By Sarah Christmyer
Maybe it was anonymity that made us talk so deeply, this woman and I. A chance meeting led to coffee and then a day spent painting together. We stood at our easels, eyes and hands absorbed in our work while we got to know each other. We talked of places we’d been, things we’d done, and our families — where we connected in places of pain. Both of us had watched children suffer through severe illness, drug abuse, or both.
After a bit, my new friend asked me what I do. “I write Bible studies,” I said, “and I blog, and I speak about the Bible and the Catholic faith.”
“Oh – are you religious, then?” she asked.
“You could say that,” I answered, not sure if “religious” was the word I’d choose.
“Well; that explains it!” she said. “You have this peace, this stillness in you. I couldn’t figure it out.”
The two of us have lived in the same painful world of uncertainty and grief but with a different effect on our hearts. Traveling with Jesus, it’s as if I’ve been held in the eye of the whirling hurricane. The winds might batter me but he holds me steady.
“Peace I leave with you,” Jesus told his disciples; “my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27).
What is this peace that Jesus gives? It’s obviously not freedom from trouble and noise. And it’s clearly not freedom from pain. My painting partner did not know the deep water I was going through at the time we spoke. I told her only of the past. I was not feeling particularly peaceful that day, yet I never doubted God was with me. Perhaps that confidence was what she sensed. A still point at the center of the chaos.
The peace Jesus gives is captured in the Hebrew word for peace, shalom. Shalom carries the idea of safety, wholeness and well-being that comes from right relationship with God. It’s the spiritual peace that comes from knowing, as Lady Julian of Norwich said, that “all shall be well” because God is in control. To paraphrase Isaiah 26:3, God will keep you in perfect peace [“shalom”] if your mind is fixed on him, because you trust in him.
So here’s the thing: how do you keep your mind fixed on God, when the world is whirling?
I can only speak to what has worked for me: deliberate, regular prayer; frequent thanksgiving; and meditating on Scripture. The last, to my mind, is the most important because it helps me do the others. When I’m in trouble, I start with the Psalms. Without fail, they grab my attention by hinting at a situation I can relate to; they remind me of the character and power of God, make me think of the things he has done for me, and move me to thanks and praise. The more I do it, the more I feel the Lord’s presence and the easier it is to trust.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” —John 14:27 (RSVCE)
Jesus said that to his disciples as he made his way to the Garden of Gethsemane and thence to his Passion. He was leaving them a peace that would carry them through that horrible time, even as they huddled behind locked doors and wondered if all had been lost. They could not know, then, what would come of that cross, but we do. If you are going through your own dark time now: hang onto that knowledge. Fix your mind on the One who brings life from death.
“Rejoice … The Lord is near! Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
About the author:
Sarah Christmyer is co-developer and founding editor of The Great Adventure Catholic Bible study program. The author of numerous Bible studies and several guided journals for Bible reading, she speaks at conferences and retreats on topics related to Scripture and the Catholic faith. She teaches at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Philadelphia. Follow her blog at ComeIntotheWord.com.
Photo © 2014 Sarah Christmyer. Used with permission. All rights reserved.