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This is the first of a 3-part series
A comedian once quipped, “If I had my entire life to live over . . . I don’t think I’d have the strength.” Amen! With so many sources of stress in our lives, is it really possible to find peace in regard to the pain of the past, the challenge of present life situations, and the uncertainty of the future? That’s a tall order, but we can accomplish it more and more of the time by knowing and following the principles we will discuss in this series.
Peace is such an important subject: On LDS.org when I typed “peace” in the scripture search field I got 594 results and when I typed peace in “Search Church Sites” field I found dozens of articles. Of course, the kind of peace we are discussing is not the absence of chaos or war in the world; in fact, it does not depend on outside circumstances at all.
As soon as I began pondering on the subject of peace I thought of a dream I had some years ago at a time of spiritual stress. I’ve shared it previously, but it illustrates the true source of peace so well that I feel impressed to share it again.
In my dream I saw myself driving alone up a narrow mountain road, shivering in the cold of a dark, rainy night. Fear enveloped me. The road had no shoulder; no place I could turn around or pull over, much as I wanted to. I was driving higher and higher up the treacherous mountain that was slick with rain. As I approached a hairpin curve, I suddenly realized I could not hold the road. I’ve never been more terrified as my car sailed off into black, dark nothingness. I was falling, helpless, knowing I was going to die. I could do nothing but give myself totally over to God. As I did so, my fear was swallowed up by the most intense, most amazing peace I have ever known. I felt and saw myself cradled, safe and warm, in the Savior’s loving hands (just like I’ve seen in pictures of the planet earth in Jesus’s hands) and nothing else mattered.
I woke up still wrapped in peace, and sat up in bed, amazed. I pondered in my dark bedroom the symbolic message of the dream. In one of the most perilous circumstances I could imagine, I’d experienced profound peace and been shown that I could trust the Lord no matter what. I soon found two scriptures that validated the reassuring message of my dream: Mormon 5:23, “Know ye not that ye are in the hands of God? Know ye not that he hath all power?” and D&C 67:2, “Behold and lo, mine eyes are upon you, and the heavens and the earth are in mine hands.”
My basic message in this series is that you are in His hands, you are loved, cared about, and upheld, no matter what emotional, financial, or physical peril you may be experiencing. You are not alone, whether you are aware of the Lord’s watchful care or not. As depicted in the familiar picture, Jesus truly stands at the door and knocks, and whenever we open the door, He is there. You can know for certain that the peace I found that night is available for all of us and that it has nothing to do with outward circumstances, but only with turning ourselves over to God and feeling the Spirit.
Does “All Is Well” Mean Smooth Sailing?
When the Saints were in great tribulation they sang, “All is well.” Can we sing “all is well” now in the midst of our own tribulations? Brigham Young said, “I never felt the peace and power of the Almighty more copiously poured upon me than in the keenest part of our trials.” As long as they were right with God, they found inner strength and peace. The same applies to us. In Philippians 4:7, the peace from Christ is called “Peace which passeth understanding” because it seldom seems to make any sense. I’ve felt that kind of peace at the most stressful times of my life: at the hospital standing at the side of a critically injured family member, at the moment of impact when I was in a high-speed three-car freeway accident, at my son’s funeral when I was given the strength to comfort his friends in the midst of my anguish over his suicide. I felt that peace sporadically when I was middle-aged, and found myself divorced with full custody of five sons, the youngest of whom was eleven.
We Have to Keep Doing Our Part
Of course, peace is not a destination. We certainly don’t “arrive” at a place where we can say, “Okay, I’ve found the peace place, now for the rest of my life I’m staying here.” Finding peace is more like finding a testimony—we have to keep doing the things that bring it. The sacrament prayer summarizes what those things are and promises us that if we remember Jesus always we will have His Spirit to be with us. Nothing could be more important than that promise since it is His Spirit that brings peace. Perhaps that promise is, in our day, what the brass serpent was to Moses’s people: a simple “look and live” sort of thing. Yet perhaps because the promise seems so simple and because we repeat it every week, we sometimes overlook the power it possesses.
Think right now of Jesus. Think of the song, “Jesus, name of wondrous love” and see how just thinking those words brings a sweetness and invites the Spirit. Thinking of Jesus, remembering Him, is so often all we have to do to open the door to His peace. But remembering to remember Him is where we get tripped up. When I typed “Remember” in the scripture search field I got 424 results. Almost as many as I found for peace. And there is surely a correlation since it is remembering Jesus that gives us His spirit of peace. I worried for a while that I could never keep my covenant to remember Jesus ALWAYS because I am so inconsistent about everything, and that “always” word sounded perfectionistic. Knowing I could never do it perfectly, I wondered why God would include that word in the Sacrament prayer. Then I realized the wording expresses exactly what God wants for us: He wants us to have the peace that comes when we remember Jesus and have His Spirit to be with us . . . Always. He certainly wouldn’t have us covenant to remember Jesus “some of the time.” And the point is that whenever we remember Him we open ourselves to the Spirit.
Is it Enough to Know the Foundation Principles?
Trusting God and remembering Jesus are foundation stone principles for finding peace. Maybe I could just bear my testimony to the reality and importance of those principles, and say Amen. But the truth is, last days trials and Satan’s constant barrage can make it difficult to maintain that perspective and hold on to it. Negative thoughts about difficult trials can not only make it hard to feel the Spirit and feel peace but also make us miserable in the moment. A current trial that threatens my peace is a son’s divorce and my concern for two granddaughters who are living mostly with their mother who has left the Church. I find the need to remind myself frequently that they are all in God’s hands.
What are the current stressful misery-making challenges in your life? We need to be forewarned and forearmed and reminded to return to the foundation principles. We can learn to transcend some of the most common tactics of the adversary that cause stress and distance us from the peace we seek.
Satan’s purpose is clearly stated in 2 Nephi 2:27 where it says he “seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.” And the truth is, Satan doesn’t need to give us big trials or tempt us into grievous sins to make us miserable. Satan’s main strategy to keep us from peace is simply getting us to believe lies. Sometimes, all it takes is to tempt us into discouraging thoughts.
Recognizing and Avoiding Negative Comparison
I will conclude this first article of the series by talking about just one of the discouraging thought patterns rampant today: the adversary’s temptation to compare ourselves negatively with others. I have no doubt that this is one of Satan’s strategies. In fact, it may be one of the most common. I don’t know about the way men’s brains work, but I’ll tell you, this is common practice for women. Let me give you a bird’s eye view into the thoughts of two women to illustrate and I ask you to contemplate the source of each negative thought. (I’ve drawn from a skit written years ago by Gladys Allen.) First I’ll tell you the thoughts of Angela Good, a young mother, who is getting her materials out to teach the Relief Society teacher on this particular day, then Rhea Sharp, an older single sister. Here are Angela’s thoughts:
Oh pity me, I wish my kids had caught the measles from the neighbors so I wouldn’t have to give this lesson today. I feel so inadequate. Especially with Rhea sitting on the front row. She is so well-educated, so cultured, so refined. She has advanced degrees in music from one of the finest universities in the country, while I barely made it through one year at the community college. I can only imagine the wonderful books she reads. Me? I’m into Dr. Seuss! She sits serenely through Sacrament meeting while I’m dragging kids out from under benches and wishing for duct tape to keep them quiet. And look at that beautiful suit she’s wearing. Everything I wear has to be machine washable! Rhea doesn’t have to worry about slobber on her shoulder and peanut butter fingerprints on her skirt. And she carries an elegant purse while I carry overflowing kiddie bags. To even find my lesson materials I have to dive through baby blankets, diapers, wipes, finger puppets and even Ellie’s bunny ears that she insisted I pack for her today. I might as well wear them. They would be perfect for how ridiculous I feel compared to Rhea. If Rhea carried anything besides makeup in her purse it would probably be the score for her latest musical composition. Rhea sits on cultural arts boards and plays with the symphony. I’ve never even been to a symphony. My idea of a cultural night is to go to an evening activity for Relief Society. Oh, it’s no use, I’ll never make it to the celestial kingdom. I have no education, no noble talents, no class. All I can do is take care of kids, cook and crochet little things like these bookmarks I’m giving the sisters. I think I’ll ask my husband to release me from this calling!
Now, here are Rhea’s thoughts: Oh no! It’s Angela’s turn to give the lesson. If I’d remembered, I would have volunteered to substitute In Primary today. Angela always makes me feel so telestial. She’s married to the bishop, she has seven kids, she seems to be such a master of all the womanly arts. I could hardly take my eyes off her beautiful family in sacrament meeting today. What would it be like to never sit alone? I’m so envious of her, really. She has the reputation of being the best cook in the ward. The dinner she brought in after my knee replacement makes me tempted to pray that I’ll need more surgery—it was sooo good! Even homemade bread. The only time I tried to bake bread I had to give it to Interstate Brick. And look at those crocheted bookmarks she’s handing out to motivate us to read scriptures daily. I’ll never be that consistent! I’m about to fail the bookmark test. Oh, who am I trying to kid. I’m not celestial material. I have no husband or children, I can’t cook or do crafts or even fingerplays with kids, and nobody cares about my musical talents. I think I’m going to be depressed!
Anybody relate? Do guys do any version of that comparison thing in your minds? I suspect we all do it? I have the hardest time not comparing my “more fragmented than blended” family with the ideal intact family. Where do you think those discouraging comparing thoughts come from? Don’t you think Satan laughs when he can distort our perspective of our own value so efficiently without anything evil even entering in? D&C 50:23 tells us “that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness.” That same Section also explains that the very word of God when not taught or received by the spirit is not of God. We need the Spirit of Truth to keep truth from being distorted in our minds and used against us. What if, instead of letting the downward spiral of comparison play out in our brains, we remember Jesus, ask to see things as He sees them, ask for the Spirit of Truth? Then maybe go to our patriarchal blessings to be reminded of how He sees us and our potential? Remembering Jesus so we can have His Spirit to be with us is vital.
Part two of this series will explore ways to invite the Spirit, and warn of more ways the adversary distracts us from trusting God and remembering Jesus.