I know several people (myself included) who are facing stressful situations on a daily basis– some are fighting cancer, some are caring for aging parents, some have rebellious teens, some have lost jobs or are in danger of losing their home, some are fighting depression or addiction, others have lost close family members–some are facing multiple stressors every day.
Stress is a killer and a thief. It robs us of energy, time, and focus. And it isolates us– as we focus on our stressful surroundings, they begin to close in on us, hemming us in and keeping others out. We long to be stress-free–sitting on a beach or lying in a hammock or on a chaise without a care in the world– no worries, just peace. And we pray for it.
But peace isn’t the absence of stressful circumstances. I once met a man who was, in fact, lying on a chaise by a poolside, a sandy beach less than 100 feet away– palm trees and gentle breezes relieving the searing heat, icy drinks available at a whim. He had nothing to do but soak in the heat and sea air, relax, and enjoy his day. He had all the time and money he needed to find perfect peace– but he didn’t have it. He was bored, and restless, and dissatisfied with life. He couldn’t lie still, and he found no wonder in all the beauty and peace all around him.
Peace doesn’t come by denying stressful circumstances, or running away from them, either. Ask the next three people you meet how they are doing, and they will likely answer, “I’m fine.” We know they’re not really “fine”– they know that we know they’re not “fine,” yet neither of us tells or demands to know the truth. Stress isn’t contagious, but we avoid sharing it. I don’t want to hear about your stress, in case it reminds me of my own; you don’t want to share your stress in case I judge you as being weak or whiny. We learn from others around us that “success sells.” “Fake it until you make it,” as some would say.
We can’t get peace by any means in our own power– we can’t manufacture it, legislate it, demand it, buy it, trade for it, or wish it into being. In fact, the more we try to chase after it, the more elusive it becomes. Peace is a by-product of faith and trust– the result of a relationship in which circumstances are not borne or understood only by us, but shared with someone all-wise and all-powerful. Our circumstances don’t need to disappear, but we must believe that they are not insurmountable or permanent, and that we are not forgotten in the midst of them.
Peace comes from knowing and sharing with the Prince of Peace. He doesn’t take away our circumstances (though he can, and sometimes will remove some of our stressors–even against our will). Most of the time, Jesus will take away our blinders, instead. He will turn our focus away from our own pain, loss, frustration, or confusion, and allow us to see Him working around us, in us, through us, in ways that put things back in perspective.
The peaceful scene I described above– the beach, the pool, the gentle breezes– I was in the same location, and enjoying every minute of it. This in spite of numerous bug bites, an almost certain case of sun burn, and a very short time before I had to return to the snowy Midwest, and the normal stresses of my ordinary life. But, while I knew they were waiting for me, I wasn’t concentrating on them. And even while I enjoyed the beauty of the beach, I wasn’t focused on the sun or the sand, or my tan/burn progress. I was enjoying the memory of working with rescued children, of meeting amazing foster parents and missionaries, and of seeing what God was doing to heal and bring peace to lives that had been ravaged. I was seeing in the beauty of my short stay at the resort the promise of what God has in store for me throughout eternity. THAT will be perfect peace– not shortened by time, not diminished by restlessness or dissatisfaction, or denial.