The other day I made a list of things that bug me—little things I can’t seem to eradicate from my life. Here they are:
- a cluttered house
- children who argue
- slow cars in the fast lane
- long grocery-store lines
- clerks who are rude
- plugged toilets
- computer malfunctions
- pop-up windows
- calling a helpline and getting none
- misplacing my keys or phone
- people who don’t clean up after their dogs
Admittedly, none of this is big stuff. But it’s often the little stuff that threatens to steal my peace. Listen to what a seventeenth-century spiritual writer by the name of Claude de la Colombière says about the annoyances that plague us:
“All our life is sown with tiny thorns that produce in our hearts a thousand involuntary movements of hatred, envy, fear, impatience, a thousand little fleeting disappointments, a thousand slight worries, a thousand disturbances that momentarily alter our peace of soul. For example, a word escapes that should not have been spoken. Or someone says something that offends us. A child inconveniences you. A bore stops you. You don’t like the weather. Your work is not going according to plan. A piece of furniture is broken. A dress is torn. I know that these are not occasions for practicing very heroic virtue. But they would definitely be enough to acquire it if we really wished to do so.”1
So what should I do with my list of annoyances? Tear it up? Wish it away? Or let it remind me that God has a tried and true strategy for building up his life in me? Come to think of it, maybe I should take that list and draw lots of thistles and thorns around it, reminding myself that far from stealing my peace, little stuff can increase it.
- George Guitton, Perfect Friend: The Life of Blessed Claude la Colombière, trans. William J. Young (St. Louis: B. Herder Book Company, 1956), 326, quoted and paraphrased in Bert Ghezzi, Adventures in Daily Prayer (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2010), 59.
I remember visiting the home of author Elisabeth Elliot, just north of Boston, right at the edge of the sea. Commenting on the stunning view from her office window, I mentioned that it must be a great place to write. Elisabeth’s answer: “Yes, if you can’t write here, you can’t write anywhere.”
Years earlier I had taken a trip west, into the mountains of Colorado. I was in the midst of making a difficult decision. While toiling away at the most stressful job of my life, I received an offer from another company, one that would mean a complete shift of career. My first instinct was to grab it.
But I didn’t trust myself. I wanted time to think and pray, to see what God had in mind. In the midst of a sixty-hour work week, I had found it difficult to hear anything but my own anxious thoughts buzzing around in my head.
But then I went on vacation, camping in Colorado. I remember hiking out one clear, September morning, in search of a mountain lake. What I found was spectacular—a great mountain, framed by blue skies, reflected on the serene surface of the lake below. As I took in the scene, I sensed the pressure and stress that had characterized my life for months seeping away. It felt as though I were exhaling after a prolonged period of time in which I had been holding my breath. I don’t remember how long I looked at that peaceful scene, but I was in no hurry to get away. As time passed, it occurred to me that the world was a far bigger place than I had lately made it. I had been obsessing over my tiny slice of it, forgetting that the world God made is expansive, full of possibilities. I felt a new freedom to step into an unexpected possibility that had recently presented itself. When I returned home, I handed in my notice, eager to begin the next phase of my career.
Visiting that author, sitting by that mountain lake—these are two experiences of many that convince me it is possible to sense God’s presence simply by experiencing the wonder of his creation. When was the last time you were able to sense God’s presence in the midst of his creation? I encourage you to make time this week to take in the beauty of the world that he has made.
Squeeze an orange and you get juice. Squeeze a horn and you get noise. Squeeze a finger and you get an “ouch!” That’s what happened to me the other day when one of my daughters grabbed hold of my ring finger, right where it had been badly bruised beneath the nail. “What’s that black mark?” she asked, pressing down.
“Ouch, ouch, ouch! That really hurt!” I squealed.
The look on my face sent her spiraling into fits of laughter. Then she apologized.
“Sorry, Mom. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I wasn’t thinking.”
Sometimes trouble is like that. It squeezes us way too hard. That’s when we find out what we’re made of, what’s really inside. Ken Sande, president of Peacemaker Ministries, helps all kinds of people resolve conflicts so they can avoid going to court. Over the years he has come to believe that conflict inevitably shows what we really think about God:
“By your actions, you will show either that you have a big God or that you have a big self and big problems. To put it another way, if you do not focus on God, you will inevitably focus on yourself and your will, or on other people and the threat of their wills.”1
Ken advises people to focus not on the conflict but on how God wants them to act in the midst of it. To my mind, that means we don’t play games, we don’t call names, we don’t vilify. We don’t try to win by whatever means necessary. We do trust God, imitate him, and treat others with respect.
Ken’s advice is sound. When the dust settles, and it’s time to move on, we will leave the situation with a sense of peace, not because things turned out the way we think they should have, but because we acted the way we know we should.
- Ken Sande, The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflicts (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004), 34.
Over the years, I have engaged in various methods of prayer—Scripture meditation, silent contemplation, thanksgiving, intercessory prayer, and liturgical prayer—and while I’ve been enriched by each, my favorite way of praying continues to be praying the Lord’s Prayer. Far from becoming rote, praying the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples has become deeper with each repetition.
In his book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, Kenneth Bailey tells of meeting a young Latvian woman after the fall of the Soviet Union. Knowing she had grown up under communism, he asked how she had come to faith. Had Christians in her family, perhaps an elderly grandmother, or members of an underground church, influenced her? The answer was an unqualified no. Everyone in her family had been atheists. How then had she come to know Christ? Here’s what she told him:
“At funerals we were allowed to recite the Lord’s Prayer. As a young child I heard those strange words and had no idea who we were talking to, what the words meant, where they came from or why we were reciting them. When freedom came at last, I had the opportunity to search for their meaning. When you are in total darkness, the tiniest point of light is very bright. For me the Lord’s Prayer was that point of light. By the time I found its meaning I was a Christian.”1
Perhaps you have prayed this prayer for many years or only rarely. Whatever your experience, I would encourage you to. From this small act of prayer, a tiny point of light will shine and spread, and the Father, who knows all secrets, will bless you with the peace that comes from belonging completely to him.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil. Amen.
1. Kenneth E. Bailey, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels (Downers
Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2008), 91.