Judging by the emails, television commercials, and online ads we see, I suspect Americans are in a perpetual quest for serenity. We are flooded with suggestions about how to find it, like…
Head for that Pacific island or New Hampshire lake, and find healing silence.
Practice mindful meditation and leave anxiety behind.
Put away the electronics thirty minutes before you go to bed (maybe those folks have a point) and sleep easy.
Decaf. Decaf. Decaf.
Meanwhile, our anxiety levels continue to rise: a study last year found that Americans were suffering from anxiety, stress and depression more than ever before.
If there’s a magic cure, we don’t seem to have found it.
Perhaps there isn’t an answer—or one answer—on how to live a peaceful life.
After all, a lot of us don’t get to choose whether our world is quiet and serene, or marred by eruptions of noise, or abuse, or even violence.
Then there is the endless news cycle—a menu of local, national, and even global tragedy and scandal, and when you are in luck, gossip about a celebrity, a sports figure, or a member of the royal family. Though theoretically it’s possible to find a cave, put your hands over your ears, and ignore the crazy, most of us don’t have that kind of freedom.
But that doesn’t mean that peace doesn’t exist. It’s not only available to people with sunny, optimistic dispositions, either.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, the word “peace” or “shalom” can refer to relationships between people. Think about that for a moment. I know the times I’m the most antsy is when a relationship I value is messed up in some way. How about you? When you resolve a conflict or work on a relationship to make it better, does peace often follow?
I’ll be honest. I don’t have a formula. But I do have a feeling that peace is, at least in part, to be found in a life that has purpose.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve had a chance to reflect on the witness of three remarkable American characters: civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr., former First Lady Barbara Bush, and former President Jimmy Carter.
On April 4, we marked the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination. The night before, he gave his famous ‘mountaintop” speech in Memphis, Tennessee, where he had come to support a sanitation workers’ strike. “We’ve got some difficult days ahead,” Martin Luther King, Jr., told the crowd. “But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop … I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”
King lived with purpose.
Just before she passed away last week, Barbara Bush let it be known that she was at peace and, uplifted by her faith, not afraid to die. She’s a powerful example of apparent serenity in the face of mortality.
Barbara Bush lived with purpose.
Finally, her contemporary, Jimmy Carter, just came out with a new book, entitled “Faith.” Carter, who has been treated for an aggressive form of cancer for several years, is quoted as saying when he learned he was ill, he wasn’t afraid to face death, either.
Notice something about Carter? He’s also lived a life of purpose.
Can purpose (some describe it as “calling”) bring a sense of direction, order, and vision to the often-messy jumble we confront every day? Can knowing who you are and what you stand for, being aware that you made a difference, practiced compassion and dignity calm your spirit and ease your heart? Even in the midst of the uncontrollable storms of life?
Makes sense to me. Purpose is what gives our lives shape and order. I’m a procrastinator, an over-thinker, and a skeptic. But I find that when I settle upon a course of action that is in harmony with my principles, peace often follows.
What brings you peace? Share your own ideas and experiences!
This post reflects the views and experiences of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on peace from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.