KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON! REALLY?
It started as a motivational poster put out by the British government in 1939 in preparation for what would become WWII, “KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON”. Intended to raise the morale of the fearful population in the face of almost inevitable conflict, the phrase seemed to epitomize the Victorian belief of maintaining a “stiff upper lip” and remaining calm through the practice of self-discipline and fortitude in the midst of adversity. Things haven’t always worked out so well for them, but you need to give the British folks a nod of admiration for their tenacious attitude.
While I had certainly heard the phrase before, it wasn’t until I went to London for the first time that I actually began to think about it. The fact is, you couldn’t avoid seeing replicas of the original poster on virtually anything you could think of……t-shirts, coffee mugs, magnets, hatpins, note pads, sweatshirts, flags, crystal blocks, billboards, phone cases, paper napkins, keychains, wallets, stuffed animals, …..you name it, they had it! Besides the obvious commercialism of the souvenirs, clothes and trinkets, I couldn’t help but also suspect there was also a profound sense of pride in this uniquely British stoicism. To the locals, this was more than just a motivational phrase…..it was truly a part of their history and self-awareness.
When you think about it, this simply phrase outlines a pretty solid life philosophy in many ways. I’m not saying it’s the answer to all of life’s complicated issues, but there’s something to be said about just remaining calm and moving forward……..NO MATTER WHAT! I can’t help but think that as bad as things got during WWII in London, this stoic philosophy helped those involved both to survive and “carry on”.
I’ve never endured the type of challenges that war brought to the folks in Europe. I’ve sprained more than my share of ankles, endured 5 ACL surgeries on my knees, survived being “assaulted and battered” as a young teen, walked through some significant financial challenges, been betrayed by a close friend, was the victim of a home burglary, experienced the heartache of grief, walked with those I love through illness and injury, been overwhelmed by responsibilities, lost my dream job, know the pain of rejection, been treated unfairly by those who should know better, and been faced with a full plate of problems. I’d like to say I’d stayed “calm” during all those situations and circumstances……….BUT you know I’d be lying!
While I remain fairly calm in emergency type situations, I can’t say the same about how I handle the turmoil of everyday life. I find myself often overwrought with frustration or anxiety caused by the latest little catastrophe. In such moments I truly do need a “time out” to collect my thoughts, calm down, and then carry on. It’s not that I can stop reality from happening all around me, but I can choose how I will handle it. If I give into the stress and pressure of the moment, I rarely will be able to navigate the circumstance without inflicting some harm or discomfort upon myself or others. If I would slow down, take a few deep breaths, and let my spirit settle I would be much better suited to face whatever was in front of me. Isn’t it funny how we can “know” something even when we don’t actually do it? Knowledge without application is wasted.
The thing is, I don’t imagine you’re a whole lot different than me! Life has a way of jumping into all our routines with sudden detours, unexpected obstacles, and discomforting realities. Sometimes, like our friends in Britain, you can anticipate the difficulties that lie ahead and try to prepare for it. At other times we get walloped completely unaware. And whether such circumstances are expected or not, we will have a choice to make — will we give into the anxiety and fear of the moment, or will we try to “keep calm and on”?
It is interesting to me that though the British government printed over 2 million of these posters in advance of the war, they seemed to have somewhat of a limited impact during the conflict itself. In fact, the posters were all but forgotten in the aftermath of bombings in London and the agony of the battle. Only a few copies remained intact at the end of the war as people began to rebuild their lives. Then, in the year 2000, a few copies were found and began to be emulated in almost every form imaginable. The phrase resonated with the remaining survivors of the war effort and the succeeding generations. Suddenly it seemed to take on a life of its own, succinctly summing up the British take on life.
I’m proud to trace my family heritage to England, but that’s not the reason why I want to adopt this simple philosophy as I continue my own journey through life. I want to do so because it truly makes sense. And, being a Christian, I actually think I know where that needs to start. Too many times even those of us who are believers and promote the truth of scripture don’t seriously take scripture to heart. Oh, we can say the words, sing the songs, and even preach the sermons. But when it comes to actually believing what we say, sing or preach, the end product is somewhat less than convincing.
Staying calm starts with an assurance of knowing who’s in charge. In 2nd Chronicles King Jehoshaphat is reminded that the “battle is not his”. If we truly believe that God is the Creator and Sustainer, then He knows a lot better than we do what to do in any situation. Our task is not primarily to “figure things out”, but rather to respond to what He asks us to do. Peace (i.e. Calmness) comes from truly knowing and acting on that reality. We can “keep calm” because God’s in charge and the battle is His!
But this is not a “calmness” that sits passively by waiting for God to work “everything out for our good”. Yes, we can and should be “calm”, but to “carry on” means we have to keep moving forward. It might be just one step at a time because that’s all we can really see to do……….so do it! We don’t have to know how it’s all going to work out to move. We can truly be a peace, but that doesn’t exclude us from taking steps forward in faith, asking God to open and close doors. Too many of us are paralyzed in fear because we just want to seek “peace and calm”, when God seems to be saying that peace often comes only when we are willing to “carry on” in faith.
I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to look at that phrase, KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON, again without thinking of this life lesson. God wants me to trust Him enough that I can stay calm in virtually any situation. But He also wants me to trust Him enough to move forward in faith despite that situation.
You’ve got to give it to those British….they got this one right!!