Fruits of the Spirit: Choosing Peace

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul

Songwriters: P P. Bliss / Gloria Roe
It Is Well with My Soul lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

Where do we find peace? This is a question I have been thinking about all day, all weekend even. There are a few experiences that come to my mind when I think about what gives me peace.

I love walking along a trail in the woods, surrounded by trees, the sun peeking through their branches. With each step I can hear the sound of leaves crunching beneath my feet, or rocks being kicked along the path. Birds sing somewhere above my head. The colors of the forest changing with the seasons: brown, red, orange and yellow during the fall, white and gray in the winter. Spring and summer are vibrant with greens, pinks, purples. They tend to borrow colors from the other seasons as well, allowing for almost seamless transitions.

Resting near water also brings me peace. In college I would take my books and bring them with me to the brook behind my dorm, the rushing of the water my source of music. I love to walk around the shores of Lake Ontario, watching and listening to the waves as they roll in, making their final splash against the shore. In some areas the water hits large rocks that line the shore, sending up a spray into the air.

I don’t even need to go outside to find peace. Sometimes all I need is a good book and a comfy seat on the couch while the rest of the house is quiet. This typically means my husband is at work, my 3 older children are at school, my youngest is in bed, and my dog is outside. Or, it’s night time, the kids are in bed, and my dog has nothing to bark at.

Worship music has a way of bringing me peace as well. Whether I am listening to music at home or in the car, singing with the worship teams at church from my seat, or up on stage helping to lead worship, I can find a deep peace in my soul.

We are meant to have peace; it is the third fruit mentioned in the Bible that the Spirit gives to us. If peace was not important, then why would it be a gift? And why, for that matter, would we find it throughout the Bible?

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Romans 5:1

Our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ helps us in receiving this gift of peace. When we are walking his path, following his instructions, we have nothing to be worried about. When we know we are living for the Lord, what do we have to fear?

As humans who work alongside other humans daily, we may encounter plenty of stumbling blocks. But when we are in the law of the Lord, our feet are on firm ground, and we can walk with sure footing.

“Great peace have those who love Your law, and nothing causes them to stumble.”

Psalm 119:165

But what happens when you are caught in the midst of a storm? What then?

The day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

Mark 4:35-39

How many times do we find ourselves wondering, “Does he even care?” We are in the midst of our own storm. We are afraid of what might happen, and we question where God is in this. Is he really off sleeping somewhere, completely at peace, not concerned?

When my fourteen-year-old son was five, he had to fight for his life. On his 5th birthday, despite a stomachache, we sent him on his way to his second day of Kindergarten. I met him there with the shark gummies he had picked out the day before to share with his class in celebration of this day, but while I was there his teacher pulled me aside and told me that he was very quiet. She was concerned for him, thinking he might be ill. I thanked her for letting me know, and then waited for him to come home at the end of the day.

My son loved school. Though this was only his second day of Kindergarten, I watched how happy he was at preschool just the year before. But that evening he told me he didn’t want to go to school. I called the doctor.

Long story short, my son was diagnosed with stage 3 Burkitt’s Lymphoma, a blood cancer that is the fastest growing, most aggressive cancer you could get. We cried. No, we wept bitterly. What was going to happen to our son? Why was this happening? We had just lost my father suddenly 4 months earlier, why did we have to go through this with our little one? My husband and I tried our best to be calm in front of our son, and not once did we use the words “death,” or “die,” in front of him. But still, he knew.

Our 5 year-old little boy, so full of life, with a dream to become a firefighter, looked over at us and said, “I don’t want to die like Grampa.” Cue ugly tears.

He spent one full month in the hospital, and for the first week or two, my husband and I did not want to leave his side. Each chemo treatment, each medicine, each lumbar puncture could mean the difference between life and death.

For three months we watched and waited. When we were home, we waited to hear what his numbers were. When we knew his white blood cell count was close to, or at, zero, we kept a close eye on his temperature. If he was over 100F, we needed to call the hospital and make our way over to emergency. This happened a couple of times.

Where was our peace in all of this? At first? Not much could be found. Tears were shed over and over. Fear, heartache, confusion (what we thought might be constipation was cancer??).

But we were given glimpses of peace that we could hold tight to. Remember how I said this cancer was the fastest growing, most aggressive cancer? Well, my son’s surgeon (an amazing man) told us that chemo kind of loves that type. He said that if it was any one of the three he was thinking, this would be the one he was hoping for. This type of cancer chemo has no problem attacking. And how about success rate? 95%. We definitely had something to hold onto.

Was it complete peace? No, of course not. But it was something, and we held tightly to it.

What is complete peace, anyway?

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

Jesus gives us a “Peace that surpasses all understanding.” I was listening to a commentary by Dr J Vernon McGee on BlueLetterBible yesterday on this verse, and he talked about how this peace was one that, well, you can’t understand. It’s a peace that washes over you. He used the example of watching a sunset and the feeling that comes from being lost in that moment.

This peace, I believe, is one that floods in when we really need it: when we struggle, when we hurt, fear, grieve. It takes these things and, though they may not be completely gone, it relaxes our body, slows the erratic beat of our heart, and helps us to breathe again.

Sometimes this peace comes when we don’t even realize that we need it. Using McGee’s example, picture yourself watching a sunset. It’s been a long but amazing day, one you will look back on with fond memories. The day is now ending, and as you look up at the sky, streaks of orange, purple, and pink take your breath away. You stand in awe of the painting God has placed before you. You breathe it in, you give thanks to the Creator. Can you feel yourself relax? Can you feel his peace wash over you?

God grants us his peace. Jesus is called the “Prince of Peace.” When we follow him, when we press into him in good times and in troubling times, the Holy Spirit takes this gift of peace and fills us full.

Oh, I thank God for this peace.

I must admit that, even after my son was cleared of cancer, we still had some fears. Every time one of our children had a stomach ache, we panicked. Though we may not have spoken it aloud, we would think, “Could this be cancer?” My youngest child at the time was two-years-old, and as the years passed and his 5th birthday was getting closer, I worried that he would face the same fate as if the age of my child was what caused his cancer.

This fear is something that hasn’t completely gone away though it has lessened to a very dull roar, maybe even a tiny “meow.” But I find it resurfacing at times. For a few years, I kept my son away from his checkups with the Hemotology/Oncology department. I figured I just kept forgetting, but last month as I finally took him in, I realized that perhaps fear had kept me away. As we stepped off the familiar silver elevators on floor 6 and made our way to the back of the building, toward the waiting room for this department, I started to have a quiet, hidden-from-my-son (now 14), panic attack.

I still need to seek his peace in this. Seeking his peace is a constant choice I need to make just as walking with him is. And when we choose to walk with him daily, when we follow his Way, when we remind ourselves how good God is, this peace is obtainable.

Don’t be surprised if you feel a deep peace, one that you can’t explain. Know who it is from, and thank him.

“Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way. The Lord be with you all.”

2 Thessalonians 3:16

Lord, heavenly Father, I praise you and thank you for this peace that you give to us. Lord, you know how much I have struggled, yet you have walked me through. You never cease to amaze me. You are good and worthy of praise, Lord. In your most holy name I pray, Amen.

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