I got mad, so I roasted eggplant.
This is typical behavior for me, cooking when life has thrown me a curve ball, and I feel off-kilter. In this case, the curve ball was discovering that my pricey new fitness equipment might have a design flaw that would make it very hard for me use it. The idea that my husband and I had plunked down perfectly good money for something that was not going to help me get healthier infuriated me (as it did him). I was beyond seeing red—more like infrared in my current state. I was in the zone where only bats see and dogs hear. And that was mostly because it looked, at first glance, like there was no “fix” for the problem. It seemed like we had inadvertently bought a product that was all promise and no performance. And there was no way to return it.
That situation got me thinking about peace. Inner peace, the sense that all is right with the world (or at least your small corner of it), and that you’re going to be okay no matter what comes your way. A statement Jesus made about peace kept running through my brain:
Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.
A little context here is useful.
Jesus and his disciples are observing what will be their last Passover supper together in an upper room in Jerusalem. Jesus knows he has only a scant few hours with his beloved protégés before he gives himself over to the chaos of the crucifixion. And so he uses his time at the table to instill in them those last important lessons before they are separated. The gospel of John devotes four chapters to this distilled discourse – the words that powerfully synthesize what the last three years of ministry have been all about.
I am One with the Father, Jesus says. If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen Him.
Keep My commandments and pray in My name.
When I’m gone, stay as connected to Me as a vine to a branch in order to bear fruit.
Expect trouble from the world that rejected Me. Don’t let it undo you.
The Holy Spirit is coming to help you.
Before everything is put right again, you will scatter and be scared. But that’s not the end of the story.
If one were to imagine these final teachings as a tapestry, the troubling parts would resemble the backside of the weaving. Jesus’ description of what is about to be unleashed upon the group—both for ill and eventual good—is rife with apparent snarls and tangles. Tough realities to get through with one’s equilibrium intact.
That is why Jesus’ every mention of the word “peace” runs through the tapestry like a golden thread. Something to savor and consider on the deepest level. So, when he says that he gives his disciples peace not as the world gives, one must conclude that there are at least two kinds of peace that Jesus is talking about. And they are qualitatively different from one another. What do I mean?
On the one hand, you have the peace that the world confers. And there seems to be a sense of immediacy about it, in terms of circumstances lining up just right to give one a feeling of well being and security. Jesus famously describes this worldly peace in a parable found in Luke 12:16–19:
“The land of a certain rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning with himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.’”
Note that these plans for a luxurious retirement come from the rich man’s private ruminations. They follow a certain logic, a practical, single-minded wisdom. Beef up your “rainy day” fund now and all shall be well later. Kind of a no-brainer.
And doesn’t it work the same way for us? I don’t know about you, but throughout the day my thoughts follow a similar path to the rich man’s. I am constantly trying to put things in place that will leave me in a better position later. Meals (that often include eggplant) get planned in advance, appointments for my health get made in a timely manner, writing time is blocked off, and anything having to do with my special needs son gets choreographed like a complex dance (including packing snacks, making picture schedules, having his meds on hand, and more).
Yes, all these things are good to get done but what amazes me is how long I can busy myself without checking in with God to see if there’s something He wants me to be thinking about. Furthermore, I can become so intent on smoothing out possible wrinkles in my day that when problems come, I tackle them myself first, frequently forgetting to invite God into the process. Like the rich man, I seem to be willing to engage the temporary troubles of small barn destruction in my quest to erect those big barns that will set me at ease. Because that is what I am striving for, the ease that comes from my mere perception of plenty.
You go, girl, I want to be able to say. You got it all lined up. Soon you will be the picture of prize muscles and primo mental health.
There’s only One Problem with this setup, and it’s a doozie of a design flaw. Jesus finishes out his parable explaining it:
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ So is the man who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
Not rich toward God. That damning phrase leads us back to the differentiation Jesus was making between the peace he offers versus the peace the world gives. As I grappled with my upset over the exercise equipment, I realized that I was going to have to work at finding peace in the midst of this problem. And when I read John 14:27 over again, the crux of the struggle was staring me right in the face. Jesus says, “Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” immediately after promising his brand of peace.
Never before had I considered the fact that the peace Jesus offers may take some mental and emotional adjustments up front in order to access it. It’s not an instantaneous experience, such as merely glancing at a full barn. It may take facing the trouble and fear that inevitably get stirred up just by living life and running into problems that have no obvious fix. Moreover, if we live a life surrendered to God, he may lead us straight into situations where our own needs or the needs of others far exceed what we can supply. In fact, sometimes it’s either the distress or “pushback” we encounter that lets us know we are on the right track. To go completely unchallenged may suggest that we have become complacent and too self-focused, as had the rich farmer. Until Jesus comes back, that’s how the world works, like it or not.
I once heard a Buddhist saying that when trouble abounds, something good is trying to get born somewhere. I like this bit of wisdom because it encourages action on our part to help things of eternal value come into being, to be sensitive and outwardly focused enough to get involved in heaven breaking through.
And I love the idea of Jesus anticipating the difficulties we are going to have doing things his way. He identifies our trouble and fear as part of his messianic domain, matters under his authority that we need not be terrified by. For me, there is no more compelling quality in a leader than one who knows—and provides for—the snags I am going to hit before I hit them. I will follow such a person anywhere, if I can but remember that I am not He.
Stepping back from the Last Supper story for a moment, Jesus demonstrated his principle of working our way through to his peace by upsetting his disciples with news of his immanent suffering, departure, and—oh yes—their desertion of him (poor Peter). He talks them through the thorny path so that they will look back in the future and realize that they’d been given an object lesson in how his peace works: initial upset, steadfast clinging and searching, then serenity that cannot be shaken. “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).
It pretty much boils down to this question: do you want the earthly peace that easily slides into your possession? Or do want the divine peace that takes some effort to break into but ultimately holds (you) together?
I’ll be honest. Most days I want choice (A), and I take comfort in the fact that Jesus knows this about me too. And accounts for it. He does not despise my prayers to remember him more quickly rather than charging ahead on my own. So, I’m going to try to pray that simple prayer more: “Lord, help me remember You first. Please come into this place.”
As for the exercise equipment? I got some people praying about it and a solution surfaced. (By the way, that’s the next best thing: getting others to pray when you’re too hyper and upset to settle into prayer yourself.) And the eggplant, of course, got put to good use. God provides, even if we’re slow to ask.
Thank you, Lord, that all is not lost. You are under no illusions about our nature. You know that we constantly disregard You, even as You stand ready to help us at all times and in every situation.
Forgive our fickle, forgetful ways. Help us to be willing to confront our troubles and fears immediately, in order to obtain Your brand of peace, the peace that will not be shaken.
Thank You for your overwhelming love and patience. Let those qualities be ever before us, encouraging us to run to You faster. For You are the One who deserves our deepest allegiance and praise. Always, and amen.