A few years ago CBC reported on a special community meeting between police officials and parents in Abbottsford, British Columbia. The subject was predators, psychopaths and drug pushers-how to recognize them, what to do about them and how to protect our children from them. Not a pleasant topic, to be sure, but a symptom of the kind of world we inhabit.
All parents worry about their children. We try to protect them from all sorts of dangers and bad choices, and at times it seems like a losing battle. We love our children and are afraid for them, and rightly so. There are so many dangers lurking in our world.
I make no apologies for being a protective parent regarding my own daughter. After all, she has Down syndrome. She has an independent spirit and wants to be self-reliant, but she will always require help. My wife and I pray for her every day, and we are doing our best to plan for her future, especially when we are no longer around to care for her.
And yet, there is no guarantee that we can perfectly protect our daughter from the dangers that threaten.
So what can we give our children that is of lasting value? I suggest that the one thing we can give them is inner peace. Isn’t that what we mean when we say, “All I want for my children is that they should be happy”? What we want for our children is what Jesus wanted for his disciples-inner peace, inner strength, inner confidence that will allow them to stand tall in the hour of testing; that will strengthen and sustain them throughout their days.
“Peace I leave with you,” Jesus says, “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).
On the night before he died, Jesus gave all who believe in him a promise of peace. It comes not a moment too soon. Certainly, we want world peace, but we also desire inner peace-the peace that helps us cope with fear, anxiety and worry. Perhaps that’s why we come to church. We search for something to help us sleep better at night, and for something to get us through the day. We want something that will help us face life’s challenges with courage and conviction and integrity.
Recently, when we were on vacation in Florida, my wife was at the pool of our hotel speaking with a couple from Boston. She asked how they were coping in light of the recent marathon bombings. “We are going to be fine,” said the woman. “Everything will be okay. We’re strong and we can get through this.”
“But,” my wife asked, “what about all those who were injured-who lost limbs, who have shrapnel imbedded in their bodies and are facing a long, difficult recovery?”
The woman kept repeating, “We’re going to be all right. We’ll be fine. We’ll get through it.” She simply could not respond otherwise. The pain and heartbreak were just too great for her to face.
I like that woman’s spunk, but positive thinking is not enough to get us through the tough times of life. It will not fill the vacuum in our souls when life’s tragedies start to drain us.
In a world filled with reasons for worry, we need something tougher than “positive thinking” or “name it and claim it” theology. Yes, Jesus promises us peace, but he also tells us to expect trials and tribulations. The question is, “Where is the peace of God when the world around us is in turmoil?”
When I was living in New York City and practising law, I was mugged on the subway. I was going home after a late night at the office. As I was about to put my token into the turnstile, two men grabbed me, threw me against the wall, pulled out a knife, pointed it to my belly and took my wallet. That experience changed my life. Never again did I ride the subway alone at night. I always had my law firm pay for a cab. But more importantly, I kept thinking to myself, “What if there wasn’t enough money in my wallet and the robbers decided to kill me?” On that dark Tuesday night in May 1980, where was the peace of God for Gary Nicolosi?
As I shared the story of my mugging with my law colleagues, a common response was, “Somebody was sure watching out for you.” More specifically, the response sometimes implied, sometimes stated, that God was watching out for me, because I wasn’t physically harmed. At first, that was comforting, but later I wondered what those people would have said about God if one of the robbers had killed me. Where is the peace of God when you’re the victim of a crime?
Where is the peace of God when life goes terribly wrong?
“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.”
In British Columbia I learned about a unique practice of First Nations peoples in training young braves. Traditionally, on the night of a boy’s thirteenth birthday, after learning hunting, scouting and fishing skills, he is put to one final test.
In this particular instance, a young boy was placed in a dense forest to spend the entire night alone. Until then, he had never been away from the security of his family and tribe. But on this night, he was blindfolded and taken several miles away. When he took off the blindfold, he was in the middle of a thick woods and he was terrified! Whenever a twig snapped, he visualized a wild animal ready to pounce.
After what seemed an eternity, dawn broke and the first rays of sunlight entered the interior of the forest. Looking around, the boy saw flowers, trees and the outline of the path. Then, to his utter astonishment, he beheld the figure of a man standing just a few feet away, armed with a bow and arrow. It was his father. He had been there all night long, ready to protect his son from any danger that threatened.
Life can be scary, but God does watch over us. In every circumstance of life, in all the tragedies and pitfalls we may experience, in all the heartaches and heartbreaks we may feel, in all the struggles and strains of daily living, God never abandons us. God is with us-all the time, even in the most horrific situations.
That’s why we have peace even when the world around us is in chaos. It is not a “feel good” peace or a “wishful thinking” peace. It is an objective peace that does not depend on feelings or even circumstances. It is a peace the world cannot give or take away, because it is God’s gift to every believer in Jesus.
All of us are bound to struggle with tragedy and heartbreak at some point in our lives. The aches of the human heart are not confined to any one group or class of people. But here is the good news: because Jesus lives, all the powers of death and destruction cannot ultimately harm us. Yes, they can destroy the body, but they cannot kill the soul. Jesus took on all the evil powers of this world and won-he conquered death itself, and therefore can conquer whatever problems and pains may come our way.
Are you worried or afraid? Are you troubled or distressed? Is your heart breaking from some tragic loss, or is the pain so great that it hurts too much to cry? Then claim the promise of Jesus for your life-for whatever may come your way, he is our perfect peace in this less than perfect world.
The Rev. Dr. Gary Nicolosi is the rector at St. James Westminster Anglican Church in London, Ont.