Peace…it’s a word we hear and see often this time of year. Chances are you’ve seen it elegantly printed on a Christmas card, heard it captured in the tune of a favorite Christmas carol, or spoken in a memorable line of a holiday movie. When I reflect on this word, images from my childhood Christmas plays come to mind where a boy or girl clad in a repurposed white sheet, cardboard wings, and a gold tinsel garland halo stepped forward to loudly proclaim, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
At that point a host of small gold tinseled angels joined in saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth PEACE, good will toward men.” The recipients of these words were the bath-robed, towel-headed shepherds struggling to sit still and attempting to look afraid. I don’t recall the atmosphere that surrounded our little church plays as very peaceful. God bless our Sunday School teachers who had the job of corralling and directing a bunch of squirrelly munchkins, but somehow in it all, I heard that word and seeds were planted that brought a yearning to more fully understand this peace that was so much a part of what Jesus, the babe in the manger, came to bring.
I would venture to say that peace is something we all long for in life. That calm tranquility that moves us through each day, that allows us to smile even in pain, that puts anxious thoughts to rest. It is a peace filled heart that can love those who have wronged us and forgive despite never being asked. Peace helps us capture the beauty of each moment, see significance in the ordinary, and make the most of every opportunity. A life of peace – we desire it and seek to attain it, but why does it seem so elusive?
I have struggled with the idea of peace in my own journey. It became clear to me some years back that I didn’t fully understand the meaning of peace. I thought of it primarily as the absence of conflict or trouble. Although that definition is not completely inaccurate from a dictionary standpoint, it fell short when played out in my daily life. Conflict and trouble were always lurking around. Sometimes it was due to internal struggles and at other times it was external. From the actions of those closest to me to world events filled with pain, strife, and uncertainty, there were so many things I couldn’t control.
I must be honest and confess that when facing these realities, I have often been a wee bit of a worrier. Well, that’s not exactly true. Sometimes I have been a big, fat, chronic worrier consumed with anxious thoughts. There’s nothing like a little worry to steal your sense of peace. When I was a young pastor’s wife, I recall worrying about feelings of inadequacy. During our church planting years, it was uncertain finances that occupied my mind. Adding children to the mix took this to a whole new level as I worried about transitioning them to new communities when we felt God calling us to pack up and move. It was difficult for me to watch them endure the heartbreak of leaving friends and family behind and struggle to acclimate to new areas. Experiencing a sense of peace when facing these realities was hard, and based on my understanding of peace – the absence of conflict and trouble – it left me feeling incapable of ever truly experiencing what I so deeply desired because I could not create an existence absent of those things.
This was an important but difficult realization for me. I felt frustrated and even a little ashamed. I had followed Jesus most of my life. I was married to a pastor for goodness sake. I should get this, right? But I didn’t. I felt like a fake. I certainly desired peace. I much preferred to feel my soul at rest beside quiet waters rather than crippled by a tumultuous storm of worry and anxiety. Yet, living with a peace filled heart can feel impossible when the struggles within ourselves and the world around us are so real. As I became increasingly aware of my inadequate understanding of peace, I found myself having to humbly walk back to the drawing board to figure out what this all meant.
I prayerfully began looking for answers, turned to Scripture, and sought counsel from those who were further in their journey. One thing that became clear early on was that true peace can only come from God. He is the source. You might think, “Well, of course! Every Christian knows that.” I know it seems overly simple, but it is so important. We can easily lose sight of this without realizing it. Our human nature and tendency towards self-reliance pulls us toward thinking that if we say and do the right things or if we have the right thoughts, we can experience peace. We subtly move from seeing God as the source of peace to relying on ourselves. We can also make our circumstances the source of our peace. When things are good, we feel great, but when things get difficult, we fall apart. I know I allowed myself to get caught in that trap, but when we fully see God as the source of peace, our God who is constant and faithful, we have a source that is reliable day in and out.
The next logical discovery for me was that to experience peace, one must seek the source – God. Again, mind blowing, I know, but sometimes the profound is in the simple. This means we are to seek God alone and not peace itself. At some point in my journey I came across a quote that said, “The Bible nowhere calls upon men to go out in search of peace of mind. It does call upon men to go out in search of God and the things of God.” (Abba Silver) When we seek God and live in relationship with him, peace is a result of his transformative work in our lives. He is the source of the inner peace we desire, and we find that in earnestly seeking him.
As I walked further in this journey, I began to see another interesting truth. When we seek God and grow in him, he fills us with peace that results in both a state of “being” and “doing”. This peace allows us to “be” calm, less anxious, and less distracted. Our circumstances don’t change this reality. In John 16:33, Jesus said to his disciples, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Did you catch that? In this life we WILL have trouble. True peace is not the absence of trouble, but the result of the hope we have in a victorious savior who overcame the world.
The “doing” side of peace is the real turn. It is not enough to live in our own little bubble of peace, separated from everyone else and the troubles of this world. Matthew 5:9 says, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” The word “peacemaker” suggests someone who is spreading peace to the world around them. As we seek God and allow him to live and be at work inside of us, we will experience his peace, a peace which our attitudes, actions, and reactions will begin to spread to others. This allows us to become active participants in God’s plan to bring peace to this world.
So, if you find yourself like me, desiring peace in a world that might seem chaotic, upside down, hurtful, or disappointing at times, remember this: Seek God, allow him to shape and transform you from the inside out. God-given peace will flow from that, and as God fills you with his peace, let it pervade the very essence of your soul and spill out to the world around you.
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” – Francis of Assisi
Marietta Williams is a mom, pastor’s wife, and random hobby enthusiast. She married her college sweetheart, Chris, and has spent the past 18 years serving alongside of him in a variety of ministry contexts ranging from church planting to pastoring in both small and large churches to district leadership in their denomination. She has a heart for pastors’ spouses and desires to see them flourishing as they live out their God-given callings. She currently serves as the director of Pastor’s Spouse Connection and lives in Marion, IN with her husband and 3 children.