The concept of peace as it applies to an individual’s life is difficult to define. Based on the headlines these days, my sense is that finding peace represents a struggle for many people. This seems to be as true for wealthy and famous individuals as it is for those with far less money and no adoring public.
As may be true for you, the degree of peace I’ve experienced as an adult seems to a large degree to be based on my childhood. I grew up with parents who loved me and provided for me. It’s also true, however, that they both struggled with alcoholism. We would have weeks or months of near normalcy. These would be punctuated by short bursts of crisis. This pattern became a lifestyle as myself and my two sisters grew into our teenage years. The result was that one learned to not relax, or to feel at peace. This was not something we realized. Rather, it was a subconscious coping mechanism. It was as if we learned intuitively that the minute you start relaxing, a crisis would take place. Therefore, subconsciously at least, peace was out of the question.
There is one time in my childhood that I recall having an overwhelming sense of peace. I must have been ten-years-old or so. I walked out into the woods to be alone as I often did. It was cold, and before long it started to snow. I sat there for a long time. As the snow piled up, the woods around be became blanketed in white. At one point I looked around. Everything surrounding me was white and new. I looked at the snow, and then at the green pine trees, and I suddenly felt peace like I never had before. I only sensed this for a few moments, yet I don’t think I’ll ever forget what that sense of peace was like. As I noted above, the concept of peace is difficult to define, yet I suspect that we all know it when it comes.
Have there been times like that in your life? Have there been times you can remember when, at least for a few moments, everything seemed like it was as it should be? If so, you’ll know how much those moments mean.
As I grew older, found love, got married, and started living life as an adult, things got much better. When both my wife and I came to Christ our lives were transformed in numerous ways. This included a deeper sense of peace. I loved reading the Bible, going to church, serving in various ways, and growing closer to God. I sensed purpose in life, our marriage was great, and we were eventually blessed with two wonderful children. Challenges would come and go, yet God had given me ways to deal with them that I’d never known. And yet, I can’t say that a deep sense of inner peace was a part of my normal experience.
This became very clear to me one day in 2008. We were given the opportunity to vacation at a large home in the mountains of Colorado. This is owned by a couple who lived in Texas. One of their joys in life is giving others the chance to enjoy their wonderful home on fifty or so acres for vacation with no fee or charge. Their generosity is amazing.
As we settled into vacation, everyone was having a great time. We had never experienced anything like this. Something from my past, however, was haunting me. I found it almost impossible to relax and enjoy the time. One day everyone else went skiing. I stayed back. I wanted to spend some time in the Bible and in prayer to see if I could understand why I felt anxious. For whatever reason, I decided to read the book of Philippians. As I did so, I was reminded of what it was like when I was a child. When things started going especially well, anxiety would creep in. I realized at that moment that I was still like that to some degree, and that’s why I could not enjoy this vacation. I subconsciously felt that if I did so, something really bad would happen.
As I came to the end of Philippians, verse 4:9 jumped out at me. The end of this verse says, “And the God of peace will be with you.” Even though I had loved and served the Lord for over 26 years, at that moment I realized that, in general, a deep peace was still as elusive for me as an adult as it had been for me as a child. I drew a line from the word “peace” in that verse to a space in the margin of my Bible. There I wrote, “11-25-2008. Colorado. I need the God of Peace. I know His grace, but I need His peace. Please work in me, Oh Lord, Amen.”
The large house that I was alone in didn’t shake. In fact, there was no immediate change at all. And yet, I did sense that something significant had happened. It was one of those relatively few moments, like in the woods as a child, that I suspect I’ll remember for as long as I live.
In the years since then I have been able to experience peace to a much greater degree. What I’ve learned is that the pursuit of peace starts and ends with the pursuit of drawing closer to God. The closer I draw, the more inner peace I know. I’m fully aware that I have a long way to go, yet I now know the path and the direction to take, and that’s made all the difference.
As I look at the world and see individuals seeking peace in wealth, fame, the perfect spouse, the ideal kids, and in so many other places, I think back to the anxiety that was a much bigger part of my life at one time than it is now. No matter who they are, I pray that they would come to know the God of peace.
Feel free to share in the comment section below if there’ve been times, places, or circumstances in your life when you’ve felt most at peace.
You can probably read through the entire book of Philippians in less than thirty minutes. It’s only four short chapters. I’ve included a link below in case you’d like to do so. When you finish the first chapter, simply click on the arrow to the right of the text to continue.
The image below is from the page in the Bible I was using when I was in Colorado in 2008 and read Philippians 4:9. This means a great deal to me each time I look at it.