Disturbing the Peace
Some days ago, our Bible study encountered the word peace. We worked to understand what it was, how one might obtain it, and how one might lose it. As the conversation zigged and zagged across the room, my thoughts wandered back to the ongoing conversation among ministers about ways congregations too often deprive their ministers of peace and joy.
It’s important to acknowledge that anxious leaderships do allow cranky souls to disturb the peace for those in ministry; too often those leaders are themselves the agitators. I have a deep understanding of this truth because in days past, congregants and leaders—convicted of their righteousness—have robbed my family of our peace. Whatever we can do to address this problem, we should do it.
Yet the more I think about ministers and their peace of mind, the more deeply I am convicted that we are not working on the larger dysfunction. Both ministers and people in the pews suffer from a more stubborn peace issue with deeper roots. The problem is this:
We are the worst disturbers of our own peace.
Let me explain. Like many in ministry, I am an idealist. I have a clear view of how the world might look, how the church should work, and how my ministry ought to serve. Every day, though, I confront the daunting difference between reality and my expectations. The slow pace of change and the zig-zag nature of progress can feed a festering frustration. I can steep myself in the grief of a broken world, the tension of now-but-not-yet church, and the brokenness of human ministry until my peace shatters. Or as I work to close the gap between the real and the ideal, I can find peace in doing what I can today—working alongside God, who delights in making—and giving—peace.
We make peace impossible when we live in denial of our humanity. I know; I’ve been guilty. Years ago, my friend Bob Odle ended a long dinner conversation by saying, “Ron, you’ve got to deal with your humanity.” I’m working on that. Behaving as if our mind and spirit were somehow disconnected, we push our bodies to go more miles, to work longer hours, to do better work. We drag our overflowing calendars from one commitment to the next and then wonder why we are anxious about the quality of our work. If we won’t have compassion for ourselves as humans, we probably won’t do that for others, either. The fruit of peace, creativity, and joy all require space, time, and cultivation.
We reject peace when we obsess about how our life might have been. Distracted with illusions of a different narrative, we miss being present for the life we have. My friend Danny Mercer redirects us, observing that “when illusion melts away, we can live out our authentic self, which we so desperately want to do.” There have been several ways I dreamed I could serve God well; my frustration at not being able to get to those places pushed peace out of my life. It was not until I stopped, looked where God had put me, and experienced gratitude for the work that God had already placed in my hands that I found peace.
We break the peace when we break the rules. Because many of us operate from places of power, we are tempted to behave as if the rules for mere mortals don’t apply to us. We shouldn’t mindlessly keep rules because we want to be right with the law or discard them to be superior; instead, we should so value relationships that we yield to the rules because they empower right relationships. Lord, keep us from trading a lifetime of authentic relationships and influence for a few moments of anything.
Our fear steals our peace and squanders our energy to act. We fear failure, we fear losing face before our peers, we fear losing our job, we fear for the health and well-being of our family. It’s easy to quote John and say that “perfect love casts out fear” but it’s hard to love that perfectly. When we can’t love the people who cause us to fear, we treat them less lovingly, and we have more reason to fear them. Instead, if we keep our imaginations and hearts at peace, we more likely manifest a love that will neither imagine abuse nor accept abusive behavior.
We may not be able to stop other disturbers of our peace, but we can stop ourselves. In Charles Siburt’s succinct words: “Manage yourself.” Ultimately, peace comes from God, yet by managing our thinking, nurturing our humanity, living our own identity, playing by the rules, and allowing the love of God to cast out fear, we nurture a God-given peace that is less easily disturbed.