Peace. It seems so elusive these days, doesn’t it?
Like a ray of sunshine streaming through my back window, my two-year-old reaches out his chubby fingers to grab the brilliant beam. Yet when he uncurls his fingers and peers into his small hand, it’s empty. Golden beauty gone. And the more he chases it and grabs for it, the more frustrated and confused he becomes.
Isn’t that how so many of us have been living for the past year?
We’ve spent our days grasping at anything that will give us peace in the midst of overwhelming chaos and confusion. And just when we think we’ve found a sunbeam, it fades as quickly as it arrived.
Over the past year I’ve spent far too many nights tossing, hoping that rest would come before dawn breaks through my windows. I’ve sought solace in a new kind of busyness, filling my days with children’s activities to abate their boredom all the while packing in work tasks and home projects. I’ve buried my anxiety, and the ache of loneliness, underneath a steady stream of media and news.
And yet if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past year, it’s that peace cannot be found in manipulating my circumstances. No amount of busyness and noise can quiet the inner turmoil. If I’m waiting for sunlight to shine through my window, I’ll be left waiting and wanting every time.
So what if we shifted our focus? Instead of trying so hard to control our circumstances, what if we focused on changing ourselves?
It sounds easy enough. But anyone who has truly done the work of silence and solitude, examen and surrender, knows it’s hard fought.
For most of us, control is our default. We want to manufacture well-behaved children, so we spend our energy on an endless number of lectures and consequences. And in so doing, we fail to truly teach or create space for God to change their hearts. We want to experience connection, so we fill our calendar with lunch dates and say yes to every opportunity. But we end up feeling even more tired and isolated. We long for satisfaction, so we chase a dream believing that achieving a goal or making more money will fill the void. Yet once we clutch the thing we’ve worked so hard to obtain, it suddenly feels empty and even meaningless.
But when we shift our focus inward, and spend our energy on what we can control within ourselves, that’s when change begins. That’s when peace pours in.
Instead of controlling our children, we learn to parent them from a posture of humility. The consequences still happen. The talks still take place. But our discipline is kind and patient. Our focus is less on the behavior and more on the heart — about pointing our kids to Jesus and the changes only he can bring within their heart.
Instead of filling our calendar with endless activities, we learn to find a balance between solitude and community, silence and celebration. We allow ourselves to be transformed by both places — realizing our relationship with Jesus is more satisfying than even the best friendship. We learn when to say no and how to say yes to that which truly serves others and nourishes us.
Instead of chasing a dream, we acknowledge that life is a vapor. Like a sunbeam gripped by chubby fingers, the shininess of achievement and possessions slips right through our hands. We let the brevity of this life sink in. We grieve the losses and long for more. And we let them push us toward greater and more lasting pursuits. Then if we do achieve our dream or obtain our goal, we can enjoy it in its rightful place — as a gift from our good and generous God.
For far too long I thought the place of peace lay outside me. A ray of sunshine, just waiting to burst through my window if only I could situate myself just right. But ever so slowly, I’m learning that peace is cultivated within. It’s found in the stillness and surrender — in the letting go.
When I choose to trust God with my circumstances, I’m freed to focus on the thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors I can control. With his help I can experience peace, even if my situations never change. Then just maybe I can be a light to someone else — a ray pointing them to One who gives us calm even in the midst of chaos.