked in your shoes, I hope this message can offer hope in the midst of your storms.

I was being taken out on multiple fronts. I tried everything to escape chaos. I ignored it, hoping it would go away. If only. I attempted to control it, which just made my world grow smaller. I pretended it didn’t affect me, which wasn’t true—and later caused me to feel both hopeless and foolish. I hunkered down to wait it out, but passivity can’t overcome the storms of life.

What do you do when everything hits the fan? Who do you become? I’m guessing you’ve tried various ways to manage or deal with the havoc.

Though chaos affects each of us in uniquely personal ways, our reactions to it aren’t all that unique. See if you can identify with one or more of the following reactions.

1. We decide to wait it out, hoping to get back to our dreams and plans once things return to normal. But notice what’s happening. We’re waiting for chaos to end, waiting for calm to return. Passivity is not the antidote.

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2. We deny it’s a big deal. Things may not be great, but they could be worse. Maybe this is just the new normal. So we keep our eyes—and our hopes—low.

3. We try to decrease chaos by increasing our control of people and situations. But eliminating risk requires us to shrink our world and suffocate those around us with our fear-based demands. The only thing that doesn’t shrink is the chaos.

4. We wage war with chaos, determined to fight fire with fire. But it’s never a good idea to try to out-chaos chaos. We can’t defeat something by becoming more like it.

5. We seek to profit from it. This is the most disgraceful of all options. Chaos isn’t looking for partners. It will use you for a time, then devour you. We “sow the wind and reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7).

Ultimately, each response falls short and makes us an easier target for chaos. These options wear us out and let us down. Spun up and worn out, we lick our wounds and shrug our shoulders. We go numb or give in. Broken and bitter, we accept the raging storms as part of life, like an unwanted houseguest who barges in and takes over our home. But what can we do?

Perhaps a more sobering questions is why do we keep doing what isn’t working?

I was trying to make life work with a faulty assumption. I woke each day expecting everything to go as it should. The storm always caught me off guard. Even though Jesus tells us clearly that in this world we will have trouble (John 16:33), I kept assuming my days would be trouble-free. Rather than being ready for it, I was on the defensive. And found myself responding in the typical unhelpful ways.

The storm around us isn’t us. But it wants to steal our hopes and dreams. To disrupt us. To undo us.

It’s looking to get into your head and your heart.

Notice this: the fact that it wants in means it can’t get in without your permission. Someone can knock on your front door. But you choose whether to let him into your home. You’d never let a stranger in if you sensed they wanted to do harm.

Yet we do that all the time with chaos. We let it in.

Consider the disciple Peter when he was in the boat with Jesus. He desperately wanted to walk on water. He initiated the process. But then he shifted his gaze from Jesus before him to the chaos below him. Once Peter let chaos in, he started to sink.

Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. Then he said, “Faint-heart, what got into you?” (Matthew 14:31 MSG)

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Did you catch what Jesus asked? “What got into you?” In other words, it wasn’t Peter but the fear he let in. In so many things in our lives, it’s not us but what we let in. Something happens at work or with your finances.

Perhaps it’s a health issue. Or a crisis with one of your children. Maybe you’re dealing with all these categories simultaneously. These are the external issues swirling around you. But they remain outside of you unless or until you let them in.

How does it look to let chaos in? It usually begins with unhelpful self-talk. We entertain thoughts like:

How much can one person handle? Why is it up to me to solve everyone else’s problems? Nothing is ever going to change. The world is a scary place. There’s never enough time. There’s never enough money. I’m all on my own. Life isn’t fair. I always get the raw end of the deal.

This internal monologue never leads anywhere helpful. It weakens your resolve as you start to believe a false interpretation of what’s going on. If you embrace these fear-based thoughts, it will change you. And not for the better.

Your thoughts are the door that chaos will use to enter your heart and mind. The longer you stay in this mindset, the wider you open the door.

But the choice is yours.

It is possible to refuse entry to the external chaos swirling around you. When you do so, the external chaos can no longer make you chaotic internally.

But this is only possible if we keep our eyes on Jesus in the storm. If we don’t, we’ll sink like Peter did.

The good news is we don’t have to do this alone. God is for us in the midst of our battles against chaos.

It might feel safer now just to hunker down and wait for the current chaos to somehow magically subside. But there is no guarantee that we’ll have less chaos in the days ahead. In fact, there could be even greater storms coming.

No matter what happens, we can be less chaotic. Because our hopes for peace aren’t based on a new year or a new government or anything else this world can offer.

Our hope is based solely on God. That is the key. “I see that the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.” (Acts 2:25).

God is right beside us. He is always with us. Remember that, and no matter how shaken this world becomes, you can remain unshaken.

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Excerpted from Chaos Can’t by Allen Arnold. Copyright 2020, Allen Arnold.