For most of us, the word peace has a certain wistfulness to it, an “if only” quality.
“If only I could go on a vacation.”
“If only I could get a better job.”
“If only I had married someone who was easier to get along with.”
“If only my kids would listen.”
“If only I could retire.”
This sense of wistfulness arises because we can think of countless things that prevent us from experiencing the peace we desire.
Each of us can come up with our own list of “if onlys”—of the situations or the people we would like to change so that our lives wouldn’t feel so rushed and anxious and stressful. Such lists, of course, imply that peace is situational. We will experience peace once our troublesome circumstances are resolved, once that difficult person moves on, once we find a new job. Circumstances do, of course, affect our sense of happiness. But what happens when our circumstances remain frustratingly the same, as they so often do? Can we still find the peace God promises? Or are we the grand exception, the one person to whom his promises do not apply?
There was a time in my own life when I thought (but did not admit) that money would make me feel secure. At other times, I was sure life would calm down if only I could find a way to exert more control over my circumstances and the people who were causing me difficulty. Perhaps you’ve been drawn to other strategies, building your life on the assumption that peace will come as soon as you find the perfect relationship, the perfect vacation, the perfect job. Of course there’s nothing wrong with a good vacation or a great job. And finding someone who loves you is one of life’s great gifts. All of these can add happiness to your life. But none is capable of producing the peace God promises.
The problem is not so much that we are searching for a kind of peace that does not exist, but that we are looking for peace in the wrong places. It’s like searching for New York City in Florida: no matter how many times you drive from Jacksonville to Key West, you will never find it.