Death. Riots. Suffering. Where is the peace on Earth this Christmas?
A woman I just met tells me her husband lost his job and she recently quit hers to stay home with her children. Their life is unsettled. How does she find peace?
A text came through late at night last week as a man shared that his daughter is going to lose her baby at 23 weeks. I wake in the morning to see pictures of her stillborn child. How does this family find peace in the pain of this loss?
I read a news announcement online: “Violence Flares in St. Louis Suburb After Grand Jury Declines to Indict Darren Wilson in Michael Brown’s Death.” I watch as the community in Ferguson, Missouri is divided and more tragedies begin to unfold as fallout of the decision.
A few days later, I see another online news announcement that read: “Grand Jury Declines to Indict NYPD Officer in Eric Garner Chokehold Death.” People are outraged by the news and many take to the streets in protest.
My heart is heavy wondering, “How do these communities and the rest of our nation find peace in the midst of so much angst?"
Christmas is approaching and I see signs saying “peace on earth.” I put one up in my own house. Peace. How does the heart find peace?
Last night, as I met with the adult leaders in the girls’ program I direct, Lesley who is in her early 20’s shared with me details from her service trip to Peru. Lesley has a condition called alopecia, which caused her to lose all her hair many years ago. And, in this culture where she constantly hears messages of the importance of looks, she has found confidence and comfort in who she is and who God created her to be.
She went to Peru without her wig. People stared and pointed, and because she did not speak the language, she could not tell people about why she is bald. She felt a slight discomfort in their looks, but she wasn’t there to defend her appearance; she was there to serve. She surrendered her desires and dug deeper to humble herself in pure sacrifice for the people she was tending to.
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Lesley told me not only about the physical poverty of the people she encountered, but she also their spiritual poverty. “It was difficult and even uncomfortable being in a place so far from home knowing there was so much that needed to be done to help these people, but there was so little time,” she said. Then she shared a sentence that struck me. “I had to find peace in the discomfort.” She added, “I wasn’t there to solve these people’s problems, I had no control over that.” She went on to quote Mother Teresa, “God does not require that we be successful only that we be faithful.” She adds, “I tried to be faithful and pushed back my inclination to be successful.”
How do we find peace in a world that seems at times peace-less? We recognize, like Lesley, what we can do and what we cannot. We surrender control. And, as the old-age-serenity-prayer goes, we pray, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
We can find peace in faithfulness to the Lord. We can find peace in He who is peace. Peace who was found in the uncomfortable setting of a manger where he was laid in a trough where animals were usually fed. We can find peace in the discomfort. We can find peace when we love as He loved; when we trust as He trusted; when we sacrifice as He sacrificed.
Saint John Paul II once said, “Man cannot fully find himself, except through a sincere gift of himself.” Maybe we find peace not in fixing every problem we see or shooting for success in everything we do, but in simply offering ourselves as a sincere gift to others.
Recently the picture above became, as many are calling it, an “Icon of Hope.” Twelve-year-old Devonte Hart, an African-American boy, held up a sign that read “Free Hugs” during a Ferguson-related rally in Portland, Oregon. A white police officer took Hart up on his offer and the picture captured this tender moment of the two hugging and tears running down Hart’s face.
Devonte Hart made a sincere gift of himself in that moment when he decided to create a sign that read “Free Hugs.” He gave the gift of himself and offered peace in the discomfort. Hart can’t fix the enormous problems happening in this country, but he did bring something big right into the heart of that storm. He brought peace. And, because it was photographed, he has now brought that peace, courage, strength, and hope to many who were feeling discouraged.
If we could all be more like Devonte Hart. If we could all surrender our desire to fix, solve and be successful and replace it with a willingness to be faithful and find peace and bring peace in even the most uncomfortable places. May each of us, as Christmas approaches, not think about the presents we will get or the toys and trinkets we will give, but see our own potential as gift. May we become gift as Christ himself was to all and give the sincerity of ourselves to those who least expect it. It is there we will find peace.
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