Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Matthew 5:9).
Sometimes worries awaken me at night and I cannot sleep.
Sometimes threats real or imagined disorient my spirit as I press through the day.
I want an escape.
Then I remember Jesus’ consoling words to his disciples on the evening of his arrest:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid (John 14:27).
He bestows this peace after promising them that his love will remain with them. For the Holy Spirit will comfort and empower them after he departs.
Furthermore, he tells them that to know his loving presence and guidance, they must keep his “commandments” and his “word.” In this gospel, that means loving each other. Only as they love, will they realize his gift of peace and know what he is talking about (John 14:15-31).
Yet, he offers this comforting oracle just before his arrest, torture, trial, and execution. Jesus’ promise of peace amounts to a sham if it implies safe haven from the storms of life.
You do not find this peace by escape. You find it by engagement.
So in my sleepless night and hectic day, I repeat this verse as a mantra, not to certify what I know but to open my mind and heart to what I do not know. I know I will suffer and die, just as Jesus knew the same of himself and his friends. But I expect peace that not only defies the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, but that somehow gets more spacious and sure because of them.
So I repeat the verse over and over to remind myself that Jesus promises this peace right now, in my perplexity, frustration, and fear. As he did to the disciples two millennia ago, he does to me.
But why does he interrupt this lyrical assurance with the aside, “I do not give as the world gives?”
Well, how does the world give? “The world” is the whole legion of individuals short of God and institutions short of God’s kingdom that offer us spirituality short of faith.
Something about the way the world gives falsifies the peace it promises. The world gives with conditions that limit love. To belong with us, you must reject them. To really enjoy what we give, you must acquire more than your neighbor. For us to like you, you must prove yourself superior to others.
But Jesus promises that you will find peace by loving. And only after accepting God’s unconditional love will you give not as the world gives, but as God gives.
So in the end, the lyrical promise of peace Jesus left does not so much shelter me under a wing as bid me fly. It does not so much shield me from suffering as it guards my heart from despairing of love in the face of suffering. For as long as I love, my Beloved is with me.
Dr. King’s Antidotes for Fear: Faith
Dr. King’s Antidotes for Fear: Love
Mother Pollard’s Antidote for Dr. King’s Fear
Suffering for Love
Henri Nouwen: Witness to Heaven on Earth