Settling the stirred up waters of our souls {Book Club}

“A jar of stirred up river water.”

Does this describe you? Ruth Haley Barton was meeting with a spiritual director and the image they came up for how she was living her life was this image. Ruth had no stillness or silence in her life and was more apt to be the person who ran from activity to activity. As a fellow busy person, I found her book Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence, just that.

She shares her journey into stillness and the ways she implements it to “quiet the stirred up river water” within her, allowing her soul to settle was attractive to me and not shaming.

The idea of cultivating calmness and stillness is also attractive to me. I like being around calm people, especially in times of crisis or urgency. About six weeks after I got my drivers license I learned an important lesson and had a powerful reminder.

One snowy morning I was running late for school and didn’t take the time to scrap off my windows because I had a “defroster” button in the car I was driving. Convinced that “defrost” meant “instantly defrost so as to save you time.” With a neighborhood boy in my car I took off up the hill and in less than two blocks had driven into the back of a parked car, totaling both of them. (I feel a bit of a shame storm coming up, because this story doesn’t present me in the best light, but I’m not going to delete it. I’m not.)

The important lesson was not about defrosting (though I did learn about defrosters that day). No, I jumped out of my car and didn’t know what to do but start running home to get my dad. He’d know what to do. I ran down the street and he was pulling out of the driveway and as I told him what I’d done, he just calmly took over.

I don’t remember how the neighbor boy got to school, but I remember how my dad called the police and the insurance and handled all of the details in such a calm way. He was like that in almost any situation. The only time he got irritated was when someone would walk in front of him while he was watching the Denver Broncos (so as kids we learned to drop to our knees and crawl under his line of vision).

When I think of calm, I think of my dad and his mom, and I wish I’d inherited more of it. But thankfully, as Brene points out, calmness and stillness can be cultivated in us. It’s in the stillness we can hear the important voices and messages that tend to get drowned out by the urgent screaming ones.

I liked her phrase “anxiety detox.”

How about you, what stood out in this chapter? How are you with incorporating calm and stillness into your normal everyday life? What are the challenges of letting go of anxiety as a lifestyle? What subtle ways does our line of work impact your understanding and relationship with calm and stillness?

Looking forward to the chat,


P.S. Here are the posts related to The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown:


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Photo Credit: anne arnould via Compfight cc


  1. M'Lynn April 30, 2014

    “(I feel a bit of a shame storm coming up, because this story doesn’t present me in the best light, but I’m not going to delete it. I’m not.)” 

    I’m right there with you on this one today, Amy!  But, too many people put me up on a pedestal, so I want to make sure I don’t encourage it by only writing about my shining moments.  People in America think I have some sort of super-hero power for raising kids in China and people in China think I’m a super-hero for having three kids.  Turns out, I’m not super at all!  Thanks for sharing your defrost story 🙂

    1. Amy Young April 30, 2014

      Here’s to hanging out at the base of the pedestal with you!  🙂

      Funny thing is I know I don’t belong up there … but still will place certain categories of people “up there” — right now for me, it’s writers. But I think those I have put up there, probably would laugh OUT LOUD to know it’s where I’ve got them.

  2. Brittany April 30, 2014

    This whole calm and stillness thing is an elusive idea to me.  No one in my family growing up exhibited neither calm or still.  We all do things excitedly, anxiously, LOUDLY.  When I married my husband, there was some major clash because he is the essence of calm.  I would get so mad because he wouldn’t react!  Unfortunately, I have pushed him in some ways to be less calm, but he has also challenged me to be more calm.  I am a reactor through and through. Why think calmly when you can stress and freak out first?  Ugh, this is the source of some of my biggest struggles!  Praise God that calm and stillness can be cultivated!  Anxiety is my go-to.  It takes a conscious effort, for sure, to think rationally and let the Spirit take over my thoughts.  Memorizing Scripture is what I am trying to implement to keep from being controlled by anxiety.  By constantly meditating on the verses I’m working on, I am more able to take every thought captive and process the situation before reacting.  Man, I’ve got a long way to go; I’m terrible at it!  But I’m trying!

    1. Amy Young April 30, 2014

      Brittany, I look forward to your comment each week :). When i read your comment, something in me wanted to affirm that you (and others, um, ME) are OK for not going around the picture of calm. To be a bit excitable is good too! But I think, when it tips into anxiety, we’ve moved from being joyful to fearful. I’m babbling here, sorry, and it’s more to myself. I don’t think the goal is to turn us into a bunch of non-responsive calmy … but be sure we aren’t all so addicted to being stirred up and never knowing how to be calm. 🙂 Amy

  3. Kimberly Todd April 30, 2014

    I have a very similar I-was-dumb-and-wrecked-the-car-near-home-and-ran-for-dad-who-stayed-calm story. In my memory his response turned my shame into comfort. And following Ruth Haley Barton through that book was a transformative experience for me. I come back to it frequently because I forget easily.

    From the chapter: because calm is as contagious as anxiety we can choose “to infect people with more anxiety or heal ourselves and the people around us with calm. If we choose to heal with calm, we have to commit to practicing calm. Small things matter.” Small things like consciously breathing. How great that the Creator built in a mechanism for practicing calm and stillness? It’s as close as our breath. I feel my yoga attitude stretching.

    1. Amy Young April 30, 2014

      Kim, I love the reminder that small things like breathing can make a difference. I read/heard somewhere that breathing is so helpful because when we are “stirred up” the rational parts of our brain are deprived of oxygen and the more emotional/reactive sides move into over drive. But breathing, we are, in part, helping to kick start the rational parts so it’s not ALL emotion.

      And some day, let’s swap car wreck stories :).

  4. Ellyn Dubberly April 30, 2014

    The image of stirred up river water reminds me of a time-out tool I used when teaching pre-k.  It was a recycled water bottle filled with water and crayon shavings.  The child in time-out could shake it and watch the crayon shavings swirl around and eventually settle.  I’m thinking I may need a grown-up time-out chair in my home with a similar bottle near-by.  There is something soothing about sitting and watching chaos settle into calm.  That reminds me of the creation story.  In the beginning there was void and chaos.  And God very simply and calmly created order and beauty.  If He can do that in the universe, surely He can do it in me!

    1. Amy Young April 30, 2014

      Ellyn — what a great idea!! You’re right, seeing something setting is so calming. Maybe getting a snow globe could do the trick for those of us non-crafty people. Thanks for the comment 🙂

    2. Shelly April 30, 2014

      Ellyn, I really liked your final sentence about God bringing order and beauty out of chaos, and if He can do that in the universe – which He has – He can certainly do it in us.

    3. Elisa May 1, 2014

      I’m spreading this idea all over the Kindergarten and 1st grade hallway at the school where I’m helping out. And will totally steal, with zeal, this idea for myself.  I agree.  Just sitting and watching the chaos settle is calming.  Thanks for this idea, Ellyn.

  5. Elisa May 1, 2014

    This is the quote that stuck out the most to me this week:

    “If we stop long enough to create a quiet emotional clearing, the truth of our lives will invariably catch up with us.  We convince ourselves that if we stay busy enough and keep moving, reality won’t be able to keep up.  So we stay in front of the truth about how tired and scared and confused and overwhelmed we sometimes feel.  Of course, the irony is that the thing that’s wearing us down is trying to stay out in front of feeling worn down.  This is the self-perpetuating quality of anxiety. It feeds on itself.”

    Wow! This is something I most definitely see in my life and the lives of other amazing women and men I know.  Living overseas for a number of years it also made me think of how this is something that I’ve seen play out at our annual conference.  So many of us keep so busy during the fall (shaking our river water jars) that it isn’t until our conference in Thailand till some of us realize exactly what kind of issues we’re dealing with or at least it’s the first time we’ve had time to sit and think about them. (Let our brains catch up to our hearts.) How have the rest of you seen this play out in your lives?  I have to admit I’m not sure that I even realize that I’m running in front of reality until it does actually catch up with me.  Have any of you found ways to keep yourself aware of this?

    1. Jenny May 4, 2014

      Thanks for pointing out that quote! I know it’s true but I think sometimes I’m scared of the settling, scared of what will float to the surface and what it might reveal and yet I so long for it at the same time. The end result being that I ignore for a week or two and then it catches up with me and that’s always a mess. Occasionally, I’ve tried using the prayer of examen to heighten my awareness  but then I get over-whelmed and stop. I wish I would learn(or at least remember) that in the stillness, though it can be scary, I encounter Jesus and that is the best!

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