When I was young, back when I liked myself, I had dreams. I wanted to be a successful author, a professional singer, and/or run an orphanage in India. Before I realized that I had zero athletic skill whatsoever, I think I briefly wanted to be a female football player. It’s okay, you can laugh at that ridiculous image. But then as I grew up and realized I was capable of making mistakes and hurting people, I became so damn scared. Of me.
The best way I can think to describe it is using the following example. I drove my coaches nuts. I was the biggest, tallest player on the court. I was the first person the other team evaluated as we filtered into the same gym; with my spiked hair and rolled up jersey sleeves I’m sure I was a sight. It didn’t take long into the game for the other team to realize I posed no threat and for my coaches to start, shall we say, loudly encouraging me to be more aggressive. Basketball was scarier than volleyball; I felt like I was going to trample everyone under my uncoordinated feet. I spent most of the games restraining the naturally, and unintentionally, strong giant named me.
And that is how I went on to live my life. Afraid to hurt people or myself, I suppressed most of my urges to be brave. I cloaked fear of others in disdain and pride. I disguised fear of rejection in control and manipulation; these aren’t any more attractive, I realize, but they put me in command. I avoided fear of failure entirely by remaining disinterested and aloof. I sought inclusion and acceptance by softening myself and emphasizing every quality I possessed that wasn’t abrasive. I stood up where I knew I could succeed, but shrunk where I felt unsure of myself or the response I’d receive.
Somewhere along the way I convinced myself that it was all okay, because I just wanted a quiet life. After all, I wasn’t trustworthy, reliable, selfless, or good so I should never be given a place at the proverbial table. Not everyone is meant to be a risk-taker or history-maker, I reasoned. Quiet was better for me, I was sure. I could make less of a mess that way. I could also lose a lot less that way. I could be secure.
I wonder if the disciples ever felt like me. For most of them, quiet would’ve been easier and safer. The stakes of their life wouldn’t have been so high. They probably would’ve lived a lot longer anyway. But think of what they would have missed! To be clear, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a quiet life. I think God does amazing things with the people who are willing to receive no earthly glory for how they serve him. I think that those who pray and serve off the stage and out of the lights are especially special.
But here’s the thing: that’s not why I wanted quiet. I wanted quiet because I was afraid of being out of control, both of my circumstances and of me. I didn’t want to faithfully serve in humility. I wanted to be somewhere that my mistakes wouldn’t be noticed. My biggest fear of all was being a mom; I can’t think of a role in which my mistakes could cause more damage. So I, perfectly logically, became a foster mom. The consequences of my mistakes in this job go beyond damaging my child’s psyche or our relationship. I answer to people for how I parent these fragile children who are not my own. How I got here is quite a story, for another time.
I still don’t want to be on a stage, and I don’t think I’m supposed to be. But the life that I lead is not a quiet one. Foster parenting is loud. Being a working and studying mom is loud; I don’t think it should be, but it is. It goes against the grain in my circles. There’s lots of other things (like marrying a man who I first sort-of-stalked on Facebook and who could, in theory, have been deported for the first four years of our relationship) that weren’t my idea of quiet. But those three things: pursuing my husband, going to school to be a psychologist (some faraway day), and becoming a foster mom are the three things in my life that I knew, and know, most clearly were the direction of God.
So what’s my point in this rambling tale? There’s a difference between enjoying peace and avoiding purpose. In the last three years, especially as a foster mom, I have embraced a purpose that doesn’t come with a whole lot of peace (or quiet). That doesn’t mean that I don’t have peace; it just means that my peace is not found in my circumstances. Because it really can’t be. But the incredible thing is that when I stopped trying to establish my own peace, I was given peace himself. And I was liberated. I’m not responsible for maintaining my own peace, my peace isn’t intimidated by my storms, and nothing can take my peace away. I win.
I’m not saying that everyone needs to live a loud life. I’m not saying there’s anything inherently wrong with living in the mountains or on a beach somewhere, reading book after book. I’m certainly not saying that stay-at-home moms who pour love into their families all day aren’t brave, because they are hella brave, the bravest of us all. I’m saying that it’s worth wondering if quiet comes part-and-parcel with purpose or if it’s a hideout. Because if it’s the latter, it may be quiet, but it will never be peaceful.