By Carol Powell
A few years ago, my husband, David, and I were asked to give a retreat to a group in the Peace Movement on the topic “Inner Peace.” If someone had asked me then what inner peace was, my response would have been different from what it is now. I thought peace meant quiet within and without, a total lack of disturbance from anywhere. Now I know no such state exists in this world. What did Jesus really mean when He told us He would give us peace, peace that the world cannot give?
I love the saying, “Peace is not the absence of conflict but the ability to deal with it.” That is so much more realistic than what I thought it was. All around us, in the world, in our country, in our lives, in our circumstances, in the lives of those we know and love, there can be changes, chaos, losses, disappointments and hardships that we might not anticipate.
Certainly Jesus couldn’t have been referring to a constant feeling of stillness in the midst of the ups and downs of life. So what did He mean? He meant that if we are grounded in God, we will have a conviction in faith – not necessarily a feeling – that God is with us. That conviction, that trust, that spiritual knowledge comes only from trying to walk in the presence of God each day and trying to follow the impulses of the Holy Spirit as best we can.
The peace that Jesus was talking about does not mean that we will never experience darkness and doubt. Even Jesus cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, what have you forsaken me?”
Then in the next breath, He surrendered, “Father into your hands, I commend my spirit.” Peace is not the absence of conflict but the ability to deal with it. Only God can give us that ability.
Most times we lack peace because we have allowed worrisome thoughts and fears to run rampant in our minds. When this happens, I have found there are two ways to return to peace. One is to share our worries with a trusted person, and especially with God Himself. The other is to practice daily some form of Centering Prayer. In this way, we come in touch with our deepest self and with God, and we gradually become aware, through practice, that who we are is separate from our thoughts and feelings. We come in touch with our union with God. Only this is true peace. Then when something unexpected happens, we are aware of our anxious feelings, but we are also aware of that deepest center of ourselves where God dwells. So, in the midst of anxiety and negative thoughts, there is peace, not a feeling, but a conviction.
For anyone who doubts this is possible, I invite you to practice Centering Prayer for about six months. It is a marvelous way to open oneself to the true peace that Christ promised. Again, you will not be saved from moments of darkness and pain, but it will help in a marvelous way to strengthen your conviction in faith that God is with you. It will also help you in turn to accept other people the way they are and to love them unconditionally. Love and peace go very well together.