Jonalyn's Watercolor Blog

Pretending to be Peaceful

Sometimes the evil, the largeness of evil, threatens to knock me over. Some days, it seems enormous. 

You know what I mean. And not just on the world stage, where public trust in words like “public health” is mostly gone. On the daily level, we all have our batch of troubles that deceive us into thinking there is no hope.

I revisited a day in my journal back in 2016. In one entry I found a long list. Perhaps you can relate to one or two. 

  • Feeling very old and exhausted with fighting “so many fronts”.
  • Discouragement that our non-profit wasn’t pulling in enough to pay our salary. 
  • The reality of Christians seduced by Hitler (I was reading about a village in Nazi Germany at the time).
  • The willful blindness of so many I used to call family. 
  • The repetitive disappointments in living open-heartedly.
  • Anxiety about friendships that wouldn’t or couldn’t heal.
  • Feeling too worn down and broken down to handle raising two boys well.
  • Knowing the sheer impossibility to properly explain to many friends how near and good God is. I listed their names. Re-reading them now, some have died. 
  • Wondering if I’ll ever find peace. 

That was five years ago. Since those days, I’ve changed. I used to be peaceful sometimes, but it wasn’t a steady stream at my side. Peace eluded me, often.

Today, I have become the peaceful woman I pretended to be. But, my circumstances haven’t actually changed that much. 

  • People are still daily seduced by evil, it actually seems worse in 2021. 
  • I am five years older and more clearly see my energy as a limited commodity. ☺️
  • We closed our non-profit due to lack of funding. 
  • The blindness in my extended family continues.
  • I am regularly disappointed because I still live open-heartedly.
  • I still face friendships that will not or cannot heal.
  • I still wonder if I’m able to raise my boys well.
  • Many people I call friends do not care to know God.

But–I have found peace.

If the world today is like a messy toddler’s room, with peanut butter on the Beatrix Potter books and bubbles pooling in the bed, then the world of God is like the magic of Mary Poppins tidying up the nursery. Every created things, every person knowing their place to contribute. Every person interacting as they are created to be. No disease, no evil, no death. Imagine us all acting out of our giftedness and acting with intentionality and humility in that limited sphere. Sure would change our political mess, but also our families, our driving habits, even the way we relax and worship and earn money. 

The world of God is a kingdom, a political reality, where God’s rule is noticed and honored. Goodness triumphs, evil withers, and the ignorant are not fooled by wolves in sheep’s clothing. 

My goal every day is to expand the kingdom of God through my little sphere of power. So when I brush an evergreen into a hazy blue sky, I’m expanding God’s beauty on earth. When I listen to another mythical creature my son wants to write about, I’m expanding the listening ear God has lent to me. When I explain my frustration to Dale, I’m expanding God’s kingdom of honesty and connection. And as God’s kingdom grows, I see the evidence of his political reality in my life. 

God’s rule always brings peace.* Not pretend peace, not pictures of peace, but enduring peace.

If you want this rule of God you must be prepared to start small. Remember the manger in Bethlehem? A feeding trough for the king.  That was the opener. Later, this manger-born baby grew up. If you look at the stories he told, you’ll see it. Jesus regularly compares the kingdom of God to tiny things. The kingdom of God’s rule is not huge (like you’d think). The kingdom of God is like the smallest seed, an undiscovered pearl, a grain of yeast, a treasure hidden in a field, a waiting virgin. Easily overlooked, but they all pack a punch. Once you can see. 

The last five years, I focused in on the apparent smallness of the kingdom. While it started small, I can now see it. I daily have more peace than most friends my age. The King has renovated my soul.

But it started with something small and sort of embarrassing. 

I began refusing any pretending, including pretending to be peaceful.  Of course, admitting it means that I was pretending peace before. 

This is how I see it. The enemy of our souls is called the father of lies for good reason. He wants us to edge the truth to the margins. He wants us to vow to never speak of our failures, our crumpled-up sobbing, our addictions, our family secrets. He wants us wallowing in lies whenever we try to connect.  He knows this will erode any chance of connection, intimacy, friendship and hope. We justify our pretending, we call it being positive. This is easy to do, it makes big waves on social if you can do it well. But it is not the kingdom of God’s way. And therefore, it’s not sustainable.

Having grown up in a codependent family and church, pretending is my drug of choice. The first fudged truth is my first drink. And so for the last five years, I’ve been accepting God’s dominion by abstaining from pretense. 

I claim God as my king and so I do not pretend to be bigger than I am, to have success that I do not. I don’t pretend on social media, not on this blog, and not in my art, but most importantly, not with my family or close friends. I also do not pretend to know the right way when I do not. At the same time, I do not pretend to know less when I know more. I do not pretend to be younger, smarter, dumber, uglier or more beautiful than I am. I do not pretend to be other than Jonalyn. 

And peace has come, to stay. The fruit of God’s world is peace. He can tidy up any disorder, if you let him. 

Why does it take us so long to let him?


* For a larger list of what God’s kingdom brings see Galatians 5:22-23.




27 Responses

  1. This is beautiful, I benefited greatly from your writings on femininity and it is lovely to return. I have a very similar challenge of codependency and have been wanting to move towards more honesty. It was a wake up recently to realize my people pleasing is actually lying. And such a long formed habit, it can feel impossible to overcome.

    I’d be interested to hear more about how you’ve done this as I feel the pretending is so habitual it’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the ways it shows up in my life.

    Thanks for sharing your writing again, it’s meeting me at a new phase of life.

    1. Coryn,

      Yes, I hear you. Codependency is rampant in America (I’d argue much of Europe as well). We sugar-coat our codependency and call it social justice or loving our neighbor or “helping.” But actually we cannot sit with other people’s pain without moving to alleviate.

      How wise of you to recognize what your people-pleasing actually is. How courageous of you to call it what it is. That is beautiful cooperation with the Spirit in your life.

      I’ve received quite a lot of response from this topic. And yes, it is overwhelming to know where to start. So, I will make a note to write more on how to break habits of pretending. Here’s one tip to tide you over:

      Notice what immediately precedes any pretending moment. What are you hungry for that pushes you to compromise your real self?

      Finally, what a pleasure to find you finding me, again! 😃 Yes, the years have given me much to grow through. It means a lot to hear you saying I can meet you in your new phase in life.

  2. This speaks to me so much! First of all, bring back blogs, yes! Second, I have such a huge desire for peace and everyone to get along and it has resulted in diminishing myself to a degree. Becoming honest and just being me can be difficult. But then I look around and there are so many people just being genuine and I’m so drawn to that. It’s a work in progress. Thankfully, growing older makes some of this stuff easier. Anyways, thank you for sharing your vulnerability. ❤️

    1. Jules,
      You are welcome! It keeps me going to have you commenting. 😘
      Such a good point that peacefulness without truth doesn’t even give peace. But truth these days has become a language we don’t even know how to speak. We disguise with those we call friends. We cover up to protect ourselves from perceived rejection. We are even uncomfortable with the blatant honesty of our kids.We don’t know how to find, much less own ourselves. Thank you for your honest about how difficult honesty is.
      I think I need to write more about that in upcoming posts.

  3. This is all so lovely and real. My life and some loved ones around me are enriched by your words and your work, Jonalyn.
    One of the facets I appreciate from your voice is hearing God’s call to me. Those calls name me, heal me, and reveal me. Thank for listening, interpreting and expressing so well.

    1. *Credit to Steve and Josiah Green for the “naming, healing & revealing” terminology—lyrics within their song “Love Will Find A Way.”

    2. De Luna,

      I have had a few email comments this week with similar word coming up “real” and “genuine.” And I want to reply that I feel named by you and these other voices. There’s a powerful discussion of what it means to name someone in the second “Wrinkle in Time” book by Madeleine L’Engle titled “A Wind in the Door”. I highly recommend it. In it the meaning of being “named” comes up again and again. Without knowing who you are, you are in danger of annihilation or in hope of being named. And the characters are all in the in-between place. The main character, Meg, says she feels named by Calvin. Here’s how she puts it when asked.

      “Who makes you least confused?”
      “Calvin” Meg had no hesitation here. “When I’m with Calvin, I don’t mind being me”
      “You mean he makes you more you, don’t you?”
      “I guess you could put it that way.”

      And I, like you Paul, am on a quest to find how God connects me to people who make me more me. These are few and far between. But they are worth finding.

      Thank you for choosing my words to let God name, heal and reveal you. I’m honored.

  4. Beautiful work! In writing and painting. You can feel peacefulness in this painting. Your experience with peace brings so much hope that true peace does come when the work is done to open our eyes to truth. People and circumstances may not change and may even get worse at times but that peace can still reside. I find myself with raising my kids that when their truth at times feels harsh and jarring I want to correct it to be a more pleasant version of what they are feeling. It’s an eye opener to what I’m doing to myself and to them. It’s pushing the truth to be barried and unknown/undiscovered. There is no peace in that.

    1. Thank you, Em, for noting my painting as well as my writing.
      You get it, my dear friend. The peaceful places are the fruit from the hardest parts of our lives. Peace doesn’t come from ignoring habitual destruction or being insanely positive. And you’re so right, our kids are some of the best reminders of that truth. F and O and S and R are constant alarm bells when we try to create a false reality. They can smell deceit. Good for them! We must be doing something right 🙂
      You’ve walked into truth for years now, and I admire and count myself incredibly rich to call you my friend.♥️

  5. To first be honest with oneself. I find that is a harder task than I first realized. I have many layers of expectations of myself that I didn’t realize I had developed over time. Some are silly, unattainable and quite damaging in and of themselves. The most obvious is being endlessly happy. It’s confusing to me that I have to continue to remind myself that I need not be jovial, bubbly all the time. That sometimes I have to tell myself to rest my mind as well as my body. I do get frustrated that I have to work at being honest and real with MYSELF first…it feels like it should be more natural than it is. However, without the time and effort of self-care…I move in a direction of self-deceptive ignorance I’d rather avoid.

    It’s lovely to read about your thoughts. I’m thankful my wife told me you were publicly writing again. Cheers to your obvious dedication in painting and writing. Its impressive to see your growth as an artist in different mediums. Cheers to Dale’s Mark and Proverbs completions.

    1. Carson,
      I told myself if you or your mighty-souled wife commented here, I could count myself successfully launched.

      Welcome! You bless and encourage me with showing up.

      So true, our self deception comes way too naturally. Some of the most deceived people I know claim to be organic, loving natural things and “natural” progress in relationships. But we are naturally bent to obey our grooved living. Generational work has been done to make these grooves. These deceptive ways, these grooves have many names: perpetual positivity/jovial/bubbliness (yea, I have that in my family tree as well), pessimism, trusting too implicitly the worst authorities, distrusting the good authorities, hating progress, hating the old ways, loving revolution, loving upheaval and newness, pretending, codependency, addiction to cover it all up. And so we become strangers to ourselves. Oh golly, we need the Spirit.

      But here’s comfort along the way: We are all feeble, the same dust, the same chances to claim power to change. I’m working to become more honest and real with myself, too. Social media doesn’t help. Sabbath, journaling, quiet, refusing time to those who don’t want to grow, choosing friends who want the Spirit to change them, praying whenever I am weak—these help.

      Glad for your cheers along the way! 💪🏼

  6. I have just now started to set aside some time to read your lovely new blog. I am so happy to be here! As always, your writing nutrition-dense. There is a lot to digest here!
    I love that God can tidy up any and all of our disordered ways! But it is so hard to be honest about them and let Him into that space. The paradox of having pass through the painful truth in order to dwell in peace….
    I am grateful reading these comments to be agin reminded to celebrate my kids honesty in their feelings. I think you know how I fall back into hating to have to listen to it all way to easily.
    You say in one of your comments here that we cannot sit with someone in their pain, without moving to alleviate it. And it looks like you are saying that moving to alleviate is codependent. Is it always? I don’t think it is. I would be interested to hear more from you on that.

    1. Hello there, Erin! 👋🏼

      What a good memory of the old days of blogging to have you here.

      Yes, I can definitely imagine times when we try to lessen pain and it would not be codependent. When Jesus healed the sick he wasn’t codependent 😄. But the trouble is codependency always looks like being helpful. So the only way to distinguish them is…honesty about our motives. And honesty about the issue at hand.

      There were some people Jesus did not heal. Many, in fact. I think we cannot easily know if we ought to alleviate pain (I’m talking about pain we did not cause) unless we ask ourselves why we want to stop the pain.

      Ending pain is never enough of a reason to intervene in someone’s life unless we know more. Even God doesn’t do that. He respects our choices and refused to turn knives into feathers and bullets into bubbles.

      So, perhaps you could share an example for us to examine.

      1. I can think of a ton of examples of non-codependent helping. But listing them seems tedious, as you are rightly said, the motive behind the movement matters greatly. So the list wouldn’t answer one way or the other, whether it is right or wrong.
        I completely agree with you about the work of Jesus and the reality that God does not just remove our pain from us. But he does offer comfort and hope. Which does alleviate of the pain. Love and connection and hope of redemption and healing are all ways He alleviates pain, even when He does not remove it.
        I would add that I also don’t agree that it is impossible for us to sit with someone in their pain without moving to alleviate it. I don’t think this is true for all people all of the time. Sometimes we may feel judgement and hate toward someone and feel they deserve their pain. To be moved with compassion is to share some of the heart of God. It’s a good thing.
        Yes, that is one of the troubles with codependency! It masquerades as a good thing. When we are stuck in it, it can be incredibly hard to know right helping from wrong helping. I think honesty about motives is really hard for many to unearth, when stuck in this place.
        What are some good red flags you can think of, to discern the differences?
        I can think of some –
        •am I trying to make choices that are not mine to make in the “helping”?
        •if my help is not wanted, does that make me angry?
        •do I believe I am the only that can help with this problem?
        •have I neglected my own things to do, trying to take care of someone else’s problem?
        •if no one needs my help right now, do I feel worthless?

        1. Some good thoughts, Erin.
          Really value your questions. It shows how much soul work you’ve done! 💪🏼 A few more red flag questions to add:
          🚩If my help is not received in the timetable I expected or want, do I have satisfying work to fill my thought space so I don’t spin on ways to get my help accepted?
          🚩Do I have practice with prayer for wisdom and peace when tempted to mentally spin on better solutions? Can I pray and release? Or do I pray to fret?
          🚩 Can I distinguish between my joy and someone else’s joy or sadness or grief?

  7. I’ve got several observations regarding your blog post. First, I like your analogy of comparing your first fudged truth to an alcoholic’s first drink. Second, I’m grateful you’ve found that peace. Some of us are still working on that. New discoveries I’ve made over the last year have given me some more clues, yet they also demonstrate how far I’ve got to go. Third, I like how you looked back at five years ago vs. now. I need to do the same. I wonder how much has changed in my life. Finally, I miss that nonprofit.

  8. Late to the party here, because I really take a while to digest your thoughtful posts. I was thinking about this one this morning. It struck me that sometimes, pretending can lead the way to the real thing. For example, I am a naturally shy person. Sometimes painfully so. One of my kids really struggles with shyness, so I talk to her about how I overcome it. I pretend I’m outgoing. Or, I used to. I’ve gotten over a lot of fear just by pretending and doing and making space for my dreams to come true, even if I fear them. I knew you back when you were pretending to be peaceful, and it’s no substitute for the real thing. But I know you were also making way in your life for peace, finding stillness and seeking silence, learning how to set boundaries. Do you think it’s possible that you were still seeking the real thing through pretending? If that’s way off the mark, I’m not offended! It’s just that sometimes we have to be doers to become who we were meant to be.

    1. Does pretending ever lead to the real thing? I’m thinking about this, it does seem to work for some habits. For instance, a messy person forms a habit of “don’t put it down, put it away” and eventually becomes tidier. This could also work to overcome fears (flooding comes to mind) like fear of heights or bees or big parties.

      However habits are different from the fruits of God’s spirit because we cannot actually form the fruit. I cannot go pluck or buy or fake peacefulness. No amount of flag flying doves or wearing dove pins, no amount of peace protests or sabbath rests creates this fruit of the Spirit. All the fruits are like this. And you’re hinting at this when you say I made way in my life for it.

      Yes, exactly.

      The disciplines (rest, prayer, fasting, study, vigil, celebration, etc) put our bodies in a place to have room to receive the fruit. The disciplines help us receive. So for example, I have rested for 24 hours once a week for about 8 years. Now, the Spirit has grown peace into my life. But it took time, just like corn or strawberries. We can sow the seed but God produces the fruit.

      The trouble I see with faking or pretend peacefulness when I didn’t have it (as you probably could see) was that the pattern of pretending was unsustainable. I’d get so worn thin on those Soulation Gathering weeks. I would be utterly exhausted, not refreshed. Different from Dale who is further along in peacefulness than I.

      So pretending the fruits of the Spirit (any of them) can actually lead to more discouragement and hopelessness. We see this in people who try to act joyful without the Spirit sustaining them. It’s obnoxious and exhausting and creates shame as we watch them. We wonder what is wrong with us. 😑

      Pretending joy or peacefulness or love doesn’t inspire, it exhausts us and others.

      But yes, we can practice the disciplines and make room. This is the surest way: prepare the soil. Then, one day, years later, we will look out our soul’s window and a gorgeous peaceful bloom will have appeared. It will even seem effortless…but you all know the bigger story. 😄

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