Can You Be At Peace Without Being Content?

When I first contemplated this week’s topic in the FSSP (Peace), I realized something unusual. When I thought of the word peace, I didn’t have much of an impression of anything at all. Normally if you say a word, a bunch of related images cascade through my mind. Like an infinite version of Pinterest in my brain. (Whoa. That sounds kinds of scary. But it’s true.) But I didn’t have a board for peace.

I decided to do a little test. I used a random word generator to generate four words and wrote down my primary images associated with each. Then I did peace. The results are below. Prepare to be shocked. Ready?

  1. Glasses: First I pictured my favorite reading glasses, which are perpetually crooked and have sweet purple metal frames. Then I pictured my heavy, thick drinking glasses and thought about buying them all for $5 at a garage sale. Then I thought about the way that my favorite glass feels in my hand. It’s a Chivas Regal 12 whisky glass that someone left at my house after a grill out once and it’s the perfect mixture of sturdy and badass. (I should clarify here that I rarely actually drink whisky from this glass… usually iced coffee…).
  2. Hygiene: I immediately pictured brushing my teeth. And the new toothpaste that I picked up today. And how much I love showering. Then I pictured the lavendar soap that I got at Whole Foods, which (1) I love and (2) I bought because it reminded me of my hippie friend Amanda and the 4UR ranch where we worked during college.
  3. Button: I pictured the shiny, jet black button dangling from the cuff of a red blazer I bought six months ago at Goodwill. It had gold buttons on it (ahem, hello old woman jacket). When I bought it, I took them off and started sewing on modern black ones instead. That was six months and a whole different apartment ago. I literally managed to move it from one apartment to the other with a needle and string dangling from that button. That’s how much I do not want to finish that project.
  4. Mess: I pictured my room. Enough said.
  5. Peace: Nothing. Which is ridiculous so I dug around a little and finally an image of a hippie waving some kind of flag popped into my mind. The next thing I knew I was Googling “peace” to look up the definition*. Never a good sign.

So all week I’ve been thinking about peace and trying to figure out what it actually means to me. Really I’ve been searching through my mental pinboards, hoping that I’ll suddenly discover that peace actually has a robust and emotionally poignant board somewhere that has just been misfiled. Unfortunately no. 

But that’s not to say that I came up empty. Once I spent some time thinking about it, I realized that there are a lot of images that come to mind when I think of peace. Hiking in the woods alone. Standing under a tree in the middle of a downpour and waiting for it to stop. Sitting with good friends around a bottle of wine. Writing in a coffee shop. Finishing a long run and feeling like I could start over and do the whole thing again. Laughing with someone new. Riding in pretty much any truck. The list goes on…

But upon further examination, peace isn’t really the primary label on these images. The primary label is contentment.

Which begs the question: Can you be at peace without being content? 

Can I be at peace when I don’t feel content with what is going on in my life? I think so. (Read: I certainly hope so…). When I was researching peace this week, I ran across this post about peace and I’m going to quote a section of it here because it articulates how I’ve been feeling this week:

“…Distress and anxiety undergird much of the restlessness and disquietude that fills so many lives. They are produced by the fear, uncertainty and insecurity of seeming to be at the whim of circumstances and people beyond our control. …We worry that the consequences will be difficult to overcome, embarrassing, physically painful, damaging to our reputation or that we will be overwhelmed and suffer great loss.

Genesis 41:8, 16 records:

Now it came to pass in the morning that his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. And Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them for Pharaoh…. So Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, “…God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace.”

This is a typical reaction. Pharaoh’s mind was disturbed, agitated, because he did not understand. His portentous dream left him anxious because, despite his power, he could not control what he did not even begin to understand.

Yeah, so… I have control issues. I like to control everything (and everyone?). Sometimes I make the mistake of thinking that if I just had more control, I’d be happy / less stressed out / whatever. But Pharaoh is a perfect example of how untrue that is. He had all the power and control and wealth that a person could have. Theoretically he should have had all the resources required to orchestrate perfect happiness and inner peace. But he was just as freaked out and anxious as the rest of us. (And if you haven’t read the rest of the book, his story doesn’t end well…).

So what are we control freaks supposed to do? Assuming we can somehow manage to set down our controlling tendencies, how do we find peace? Well, this is where my friend C.S. Lewis comes to the rescue once again:

God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just not good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing. C.S. Lewis / Mere Christianity 

Bottom line: Peace comes from God, not from perfect plans. (I might have to get this tattooed somewhere…)

Also, there’s a chance that this question completely misses the point and (at least in the context of spiritual fruit) Paul meant the term peace in a more relational, less internal context. As in “if God is constantly refining your heart, peace will characterize your interactions with others.” Something to contemplate another time… 

*FYI, here’s a dictionary definition: Peace – a state of mutual harmony between people or groups, especially in personal relations.

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