The other evening I was writing Christmas cards and, as I picked up a new card to write, I noticed the wording inside the card, ‘May the peace and joy of Christmas …'. Peace is a big theme this time of year; nearly every Christmas carol sung has ‘peace’ mentioned within its verses. Many Christmas films also centre their subject matter on finding ‘peace’. One of my favourite old time Christmas films ‘It’s a wonderful life’ is centred on finding peace within one’s self.
I have to say this particular evening I wasn’t feeling this sense of peace at all, far from it. I was feeling anxious and stressed wondering if I was going to make the last posting date and asking myself why I write so many cards this time of year in such a short expanse of time. This particular evening I was finding it a chore rather than a joy. My two eldest children had been admitted to hospital the week before and Christmas preparations had been put on hold until they were discharged, safe and well. Now I was hastily trying to catch up with all the things left to do to ensure my family received the Christmas they expected.
I picked up Joyce Meyer’s book, ‘Battlefield of the mind’. I had been given this by my sister as a present but had never got around to reading it. As I flicked through the pages I came across a passage where Joyce describes two pictures drawn by different artists. The artists were asked to paint pictures of peace as they perceived it. One painted a picture of a calm, still lake high up in the mountains, an embodiment of serenity. The other painted a picture of a gushing, raging waterfall which had a birch tree leaning out over it with a bird resting in a nest on the outermost branches. Joyce states that it is the second picture which truly depicts the rest of God or ‘peace’. She argues that there is no such thing as the ‘rest of God’ without opposition. I wholeheartedly agree. I believed that I had to find that still Mountain Lake and abide there. Perhaps that’s why our recent holiday to the Lake District was so appealing, a walking holiday on which we discovered many mountain lakes. Maybe that’s why the Lake District is so appealing to so many, all looking for that same sense of peace and rest in an increasingly complicated and busy world. But holidays come to an end and we are forced back into the real world with all its storms. That’s the real test – learning to find peace in the midst of the storm.
Finding peace in the storm is a challenge that I haven’t yet overcome, it’s still a work in progress. Just when I think I’ve got there something else comes along to rob me of any sense of peace I may have even slightly dared to enjoy. It doesn’t even have to be a big hurricane that threatens to upset the status quo. It could be a comment that unsettles or leaves uneasiness. While Christmas shopping with my daughter recently I came across some parsnips coated in honey, already prepared. I said to my daughter ‘That’s a brilliant idea, it would save me a lot of time on Christmas Day’. She looked aghast at my suggestion and answered, ‘But we always have your parsnips in parmesan mum!’ Other people’s expectations can also rob you of your peace.
Maybe the key to finding peace is trust. When I was a little girl my parents lived at one end of a lane and my grandparents lived at the other end. We would go to my grandparents for tea and I would walk home afterwards with my father. It was a dark lane, no street lights and as a small child I would look at the darkness and feel afraid. I would reach up to hold my father’s hand. Dad had large, manual workers’ hands. He would totally enclose my hand in his and I would skip along beside him feeling quite secure. When Peter got out of the boat and then realised how big the waves were and how much the wind was howling around him he started to sink. Jesus grabbed his hand and Peter was safe (Matthew 14:28-31). We are not promised an easy ride in this world; in fact Jesus Himself told us we would have trouble: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). Perhaps peace is a matter of having that childlike trust and putting our hands in His. If we have enough trust in Jesus to face the relentless storms of life then we will find peace much like that little bird in the nest above the raging waters.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)