Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Ann's Peace Questions

This is my whole response to Ann's post and questions about peace here.

Looking for Peace. Having grown up in the '60s the word peace is so full of meanings. I remember the homes of childhood as chaotic noisy realms but not often happy or joy-filled. My earliest memory of the word peace was in the Christmas story. I remember once my mother got exasperated and declared "I never get a moment's peace around here." It didn't make sense at the time because she didn't work then and the three of us had just been in school all day. Then the peace marches and peace songs started growing in numbers. It seemed that everyone was saying that civilization was killing peace; but if given a chance peace would recover and we would have it again. Just a tad idealistic, not to mention overly simplified.

When I married and started going to women's Bible study groups the message that was thumped over and over was that the beautiful, quiet, orderly and peaceful home was the mark of the exemplary Christian wife and mother. But peace, knowing peace, being at peace was a concept - a state of being - I could not comprehend. It would be many, many years later before I would begin to glimpse the internal chaos that Ann speaks of. This interior noise had been instilled as a young child and thus normalized itself as a fabric of life. It had been my constant companion for as long as I have memories. And in a sense I had never been "alone" though I had been often isolated.

When an interpersonal crisis prompted me to seek out the professional services of a friend who was a licensed (and Christian) counselor, one discussion led to another, and another, and some weeks later I was in the middle of once again relating some long list of reasons I was a failure when he put up his hands and said "stop."

Then he very quietly said "are you listening to yourself; have you been listening to yourself every week you've come in here? You have all these lists of expectations from all these different sources; I'll bet you have them in the margins of your Bible, in your study notes, in your cookbooks, and probably taped to the bathroom mirror. (How did he know?) God isn't interested in your lists or how well you're crossing things off. He is waiting for you, not your completed lists. He is saying 'let's spend the day together' and you start shuffling through your lists trying to figure out which one to show him. You keep putting the lists between you and God; but you didn't invent that by yourself, you have had a lot of help over the years by well-meaning but misguided people." And then he loaned me a copy of Ragamuffin Gospel (Manning) that jump-started the transformation of my life.

But the irascible internal voices I had adducted into the hearing of my mind and heart from church-based traditional dogma were not the only sources of internal disquiet. The stage had been set by parents who were unable to appropriately come to terms with and set aside their bitter disappointment that their firstborn had not turned out to be a son. And the result was that they never fully accepted or learned to cherish the daughter they were given instead. When you are the wrong person, nothing you do is ever right, or acceptable, or commendable; and your needs are an inconvenience. But you have ingrained into your every waking thought the needs of others and how they are more important than your own needs. So everyday more and more self-care time is shaved away until every second is filled with doing for others many things they should be doing for themselves.

At first it was hard, even scary, to deliberately turn off the old tapes and to redirect my thoughts when they persisted. It took stubborn painful discipline to stay in the present unless it was a designated time for working through a past issue. The constant battle was, and can still be at times, against "should have" and "ought to." It has taken a long time to learn that not every need is my calling and that people who advise me how to use what they think my talents are without being asked are often wrong. But the most unsettling was setting aside the lists because without them what would I do next; and the answer was nothing. Do nothing until God speaks clearly.

Moving forward to 2 years ago when I was getting ready to graduate from my BA program, I sensed I needed to go away for part of spring break; not to Florida with the younger students but a time away to reflect on what was next because I still did not see the rest of the road map for what I was "to do." Searching online I found a silent retreat for women in my state for the weekend in question. However, while I am quite adept at being quiet (because being quiet is equated with being good) and at keeping myself company, I could not have foreseen how unquiet a silent retreat could be. And yes, most of the unquiet was within me, but part of it was that I could not shake the sense that I was disturbing the others and I was a complete nuisance. (I have discussed this with the director and it was not the case.) After spending several weeks reflecting on my reactions at that first retreat the conclusion I came to was that it is/was related to my lack of experiences in the world of women. This is never going to be completely eradicated at this stage of my life but knowing it helps me moderate the self-condemnation that often undermines my internal peace.

So, how does all of this connect to Ann's questions about Peace, Peace as a person, and the Peace journey? Well, I look for peace in how I am responding; or whether I am just reacting to what is happening. I once read that between cause and effect there is a gap; and what happens in the gap affects the reaction just like in Chemistry class.

For me peace is not a person; my history with people contradicts that notion. From my chair, people are unpredictable, violent and often the source of humiliation. But peace has been a journey for me that when it began I did not know what it was; however, it has been taking me in the right direction.

1 comment:

tonia said...

Thank you for sharing your beautiful, honest story. I truly appreciate this kind of honesty.

There is a long distance between our heads and our hearts, isn't there? Saying "Jesus is our peace," and embracing that in our souls are two different things. I could so relate to what you were saying about the lists, and the "look" of the perfect Christian woman/home. I am that way too..."I want to be good! Where's the instruction manual?" and then I run a constant checklist of standards and rules I've picked up along the way. (What a wise counselor - a gift from God - that helped you escape from that!)

~I think you hit on a big key in your description of the internal struggle you felt on the silent retreat. Peace is a comfort from God that is independent of our circumstance - but often, there is so much external noise in our lives we can't even realize that we have not experienced His peace. It would probably be a good exercise for all of us to find some silence and examine our hearts!

Thank you again for your willingness to share your thoughts on peace. Your perspective adds a lot to the conversation and I think others will really benefit from it.

God bless.

Only by mercy,