A Peace That Lasts

I’d like to start off this morning with a kind of informal survey. Raise your hand if you are able, perhaps fairly regularly, to have a completely peaceful day. Okay, leave your hand up if you are able to experience peace two or three days in a row. How about a week? Is there anyone here for whom peace is a most-of-the-time kind of thing? If so, come on up here and you get to give the message today…you can share your secret with us.

In my experience, even though I really and truly want to be a peaceful soul all the time, I tend to be a worrier, so peace for me comes and goes quite a lot. Seen as a whole, I think I experience quite a bit of peace, especially when I’m home digging in the garden or writing something new. But in general my mind is always busy, as I think first of this thing and then that thing I need to do. Or this person and that person to pray for. Or I’m concerned about this thing in the news, or that thing I haven’t finished, or the child or grandchild who sounded just a little off on the phone.

We all have many things, each day, that capture our attention and stir up our emotions. Much of what we worry about resolves itself naturally and fairly easily. In fact I heard a teacher say once a few years ago, “What was it that you were so worried about last week?” The people in the room laughed and then struggled to recall just what it was, although it may have seemed like a major worry at the time. It is likely the same for us. Can you remember what you were upset about last weekend? Or the weekend before that? Chances are—and hopefully– whatever it was, it flowed on with the rest of life and worked itself out without too much bother.

At the hospital I have lead a number of mindfulness groups and have done training in the community to introduce mindfulness to police officers and other first responders. Mindfulness is a technique that can reduce anxiety, enhance our understanding, and increase our sense of well-being—in our lives and in our world. I think of it as having a “mind-full of Now.” And Now is a powerful place to be because it’s only Now that we can make good choice, only Now—this moment—when we can reach out in our hearts and be met by God. That happens only when we choose it in the present—now yesterday, not tomorrow, but Now.

We know from the way that our brains react to any kind of stress—whether it’s something small like a spouse’s grumpy response over breakfast or something big like concerns about our health and the safety of our family members—that as soon as any threat is perceived, our bodies are flooded with endorphins, which get us ready to fight or flee. This is because a gland called the amygdala in the oldest parts of our brain is designed to trigger a “fight or flight response” that is supposed to save our lives. And while today we rarely encounter truly life endangering threats, thank Goodness, that gland does its work every time any kind of threat, real or not, is perceived, and our pulses race, our blood pressure elevates, we breathe more shallowly, and our whole system tenses, preparing us to do combat with the threatening person or thing or turn and run as fast as we can the other way.

What the first doctor who started using mindfulness in healthcare discovered was that there is a way to interrupt that lightning-fast and deeply biological response to threat. And at the same time, it can dramatically reduce our anxiety, and help us feel safe. Mindfulness as Dr. Kabat-Zinn defines it, is

Paying attention to the present moment, on purpose, non-judgmentally.

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? And it may feel simple, for a moment or two. But learning to live with a mindful mindset takes practice. We learn to let the past and future go and feel the goodness, and usually the safeness, of this precise moment we are living. We find out that our automatic response to something—especially if it triggers anxiety or upset—doesn’t have to be so automatic. There is a space in there, a space that allows us to make a better choice that leads toward peace and away from fear.

In that little moment of pause created by being mindful about what’s happening, we can remember God and God’s good intention for us, even when things around us feel so stressful and are threatening to steal our peace. Our Old Testament reading today is one of my favorite Bible verses and one that I turn to again and again when I’m worrying about people or projects or what’s coming down the road:

 “I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you a hope and a future.”

And of course, God said this to Jeremiah so he could share it with the children of Israel, those stiff-necked folks who no matter how many times God invited them to come closer, they kept choosing the wrong things that led them away instead. Jeremiah had written this in a letter to those who had been carried off into exile in Babylon; God wants them to know they are loved and that God’s hope and intention is that they will experience goodness, health, and abundance in their lives. God wants them to be able to trust that good things are coming. Right after this verse, God says,

“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.”

What a promise that is! God is reassuring us that God can be trusted; that God wants our lives to be filled with goodness and hope. God says when we pray, God listens, and when we seek, God will be found. What an incredible and clear statement that is. A statement of the deepest truth. A covenantal promise. If only we could believe it in the moment, deep down in the midst of our worries about family and finances, headlines and health issues. If all we ever did was cling to those three simple ideas—that (1) God wants us to experience good; (2) that when we pray, God listens; and (3) when we look for God, we will truly find God—anything that takes away our peace in a given day would simply evaporate. What could we have to worry about? God says good is on the way and God is really with us. That is an  absolute, unshakable recipe for abiding peace.

It makes me think of Meister Eckhart’s poem, So You Want to Find God?

Then don’t imagine you know
where to look, because all things
are God’s speech—that stone lying
on the path no less than the birds
of the air or the angels of heaven,
each speaking in its own way
of the One who made it.
So listen to everything, even
the unspeaking rocks, and learn
what it is to speak of God with
a speech beyond words.

I love that, “each speaking in its own way of the One who made it.” Just like we do, when peace and truth are operating at the center of our lives. Then Christ’s Light just shines out of us. Of course, we all know how easy it is to get caught up the drama of the day. There are many shiny, loud, and interesting things out there that capture our focus and engage our imaginations. We may find a sense of solid peace—and hold on to it, for a time—and then jump with both feet into a passionate debate on social media or fixate on a problem we don’t know how to solve. It’s almost like our peaceful minds get hijacked by any issue that gets us all worked up, that causes a sense of urgency or inflames our emotions. While we’re feeling centered, peaceful, remembering God, we’re in touch with the bigger reality of God’s loving presence, but when something challenging comes along, we forget God and react to the threat and worry the circumstance evokes.

In our common language, we have a number of idioms that describe that phenomenon. I’m sure you’ve heard and maybe used these:

  • “He can’t see the forest for the trees.”
  • “She got caught in the weeds.” Or
  • “We’ve lost sight of the big picture here.”

Each one of those common phrases is a way of saying we got sucked into a situation or a problem or even a memory and lost touch with the larger perspective—the larger truth—at hand. And it’s that reconnection to the truth that ultimately restores our peace. When we’re caught in the weeds of a problem, we are literally tied up with the emotional and mental struggle and we can’t get our minds free enough to perhaps see a solution that’s right in front of us, or an answer God has already provided. We are all knotted up inside; we are anything but peaceful. We may feel anxious, worried, upset, unable to see how good could possibly come out of the difficulty, whatever it may be.

When we are so emotionally wrapped up in something, we forget about those three simple and true statements God gave Jeremiah that bring back that sense of peace: (1) God’s intention for us is good; (2) God listens when we pray; (3) when we look for God, we will find God—that’s God’s promise to us. That’s the big picture, the truth we all share. When we remember God right in the middle of whatever trouble we’re having, we reconnect to the reality that God is infinitely greater and wiser than any small earthly struggle we may have—no matter how big it might seem to us in the moment. In God’s harmony, everything resolves in peace, and there is always an answer to every need. How can any need we have be unmet when God is right here with us? When our thoughts are full of what’s upsetting us, our minds may not be open enough to let a new idea—a Christly solution—in. But when we remember and reach out to God, everything changes.  

I had a real-life object lesson about this just this week. Early Friday morning, Gloria had a vet appointment, so we were driving happily eastward on SR 67 toward the office. It was a foggy morning—the gray mist blotted out most of the farmland and when I could see the sun—which was only briefly—it looked like just a pale white circle through thick smoke—it had no shine at all. Suddenly I realized I’d been lost in thought and had driven a mile or more past the vet’s office. So at the first opportunity, I pulled off on a side road, turned around, and headed back the other way. The interesting thing was that I hadn’t realized that I’d driven out of the fog. Here the sky was a brilliant blue and the golden morning sunlight lit up the corn and soybean fields—it was just lovely. But I could see that in a moment we’d be heading right back into that fog bank. It just floated there like a huge thick blanket, blotting out the sunshine and hiding that beautiful morning sky. Sure enough, about 30 seconds later, we were back under that blanket and everything was gray. But this time, I knew what the reality was. Just up the road—not even half a mile—was the full, magnificent beauty of God’s new day.

When our minds are focused on the problems and worries and struggles at hand, we are beneath a fog bank that blots out for a time our source of peace and light and comfort. But the truth we need is always there—just a little up the road–and as soon as we remember that and reach out to God, we are reconnected, because of who God is and how much God loves us. When we are willing to feel better, to think better, to open to a new perspective and a better answer, God will bring it. That’s what he told Jeremiah. That’s what Jeremiah shared with the people and with us.

In our New Testament reading today, Jesus says that this return to peace was provided for us—this plan to free us from the troubles of daily life—because of our indestructible, loving connection to Christ and to the true nature of God. “I will not leave you as orphans,” Jesus says (some versions have this as, “I will not leave you comfortless”). Throughout this passage Jesus stresses how close God is to us—that Christ is in the Father, and we are in Him, and Christ is in us.

“These words you hear are not my own,” Jesus said, “they belong to the Father who sent me. All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Jesus was talking about the reality of Christ’s own indestructible connection to the truth of God’s nature and being. God, the Father, provided the truth Jesus spoke, and the Holy Spirit—the Advocate, the inspirer, is with each of us as our daily guide, helping us choose the truth of God’s presence right in the midst of any scary, stressful, confusing, or painful experience we may bump into. And that choice—remembering God and trusting God’s promises—brings the peace Jesus spoke about, the one that calms our hearts and dissolves our fears in a lasting way.

In closing I’d like to share this Blessing from the book The Celtic Daily Prayer:

When you no longer know how to be,
may the Father take you on your deeper journey.
When you no longer know what to do,
may the Spirit reveal to you your fitting task.
When all feels lost of foreign,
may you know your home in Christ.

On the path that is before you,
may you have companions for the journey,
may you find Christ in the stranger,
and may you know the love and blessing of God.

Amen.

RESOURCES

2 thoughts on “A Peace That Lasts

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s