One thing about being Mormon — and this can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on who you ask — is that we don't have a pastor who gives a sermon every Sunday. All the talks are given by different members of the congregation, who are assigned and given a topic in advance.
Last week it was my turn.
Unfortunately, I'm never asked to speak on a topic I'm particularly good at, which makes it considerably more difficult to prepare a talk.
I was asked to structure a talk around John 16:33, which says, "...in me ye might have peace..."
I've been feeling overwhelmed and worried about a lot of things lately and to be honest, haven't felt an especially deep or abiding sense of peace. In fact, when I was asked to give this talk, I may or may not have accepted and then went to my room and cried.
Over the next week, I had a chance to reflect on why that is.
If I had to give you a mental picture of what the inside of my head looks like, it would be a hamster on a wheel. But the hamster is crazy. He's just inhaled a dozen Pixy Stix and he doesn't know when to quit.
I've learned by experience that when I get obsessed with other things, life happenings, goals, and ambitions that I'm by nature less focused on Christ and that little things then steal my peace.
When that happens, my feeling of peace is pretty dependent on things going well. I can cruise along pretty happily but then someone gets sick or there's trouble at school or I forget to do an important task or Phillip has a crappy week at work, and all the wheels fall off. I get upset about it and probably know deep down that I need to just slow down, but that crazy hamster starts up again before long and I forget about it.
As I've thought about it, I've come to feel that the key to peace is being still.
And I'm terrible at that.
I like to fill up every spare moment with something. I don't like to be early for appointments because just sitting there doing nothing is the worst thing I could imagine. I'd rather be late (and usually, I am.) Ironically, I'm actually typing this in the bathroom because heaven forbid I'd be idle for a few minutes.
In preparation for my talk, I read a story related by D. Todd Christofferson, an apostle of my church, about a man who at first approached prayer as a checklist of items to say, ask, thank, or talk with God about. But over time he came to see it as an opportunity to just stil still and feel the peace of the Lord like the warmth of a fire. Elder Christofferson says:
"I think that is a lovely metaphor - just sit with the Lord and let Him warm you like a fire in winter. You don't have to be perfect or the greatest person who ever graced the earth or the best of anything to be with Him."
Oh, but that's a two-edged sword for me, because that is NOT my strength. My strength is checklists and multitasking and getting things productively accomplished, not being still and just spending time with the Lord with absolutely no agenda, just letting the Spirit warm me.
That's the price of peace, though: being willing to give the Lord our focus and just let our minds be still.
If someone previously were to say the above sentence to me, my eyes would have rolled out of my head and onto the floor. Have you seen my life? Do you know what I do all day? When am I supposed to be still: when I'm up at 2 A.M. changing wet sheets, or while I'm trying to cook dinner and help three kids with their homework with a crying baby on my hip? What does that even mean, anyway?
Even though I've got a crazy life (as does everyone reading this, I know) I've found that some of the following are times I can let my mind be still:
- For a few minutes after I wake up in the morning (a good time to pray)
- When I'm driving the car and no one is fighting in the back (do I mentally go over my to-do list, or just chill and self-reflect until we get there?)
- When I'm deciding what to do right now (does that to-do item really need to be done right now, or should I just sit down for a minute?)
- Those pockets of time when I jump online and check my email because I've got 3 minutes to kill
- For a few minutes before I go to bed at night (unfortunately this requires going to bed at a relatively decent hour which I'm also really bad at)
When we're willing to let our minds be still sometimes, I'm beginning to find that we can have peace even when things aren't going well around us.
The scripture I was given as my topic (John 16: 33) was said by Jesus just before He was about to be betrayed and arrested in Gethsemane. He was warning the apostles about what was going to happen. He told them,
"These things have I spoken unto you, that in my yet might have peace. In the world, ye shall ave tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."
Peace in the middle of turmoil is kind of an elusive concept to me (it's one of those things where I go, "Oh, I get it" as I'm reading but then later forget exactly how that's supposed to work and I have to go back and read it again), but it all goes back to just being willing to be still and let the Spirit warm you.
In college, I had a roommate named Melinda who was struggling with a big life decision. I knew it was something she'd been thinking a lot about and praying about for quite a while, and quite frankly I was deadly curious about what in the world she was going to do.
One day Melinda told me, "Well, I got my answer."
"What was it?" I asked.
She took a deep breath and then quoted, "'Be still, and know that I am God.'" (Psalms 46: 10, Doctrine & Covenants 101: 16.)
And that was it. She wasn't told to do A or B or even given an entirely new option she hadn't thought of before. A message about peace jumped out of the scriptures at her, and that was her answer.
It turned out that later down the road, the right solution just became really obvious, but for the time being she was just given the gift of peace on the matter. I suppose that was what she needed most at that moment, even if it's not exactly what she was looking for.
Real peace comes not from everything going right, but from knowing that Christ knows who we are.
It doesn't come from doing everything right, but trusting that God will make everything right in the end.
It's less about ticking items off a list and more about being willing to be still and focus on the Savior and His purpose for our life. If we can do that, I'm confident that in Him, we can find peace.