Most of us think of peace as the absence of conflict, a period of quiet or a feeling that sweeps over us when everything is going well. When we look at peace through the lense of scripture and try to understand God’s perspective, peace is so much more.
The Hebrew word for peace is “Shalom” which implies a state of being; of complete restoration and wholeness. It is understood that one can only experience this sense of wholeness when we are in relationship with God.
Isaiah 26:3 says: “A nation of firm purpose you keep in peace; in peace for its trust is in you.” Shalom, rather than a fleeting feeling is a place to dwell “in peace” because when we make it our firm purpose to trust God, we will be living in a place of peace.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t always feel like I am dwelling in peace. The past two weeks have been more chaotic than peaceful. However, I will say that in the midst of this chaos, I have experienced this sense of dwelling, in peace.
While the insurance companies and the government battle against each other to figure out the healthcare issues in the United States, many of us regular folks are simply caught in the fray. I tire of the partisan rhetoric, and find myself agreeing and disagreeing with points from all sides of the issue. I even sent an email to a radio talk show host who glibly bantered that the government is simply trying to scare people into thinking that healthcare is the most important commodity we purchase, possibly more important than your home and personal economy. He went on to say that he didn’t even have health insurance. I assured him that in my family, healthcare is the most important commodity we own and I realized that when my daughter had her first brain surgery and went on to have over 80 more.
The insanity of the situation is mind boggling and it is a cause for deep concern. So when my broker informed that our health insurance will not be available to us after December 31st, I was panicked. Compounded with the fact that Johanna was heading back for another brain surgery this week, I felt like the bottom was slipping out from beneath me.
But it didn’t. The “bottom” did not drop, just the emotions did. Feelings of panic and anxious thoughts came and went. Sometimes it felt like a whirlwind and other times like a cold, pelting rain that chilled me to the bone. However beneath it all, I had this deep sense of peace. I rediscovered that foundation of “shalom” which enveloped and surrounded me, reminding me that God has a plan.
The bottom didn’t even drop out when I was driving in circles in Manhattan searching for street parking to avoid more garage fees and taxi fares. This past Tuesday was a very long day. The diagnostic tests confirmed a shunt malfunction in Johanna’s brain and we were sent from the hospital to the labs for blood work to prepare for surgery on Friday. When we arrived to the lab at 4 p.m. and were told that they couldn’t see my daughter until at least 7 p.m., we decided to leave. Not wanting the rush hour traffic, we decided to grab a bite at a restaurant which has great food at very reasonable prices. We knew where to go; the struggle was knowing where to park. So, as I drove around in rush hour traffic, this taxi cab was following close behind me.
My husband says that something strange happens to me when I drive into Manhattan. Since I mostly take the Queens Midtown Tunnel into NYC, I surmise that my brain becomes a little altered because I am driving underwater. Maybe its a drop in barometric pressure, but whatever the reason, I become a considerably more assertive driver. My husband uses the word aggressive. I disagree. I have decided that since I drive in Manhattan frequently, I must be more assertive or be driven off the road. This particular drive, preceded by a very long day of distressing news, on the heels of a very long week of more distressing news, may have prompted me to move from assertive to aggressive, all at the touch — or shall we say the extension — of a finger.
In fairness to me, I was doing okay. My eldest daughter Anna and I were laughing and joking while Johanna slept in the back seat. As I was looking for street parking, this taxi rode my bumper and then he started honking the horn. I glanced at him in my side mirror as he threatened to pass me on the left. It was then that I gave him the finger with a gentle expletive and a wink of my eye. I felt justified and relieved as I returned to joking with my daughter. I was strangely at peace.
We enjoyed a lovely dinner; a pleasing end to a difficult day. After I tucked Johanna into bed for the night, I thought about these struggles and the my responses. Despite my momentary fade into aggressive behavior, (I did think the Lord was laughing at/with me), I really still had this sense of profound peace. It was as if no matter what was happening around me or how hard I tried to let my emotions rule in worry and anxiety, God was holding me in His peace.
I recalled the promise in Phillipians 4:4-7 that when we choose to rejoice, show kindness to others (oops) and place our needs before the Lord with gratitude, then “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will stand guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (v. 7) This is how I feel; like God’s peace is guarding me from dwelling in fear and anxiety.
Later in the week, as I prepared for Friday’s surgery and began reflecting on this inexplicable peace, I recalled one other description of peace that came to me in these parting words of Jesus:
“My peace is my gift to you. I do not give it to you as the world gives peace. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27)
There is no other explanation for the sense of peace I have in the midst of the chaos of my circumstances. In the chaos, I have experienced that Shalom kind of peace; a sense of wholeness and completion that flows from being in relationship with the living God. I have also experienced the peace of God standing as a guard over my mind and heart, protecting me from slipping into a whirlwind of anxiety and despair. I truly recognize that it is a gift that Jesus is giving me so that I won’t be troubled and afraid.
Friday afternoon, just moments after I left Johanna sleeping in the operating room, a woman whom I had never met approached me as I waited for the elevator. She just started talking to me, as if we were friends. She looked me in the eye, and I saw the anxiety in hers as she asked, “God gives me the strength and the peace I need as I put all my trust in him, right? I stop at the church on my way to work and I ask Jesus to help me. And He does. I trust Him, so He will keep giving me the strength and the peace I need, right?” I nodded and told her that I knew that was true. I said a little prayer and reminded her that God’s peace is His gift to us and He gives us the strength we need.
We smiled at each other and went into separate elevators. I wondered why she approached me to share her faith and her fears with a complete stranger. I thinks it’s because, despite the chaos, she recognized in me that peace which surpasses understanding. She saw the gift of peace and knew I would be willing to share.
The next time you find yourself in chaos, remember that it is not the opposite of peace. Remember that God’s gift of peace is yours for the taking as you put your trust in Him.
Eileen Benthal has a B.A. in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is a writer, speaker and wellness coach at 40DaysToFocus.com and NOFO Wellness Center. She works with clients locally and around the U.S. who are excited about balancing their health in body, mind and spirit.
Eileen and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Their youngest, 16-year-old Johanna, is a teenager with special needs. Eileen can be reached at email@example.com andfacebook.com/40DaysToFocus.