How to move beyond "if only"
Have you ever thought about how much we crave it, and yet how little of it we truly experience in our lives? Peace is unquestionably one of the greatest human desires, while at the same time being arguably the most elusive of all human pursuits.
We greet each other with phrases that evoke peace, in just about every language: “Salaam alaikum!” “Shalom!” and “Peace be with you”. Even in our most grief-stricken moments, we desire that deceased loved ones “rest in peace”.
We use countless symbols to represent peace, many dating to biblical times. The dove, the olive tree, and peace signs made famous in the counter-culture revolution of the 1960’s are all famous in many cultures for symbolizing the emphasis we put on peace.
Many of us spend a big chunk of our lives pursuing peace, sometimes with a vengeance, only to see it shattered before we really experience it. Who doesn't dream about sitting on a remote Hawaiian beach, cool beverage in hand, without a "worry in the world". When those dreams do sometimes begin to materialize, the harsh reality is that a cell phone call or a jellyfish sting always seems to fracture the moment. Should genuine peace really be this fragile?
Our anxieties will be replaced with a realization that no matter what happens around us, no matter the challenges, no matter the sadness, no matter the anxiety, it's all just temporary.
I must confess that the allure of peace has been somewhat of a lifelong pursuit of mine. In part to find my own sense of peace, I went on a solo bicycle trip around the U.S. a few years back. Admittedly, on a number of occasions I would actually find a type of peace, albeit temporary, on the backroads of America, a calmness and stillness that I had never completely experienced before. Unfortunately, the momentary peace was usually pierced by thoughts of caloric depletion, physical exhaustion, or on the realities of where to set-up camp for the night. But these small tidbits of calmness made me crave real peace even more.
Like many who probably over-analyze life's limitations, I sometimes catch myself wondering......... if only …
If only ... I had more money
If only ... I had more time to myself
If only ... the traffic wasn’t so bad
If only ... I wasn’t always under so much pressure
If only ... I lived near a beach
THEN I could experience more peace in my life!
If we're not careful, we'll spend a lifetime lamenting the if only's without really ever experiencing the result we're truly after. Over the last few years, I've come to the conclusion that we are not powerless in our perpetual pursuit of peace. Let that sink in. We are NOT powerless. There is a well-documented, but not widely understood if only that guarantees peace in your life. And not just peace that is constrained by this world and it's inequities, but a peace that "transcends all understanding". I'm ready for that kind of peace.
In the Bible, the peace that is referenced an amazing 249 times comes from a Greek word meaning one of two things; tranquility of the soul, or harmony in relationships. Specifically, it is referencing "peace within our own minds" or "peace between each other and nations". The remainder of this journal entry will focus only on the prior. I'll save the discussion for 'harmony in relationships' for another time.
Jesus tells us that to experience genuine inner peace, we must simply have faith in him, and if we do, then he will will give it to us, free of charge. He also is clear that he does not give peace to us as the world gives it (John 14:27), meaning he will give each of us deep, lasting peace that will withstand any worldly interruption. There must be a requisite focus by each of us on replacing our fears with faith, because only with an absence of fear is real and lasting peace truly attainable.
British Anglican theologian Kenneth Leech explains it this way. He says that the Peace of God arising from “rootedness in God” is less about sweet calm feelings and is more about being reliant on God. He also says that being rooted in God doesn’t make pain, suffering, dread, and anger go away, but it does offer us a higher vantage point that can enable us to remember that even the fiercest and most egregious injustice is never the final word.
So, when fear, anger, sadness or stress raise their ugly heads in our lives, how should we respond? We must remain spiritually calm and collected, and simply allow for the tranquility of the soul that Jesus promises, attainable if only we have faith in him. This faith will ensure that as we focus our energies on God, we become steady and stable. Our anxieties will be replaced with a realization that no matter what happens around us, no matter the challenges, no matter the sadness, no matter the anxiety, it's all just temporary. As believers, we know there is victory at the end of this journey we call life. That victory is assured, and the peacefullness that permeates our own minds is one that cannot be replicated on the beach, in a hot air balloon, on a mountain-top, or cycling in the outback.
If we're not careful, we'll spend a lifetime contemplating the if only's without really ever experiencing the result we're truly after.
Over time and with discipline, and as my own faith has strengthened, I have found it easier to filter out much of the world's day-to-day distractions and anxiety, and the resultant peace I find is grounded in knowing and having faith that there is a higher power, and it is good. It is very good, and this fact alone sustains me when conditions might dictate otherwise.
Let's Embrace The Grace, together.
It's All Good.