This article was originally published at Patheos.
Here’s an interesting question:
As a parent with responsibilities piled on your shoulders, is it possible to have peace in the middle of all the chaos and conflict?
Lord knows we have plenty of chaos, but is peace waiting just outside of our reach on the other side of it, or is it possible to have peace regardless of what’s going on in our lives?
The dictionary says that peace is the absence of conflict. It’s “freedom from disturbance”. While that sounds nice, who has ever reached a place where they’re completely free of conflict and disturbance? Even on our best days, I think we can all agree we still feel like we’re chasing an ever-elusive sense of peace.
Pew Research found that 2 out of every 5 people report lacking a feeling of peace and wellbeing the majority of the time. Among those who did not affiliate with a religion, that number rises to 3 out of every 5 people who say they don’t feel a sense of peace and wellbeing more often than once or twice a month.
The truth is, we all get distracted, annoyed, and unsettled. Most of us have yet to find a place where there isn’t at least some sort of conflict. Does that mean peace is an evasive emotion only brought on by the perfect circumstances?
I’ve known peace even when my house is a wreck and our kids are going wild. I’ve known peace when we had no money and bills that were unpaid. I’ve seen God come through and do amazing things, and I’ve seen bad things play out without what I would have considered a “happy” ending. And yet I’ve still found peace in the midst of those times as well.
So, if peace doesn’t seem to be contingent on circumstances, the only explanation is, our culture must be misdefining what peace is.
Peace isn’t a bi-product of perfect circumstances aligning where nothing interferes with our desires. Yet that’s what we’re taught in school, at home, at church, and pretty much everywhere else growing up. We’re taught that good things only come from good performance.
Do well on tests so you can make good grades. Clean your room so you can go outside and play. Do what God says so you won’t go to hell. So we naturally assume that peace is the same way – it won’t come until we’ve done the necessary actions to eliminate everything undesirable from our immediate environment. And we wonder why anxiety, depression, and suicide are on the rise.
No, peace isn’t found in the absence of conflict. It’s found in the confrontation of conflict.
Peace is found when we address head on the fact that we can’t fix our brokenness and conflict, and that realization drives us to put our hope in Jesus and not in ourselves. That’s where real peace is found.
When we do everything we can to minimize conflict and friction in our lives in the hopes that we’ll have peace, what we actually find is that we bring more stress on ourselves. That’s because the world is broken, and the more we try to mend it back together to avoid the brokenness, the more we realize that there’s more that’s broken than we can fix.
Your kids that won’t act right, your boss that isn’t leading well, your mental and physical health that seems to be fleeting – the more you try to fix these things on your own strength, the worse they get. Improving these things is great, but fixing them isn’t realistic. And it isn’t your job.
When you embrace the fact that you’re not the world’s fixer, you start to feel free. When you realize that you don’t have to be perfect in order to find peace, it’s like a giant weight lifted off your shoulders. You don’t have to get it “right” all the time. In fact, the more you try to get it “right” the more you realize how “wrong” you really are.
It’s like trying to put a shredded painting back together. It might look good when you start, but it isn’t long before each piece you add is just another reminder of how fragmented the picture is. Because shredded paintings are a pain to put back together, and they never really look good when they’re put back together anyways. That’s because shredded paintings shouldn’t be mended – they should be repainted. (And thank God we’re not the Painter.)
It’s time we embrace the fact that our peace is not found in our ability to do the right things. Our peace is found in the fact that even though we’re a broken mess, the world keeps spinning because we’re made and accepted by God. So we don’t have to be perfect or fix things. Once we embrace that, we’ll start to see that brokenness can’t be fixed; it can only be rebuilt. And God’s the only one who can do that.
Contrary to cultural belief, you can have peace in the middle of conflict and chaos. It just requires you to stop trying to remove chaos and start addressing it for what it is: a reminder that your peace was never something to chase in the first place. It’s a gift that only comes by being okay with being broken and allowing God to do the work of restoring you.
Because remember: Peace isn’t found in the absence of conflict. It’s found in the confrontation of it.