What comes to mind when you hear the word peace? For me it’s the cliché of a pond in perfect stillness or a sea with just enough breeze to allow for smooth sailing. Turbulent water is nowhere in the picture. All is quiet and serene. But the truth is, if I possessed that kind of peace all the time, I would probably go crazy. I would certainly become fat, sleepy, and bored. Surely that can’t be what God intends when he offers us his peace.
I like what Charles Spurgeon, the great nineteenth-century preacher, had to say about the blessings of trouble. He is talking about how not to raise a son, but the same advice would apply, of course, to raising a daughter.
“If you want to ruin your son,” Spurgeon says, “never let him know a hardship. When he is a child carry him in your arms, when he becomes a youth still dandle him, and when he becomes a man still dry-nurse him, and you will succeed in producing an arrant fool. If you want to prevent his being made useful in the world, guard him from every kind of toil. Do not suffer him to struggle. Wipe the sweat from his dainty brow and say, ‘Dear child, thou shalt never have another task so arduous.’ Pity him when he ought to be punished; supply all his wishes, avert all disappointments, prevent all troubles, and you will surely tutor him to be a reprobate and to break your heart. But put him where he must work, expose him to difficulties, purposely throw him into peril, and in this way you shall make him a man, and when he comes to do man’s work and to bear man’s trial, he shall be fit for either.”1
Could it be the trials that often throw us into such confusion and cause us to question God’s love are in the end meant not to rob us of peace but to make us people who are filled with shalom—whole, healed, confident, safe, prosperous, complete—able to hold our heads high not because life is easy but because we belong to a Father who loves us and teaches us how to live?
- Charles H. Spurgeon, “A Mystery! Saints Sorrowing and Jesus Glad!” (sermon, Metropolitan Tabernacle, London, August 7, 1874), transcript, Spurgeon Gems, accessed November 18, 2011, http://www.spurgeongems.org/vols10-12/chs585.pdf.
I remember receiving a note from my daughter’s school informing me that though the school year was nearly over, Luci’s milk account still had more than forty-five dollars. Further investigation revealed the not-too-surprising news that my daughter had not been drinking her milk. So I sat her down for yet another lecture, trying to convey the importance of establishing enough bone mass when she’s young so that when she reaches my age and beyond, she won’t suffer from fractures that could have been avoided. As you might imagine, my lecture didn’t convince.
Luci’s aversion to milk reminds me of a point Mark Buchanan makes in his book The Rest of God.
“God,” he says, “gave us the gift of Sabbath—not just as a day, but as an orientation, a way of seeing and knowing. Sabbath-keeping is a form of mending. It’s mortar in the joints. Keep Sabbath, or else break too easily and oversoon.”
Mark goes on to say that “Sabbath imparts the rest of God—actual physical, mental, spiritual rest, but also the rest of God—the things of God’s nature and presence we miss in our busyness.”
I remember working for a man who was a workaholic. Joe would spend hours at work every night. Though he was devoted to his work, he never seemed to stay on top of things. The more time he put in at work, the less productive he was. Or to say it more colloquially, the harder he worked, the behinder he got. At least that’s how his employees saw it.
Just because we devote boatloads of time and energy to something doesn’t guarantee a good return. Because time is such a precious commodity, let’s give some of it to God, who is able to transform the time we spend with him into mortar for our joints, ensuring that we will break neither too easily nor oversoon.
Are there practical ways to build more peace into our lives—things we can do to alleviate the stress and tension we feel? Happily, there are. You have probably considered several of these ideas already. If so, take this opportunity to review the options and then try a few.
- Don’t bottle up your concerns. Instead, connect with friends who are able to provide a listening ear.
- Limit your caffeine and sugar consumption.
- Soothe yourself with a cup of tea. Green tea and black tea contain theanine, a substance that may have a calming effect.
- Distract yourself by cooking a nice meal.
- Drink a warm glass of milk. Milk contains tryptophan, a substance that can calm you.
- Eat a little dark chocolate.
- Hire help.
- Take a bike ride.
- Play with a pet.
- Go outside for a few minutes every day.
- Take a bath with lavender bath salts or oil.
- Watch a funny movie.
- Dedicate one evening a week to do something simply because you enjoy it.
- Lie down and begin tensing and then relaxing your muscles, starting with your toes and working your way up to your neck and head. Tense each muscle group for five seconds and then relax for thirty.
None of this is rocket science. That’s the advantage. The psalmist’s vision of green meadows and peaceful streams isn’t just about heaven. We can begin to taste God’s rest right now. Adopting a few simple practices may be what you need to ratchet down your stress levels.
In the gripping novel Sister, a character by the name of Beatrice writes to her younger sister, Tess, about uncovering the roots of her own pervasive insecurity. The final abandonment came, she says, when her mother packed her off to boarding school. That was when her younger brother’s death and her father’s desertion coalesced into the overarching message that she was unwanted and alone. But now, as an adult, she has discovered a surprising truth. Rather than rejecting her, her mother had been trying to protect her by sending her away. Yet her essential problem remains: she is still broken, even if that brokenness is based on a misunderstanding.
“The problem was,” she says, “knowing the reason I was insecure didn’t help me to undo the damage that had been done. Something in me had been broken, and I now knew it was well intentioned—a duster knocking the ornament onto the tiled floor rather than its being smashed deliberately—but broken just the same.”1
Like Beatrice, we may suffer from unintentional wounds inflicted during childhood. While greater self-understanding can be helpful to the healing process, understanding alone cannot put us back together because broken is still broken. But unlike characters in a novel, we have access to a Healer who is able to transform us, using the hurt we have suffered for a purpose yet to be revealed.
Today as you seek the Lord, who is our healer, ask him for a deeper understanding of the roots of your brokenness. Then pray that he will touch you with his healing and redeeming power.
- Rosamund Lupter, Sister: A Novel (New York: Broadway Books, 2010), 117.