You thought that being a Christian meant having inner peace. It’s one of the fruit of the spirit, right? Love, Joy, Peace… I mean, I don’t want to talk about my anxiety because doing so would mean I don’t have the fruit of The Spirit and if I don’t have the fruit of The Spirit am I really even a Christian?
Fortunately, we have plenty of examples of Jesus’ disciples, despite having seen Jesus raise the dead and feed the multitudes, act in anxious and fearful ways. We all lack the confidence to face the circumstances from time to time.
I don’t promise that the things I am going to share will help you gain inner peace. But, I have some inner peace in my life and there are exactly three things that I am zealous about to maintain it.
Don’t Should Yourself
I can’t remember if I heard this first from a psychologist, a TED Talk, or a book, none-the-less, it was true enough to resonate and pithy enough to remember. That said, it’s been hard to act on. If I shan’t should, what shall I?
Presenting: A matrix to help you to say no better.
I’ve found that all the “shoulds” in my life I can reasonably be fit into four boxes:
1. I HAVE to
This needs no explanation. I have to eat food at regular intervals. I have to pay my taxes. I have to shower, yes, I have to. Try rephrasing that ‘should’ that pops into your head as ‘I have to’, if it fits, do it, if not try this next box.
2. I WANT to
Spending time in your ‘I want to’ box is how you bank up energy for the things in your ‘I have to’ box.
Maybe you have to call your mom, I want to. I also want to lift weights, play with my kids, and connect with my neighbours. I even want to talk with others about what’s going on in my life, including my relationship with God.
I try to spend as much time as I can on the things in this box, and I don’t feel guilty about it. I believe that all of God’s plan for my life fits in either the ‘I have to’ box: I have to do what God has commanded me. Or the ‘I want to’ box, because that is who God made me. I am intrigued and excited about certain things and not others because of who God made me. And at the end of days I trust God to judge me based on who he made me to be.
3. I CAN
You probably have a lot of ‘shoulds’ in your life that haven’t found a place yet and most of them won’t go here. But we can try.
What does it mean for something to fit in the ‘I can’ box? For me the criteria is simple; it won’t take away from me having the energy and enthusiasm I need to take on my ‘I have to’ and my ‘I want to’ boxes, and that is it.
4. I WON’T
And here is my secret and I might get in trouble for this, but for me, going to church on a Sunday morning doesn’t always fit into the ‘I have to’, the ‘I want to’ box, or even the ‘I can’ box. And in this matrix there is only one option left. “I won’t”.
So some Sundays I don’t. And I don’t feel guilty about it.
The Bible tells me that I have to sanctify the sabbath. It tells me to gather with other Christians. While a church service is an effective way to tick both those boxes, it’s not the only one.
In my experience, a fundamental skill for inner peace, and health in general, is; saying no, to good things, with confidence.
This is how I do it.
Peter Scazzero asserts in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality that the Jews haven’t kept the Sabbath, but rather the Sabbath has kept the Jews.
Jesus said: The Sabbath was established for people, and not people for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27).
The fourth commandment, before prohibitions on murdering, lying, coveting, or adultering is the following: Remember the day of the Sabbath, to consecrate it. Six days you will work, and you will do all your work. (Exodus 20:8–9, LEB)
Your sabbath rest is not God commanding you to get behind on things. It is a fundamental spiritual exercise where you commit to trusting God as your provider and ‘pilot’. It’s a day where you say “Ok God, today your driving the bus, I’m going to take a nap in the passenger seat so I am ready for what you need me to do tomorrow”.
In our house we don’t do anything but the bare minimum of the “I have to’s” and as many “I want to’s” as we feel up to on our shabbat. We don’t fold laundry, we don’t mop, we don’t get ahead on something for work, we don’t do maintenance on the house or vehicles, we don’t shop, not even online. Lately, I’ve been pretending that the internet doesn’t exist, how refreshing that has been.
Some people are doctors, or policeman or gas station clerks and they can’t have a sabbath on the same day as I do, maybe they can’t have it the same day every week. God will bless them with an answer as to how they consecrate the sabbath if they seek His guidance.
When we first decided to take this seriously we got a box, and every Saturday night we would put physical objects or notes indicating what we were going to rest from, Peter Scazzero’s idea. Now it has become so internalized that we haven’t needed that ceremony to follow through on sabbath.
But I challenge you to take the concept of Sabbath as seriously as you take murder. Seriously. See what it does for you.
Know your story
Lastly, know your story. Get to know it so well that it might almost seem boring. I promise that the most surprising thing about your story is just how few surprises there are if you’re really paying attention.
When I got married, I knew, without a doubt that I did not want fighting over finances to be the straw that breaks the camels back. In my mind we were already starting with enough set against success that I didn’t want to make a novice mistake in this area: Finances are very important, but they’re also not that hard.
I signed up for a software called You Need a Budget, and I really connected with their onboarding emails. A part of the strategy they explained was that ‘there are no surprises’: Christmas comes on December 25th every year, the tax man will come knocking and there is no car that doesn’t need new tires every once in a while.
A coworker once told me that he wasn’t surprised when fallen people acted in a fallen way. There are no surprises. Your story is full of sinners, don’t be surprised when they sin.
The most important sinner in your story is you. The protagonist.
Do you know yourself? You can. Are you willing to know and own your faults?
I’ve spent a lot of my life overestimating what I am capable of and feeling shame when I don’t follow through. I’ve lacked in gentleness and hurt people close to me. I had a father who lacked in gentleness and hurt me. I’ve spent a lot of my life ignoring who I was and trying and avoid the worst parts of me. But that doesn’t work.
In 2012 a conference speaker said something that I will never forget “you can only be loved to the extent that you are known”. For God to love what’s broken about you, you have to let Him into what’s broken about you. To let God into your broken places you have to know what they are. You must suffer the dark night of the soul if you hope to finally see the dawn breaking on the horizon.
Your story also has an author. Your stories author has left you not with the full work, but with a fairly lengthy and spoiler ridden trailer for your story. He knows how your story ends, He has shared it with you, and it’s a good ending.
People will be evil, governments will get bigger and more controlling, people will hate Christians, earthquakes will increase, Damascus will be destroyed, Russia, Iran and Turkey will conspire, a second temple will built, the last great war will commence, and then:
Jesus will emerge victorious, the government of the whole world will be on his shoulders, the dead sea will team with life, and you will get to experience not a day less than a 1000 years of this.
I know how my story starts, I’ve got a good grip on what is going to happen in the middle and I know how it ends. This gives me the peace I need to face the impossible day after day.
To know your story there are few disciplines you can pursue
- Journaling, I recommend that your reflect on and express to yourself your hurts, frustrations, and angers, especially those that happened when you were a child. Some of you may have hurts deeper than you can face on your own, you should find a guide in the form of a counselor or psychologist. Seeking a guide to improve your health should be no more embarrassing than an athlete seeking out a coach to help them take their game to the next level. Everyone of us can be better than we are, the smartest of us will seek help to get there.
- Read your Bible. I recommend that you read it aloud to yourself. This maximally engages your body in the activity.
- Memorize Scripture. I use flash cards. Maybe start with just two verses and try to find a time of day, regularly where you review a card. Once you’ve got the first two down add a new one. Keep reviewing. Keep adding. Before you know it your stack will be impressive. Don’t try and review the whole stack every day, it’s unnecessary.
- Read commentaries and exposition, especially of prophecy. You lack the context of when prophecy was written and you can’t translate the names of places mentioned in the Bible to their current names. God put those spoilers in the Bible for you to know what they mean. They are for your benefit.
Not a single one of all the good promises the Lord had given to the family of Israel was left unfulfilled; everything he had spoken came true. —Joshua 21:45
Implicit in all of this that your peace has nothing to do with your circumstance. It’s a heart issue, and while it’s possible to connect logically and rationally with what I have said, your heart will need some time to accept and internalize this message. Weeks, months, maybe years. I can’t tell you how long it took me, but it wasn’t quick. Which is why you need to practice not shoulding yourself, shabbat, and knowing your story