As I write this article the daily news is filled with updates on the fires in Southern California. I have relatives and good friends living there and for more than 25 years it was my home too. Today I’m staying tuned in to the latest developments, focused on my loved ones and praying they are safe. I’m also feeling a bit agitated, wondering how people will ever be able to put their lives back together. I can’t imagine it. I’ve never faced such a challenge in my own life. I’m asking myself, “Can we pursue peace and actually find it in the midst of such horrific losses?”
Nature on the Run
When nature ravishes our communities through fire, hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes everything in our lives goes up for grabs. We are no match for these natural disasters. Suddenly life is different in every way and will never again be as it was. In time we may view these events as good things—but we don’t see it right away when we’re standing in the ashes of a fire or tromping through rolling water after a flood or burying a loved one who didn’t survive.
At first it’s nearly impossible to hold onto any sense of peace when entire neighborhoods are wiped out in a matter of hours or a terror attack shuts down the lives of hundreds of people. Many flee with little more than the clothes they’re wearing, clutching children and pets and whatever items they can carry. How scary and shocking such an experience must be.
The Rumble Before the Quake
I remember one year when my children were young, our home was situated within a few miles of a fire in the nearby hills that erupted after an earthquake. We were told to prepare to evacuate. Fortunately that final call did not come. I never experienced anything even close to that warning ever again. So I’m in no position to pass out advice or platitudes about how to remain calm during the storm, or to remember that all things work together for good, even in the death of a baby or a spouse, or that bad stuff happens for a reason. Easy for me to say from my cozy house where I am safe and warm. And so the best I can do as a bystander is offer prayer and food, money or shelter to those who are suffering in a way that I have only read about.
How do we restore peace in our lives or retain a peaceful presence during and after such a life-changing event? Whether we feel ready or not, there comes a time when we have to stand up and walk again. Can we learn to rest in the peace God provides at such moments? Some people might say, “No! Don’t talk to me about God when I have nothing left but rubble and ashes and dead bodies.” Still others shout their gratitude that they are still alive and so is their family. “We have each other, thank God. We can always rebuild. Now we must help our neighbors.”
Making Peace Within
The Bible is filled with verses that assure us that if we walk with God, focus on God, and trust in God we can survive and even thrive no matter what comes our way—whether a natural disaster or a broken marriage or a terminal illness or the loss of a loved one and more. Will we take these promises seriously, living them out today and every day or are they just words we latch onto when we’re in a panic?
Each of us must choose for ourselves. Here is my go-to verse every day. “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you” (Isaiah 26:3). Trust and a steadfast mind. I want my life to reflect both.
In The Message, this verse expands, driving home the point that if we focus on God during tough times as well as during good times we will not be disappointed. In fact we will be taken care of down to the last detail. “People with their minds set on you, you keep completely whole, steady on their feet, because they keep at it and don’t quit. Depend on God and keep at it because in the Lord God you have a sure thing” (Isaiah 26:3).
A sure thing! Where else in all of literature or in religious practices or beliefs or through psychological insights will we ever find such assurance? Nowhere. Absolutely nowhere!
And yet why does lasting peace seem elusive even to many faithful followers of Christ? That’s another question we must answer for ourselves. Why do we say and read the words but ignore practicing them in daily life? Why are we surprised by tragedies and terror attacks and other disasters? Jesus told us that in the world we will have tribulation. It’s a given, not a “maybe.”
“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, NIV, italics mine).
Faith and Practice
My heart pounds as I type these words and say them aloud. The truth is there. Let us call out God’s promises for peace. Shout them! Live them. Even as we start to rebuild our lives—whether laying bricks and mortar for a new home or thoughts and prayers for a renewal of a broken relationship or the loss of a loved one in death—we can carry on in peace, the peace that is within us through our personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
If we live consciously and conscientiously, resting in and trusting God, we can expect that we “will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song . . . and all the trees of the field will clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12).
The Faith of Jesus
I appreciate the perspective of Richard Rohr, who shared his viewpoint in a recent daily meditation: “We would do better if we had the faith of Jesus (open, humble, trusting toward God and reality) instead of simply having faith in Jesus (which history has shown usually becomes competitive and sectarian)” (italics mine).
So many Christians focus on believing that Jesus is God and that he died for our sins that they totally overlook his daily walk while here on earth, a life that was completely devoted to trusting his Father and doing what the Father showed him to do.
Maybe that’s where we need to start. If we wish to transform our pain let’s look at what Jesus did and said and then mirror his actions in our own lives. Let’s look for the gift, the lesson in the tragedy that will restore our hearts and minds so that the peace that passes all understanding will truly be ours once and for all.
Karen O’Connor is a freelance author living in Watsonville, California. www.karenoconnor.com.