Like life itself, the journey toward peace rarely proceeds along a predictable path. Sometimes it may even seem as though you have taken one step forward and two steps back. What do you do then?
One thing you can do is begin to think about where you want to go and how you are going to get there. Just as you wouldn’t start driving from New York to Florida by heading north to Canada, it would be foolish to set the wrong course on your journey toward peace. Progress can only be made if you continue heading in the right direction, which means, of course, that you are heading in God’s direction.
When it comes to navigating the journey, think of repentance as a spiritual GPS that will keep you on course. The Greek word for “repentance” is metanoia, which suggests a radical turning away from sin in order to turn back to God. Without such a turning, all our efforts to become people at peace will fail. As Christians, we know that repentance is more than a one-time event. It’s something we need to do daily, making necessary course corrections whenever we falter.
Our lack of peace may or may not be attributed to our own sins. But sin is certainly a major obstacle in our quest to experience more of God’s peace. However you are feeling today, ask the Lord for grace to recognize the things in your life that are off kilter. As you admit your failings, imagine yourself turning from them and toward God, confident that he will abundantly pardon.
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My daughter Katie attended elementary school with another Chinese adoptee by the name of Maggie. Though the two girls look nothing alike, people have always gotten them mixed up. This happened recently when a boy greeted Maggie by saying, “Aren’t you that bendy chick?” I laughed when I heard about it, because Katie is the bendy one, able to twist her wrists in a complete circle or bend her fingers straight back until they touch her hand. She’s the most flexible person I know.
When it comes to having peace, flexibility is an asset. I’m not talking about moral flexibility, of course—changing our values to fit the environment we’re in. What I’m talking about is finding ways to keep the big things big and the small things small.
So much of our stress comes from how we react to little things, like a messy house, a slow driver, a disappointing holiday. Unreasonably high expectations can wreak havoc on our sense of peace. But sometimes peace comes when we learn to lower our expectations, as long as doing so harms no one.
To find out how bendy you are, take note of the things that bother you this week. Consider making a daily list. At the end of the week, place a check next to the big things and a circle next to the small ones. Try to see if there’s a pattern in your response to the little things that bothered you—a need for control, an inability to tolerate loose ends, a streak of perfectionism. Then cross out everything with a circle beside it and consider how much better your week might have been had you responded to the little things more flexibly. In the days ahead, do your best to become a bendable person who is able to major on the majors and minor on the minors.
(Image courtesy of katerha at flickr.com.)
Many of us feel confused and anxious when it comes to making major life decisions. How should we spend our money? Who should we marry? Where should we live? What job should we take? These and countless other questions can be difficult to sort out. How can we experience God’s peace in the midst of such life-altering choices?
The best advice I have encountered on this topic comes from a man who surrendered his life to Christ in the early part of the sixteenth century, Ignatius of Loyola. Based on his own experience, Ignatius wrote what would become a spiritual classic. The Spiritual Exercises is a book that offers uniquely helpful guidance on discerning God’s will for your life.
In The Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius reminds us that we should make every decision with the proper end in mind. For a Christian, that end or purpose is to deepen our life with God. Embracing that principle reduces our anxiety because we realize that any decision we make is merely a means to that end. And why would God not want to help us when he has already told us, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you” (Psalm 32:8)?
As we pray, seeking God’s will for our lives, Ignatius tells us to notice how we are feeling. Pay attention, he says, to feelings of “spiritual consolation” (every increase in hope, faith, and charity) and to feelings of “spiritual desolation” (feelings of darkness, disturbance, temptation, and disquiet). Ignatius advises us to make the decision that moves our hearts toward spiritual consolation rather than desolation.
Of course, we should also seek the counsel of mature Christians who know us well and who can confirm or question a direction we are considering. Decision making doesn’t have to be fraught with confusion and anxiety. Instead, we can experience God’s peace as we seek his will.
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I was driving down the highway last night when a luxury car whizzed past. I noticed a streak of gleaming white and something else that caught my attention. Emblazoned on its license plate was one simple word: needy. I laughed out loud, appreciating the humor and audacity of such a self-designation. That car made me think about the enormous spread between what we think will make us happy (things like luxury cars) and what really does make us happy.
It’s no secret that human beings are wired for pleasure. It’s what fuels our materialistic instincts. We get a quick rush from buying things. A friend of mine sells expensive laboratory equipment to hospitals. At the end of the day, she says, the purchasing decision is always an emotional one. Hospital employees, it seems, get a kick out of buying the latest, greatest gadgets and machines for labs and operating rooms.
Though it’s natural to enjoy buying things, we all know that such pleasures can become addictive. To keep the rush going, we have to keep buying more stuff. Doing so can empty our souls as well as our wallets, making us dependent on shallow pleasures.
If you doubt this, spend a little time taking inventory of all you own. Maybe your vice is shoes or clothes. Or maybe it’s being up on the latest in technology. Or maybe you think a new car or new decor for your home will make you feel good. But let’s be honest: how many of your possessions have given you anything resembling the peace your heart desires?