Peace I leave with you;
my peace I give to you.
Recieving a diagnosis of cancer left me in a state of anxiety that lasted for months. Struggling with the impact of childhood trauma had increased my anxiety for years. Just hearing or reading the daily news can sometimes leave me anxious. Life is full of anxiety.
Anxiety can lead to many kinds of problems. Sometimes we stay busy in an attempt, usually unsuccessful, to distract ourselves from our anxiety. Or we allow our anxiety to feed our irritability and reactivity. Or we get trapped in obsessive thinking. Or we try to control things which are beyond our control—like other people. Or we try to numb our uncomfortable anxious feelings with too much television or work or alcohol.
In all these ways we suffer because of anxiety. Often other people suffer as well because of our unchecked (and sometimes unacknowledged) anxiety.
How do we move out of our anxiety and fear into the peace that Jesus offers to us? What is the path?
The path to peace includes many of the practices we have already talked about. It includes staying grounded in reality, easing our breathing, surrendering ourselves and all that holds our hearts to God’s loving care. It includes letting go of our defensiveness and living with a tender, vulnerable heart. And it includes practicing prayer and meditation on a regular basis. All of these things help to reduce the internal conflict we experience. These practices help our hearts and minds to focus on a single purpose—replacing our anxiety with the peaceful, loving care of God and living in that love. It is this singleness of purpose that quiets the internal wars. Another way to say this is that we surrender everything to the single purpose of living a life of love.
Peace within and peace in our relationships are connected. When the conflict within is quieted by releasing all that is beyond our control to God’s loving care and by seeking God’s guidance, we are far more able to extend grace in our relationships. When we are open and vulnerable with others, when we take inventory of our resentments and make amends, when we are aware of causing harm, not only do our relationships benefit from greater peacefulness but we also experience greater internal peace.
When we read in Scripture “Do not fear,” or “Do not be anxious,” it can feel like we are being commanded to do the impossible. But these texts are actually words of comfort. They are almost always followed by words of reassurance that we are not alone. That God is with us. The point is not that we should feel differently, but that all is well because God is with us. The Psalmist says it this way. “Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” (Psalm 23:4)
It may seem impossible to imagine experiencing peace when we are in the shadow of death. But it is possible. It is possible in the middle of our most anxious times to walk the path towards peace and to ask for the gift of peace.
A few years ago I felt that God was asking me to do something outside my comfort zone. So I talked to God about my fear. During one of these times of prayer, it seemed that Jesus was gently speaking words of peace to me. “I give you my peace. I give you my peace.”
It seemed clear at the time that my work was to receive the peace that was being offered. What I needed to do was to breathe in peace. And so, during times of prayer and meditation in the days that followed, I came back to those words: I give you peace. Sometimes I pictured Jesus standing in front of me breathing his peace into the room and into me. It became a meditation of listening and responding. I listened as Jesus spoke: “I give you my peace.” And I responded: “I receive your peace.” The rhythm of this kind of prayer was an important part of the experience. I exhaled as I listened to Jesus’ words: “I give you my peace.” I inhaled as I responded: “I receive your peace.” The results of this form of prayer ritual were not immediate. But over time I felt increasingly carried by peace and filled with peace.
Give me peace, Lord,
not a hopeless resignation,
giving in to the darkness,
but a growing certainty that
one day Light will dawn.
Give me peace,
not a deadening Novocain
that robs outrage,
but a quiet awareness of your Presence
in the angst of the day.
Give me peace,
not a passionless state
of not-seeing, not-knowing,
but a fierce, calm clarity
about what matters most.
Give me peace,
not a smugness or pretense,
but an internal sense of being held
that allows me to live as outrageously
as one who is loved would live.
When you don’t know what to do…pursue peace.
Questions for reflection and discussion
1. What anxieties are you experiencing?
2. Write your concerns on a piece of paper and put them in a box which you have designated as your “prayer box” or your “God box.”
3. Sit quietly, breathe slowly, listen to Jesus say to you, “My peace I give to you.” Allow yourself to breathe in the peace of God.