I’m 37 years old now. That’s three short years away from 40. Earlier today it’s occurred to me, that the year I turn 40 will also be the year (supposedly) that our family receives a new Air Force assignment, packs up our worldly goods (and children, and dog) and moves away from Alaska. Thus, all the emotions about midlife and all the emotions about moving will collide. Possibly in the same three months of the year. Sounds delightful.
Actually, I’m already a little panicky about those three months. If the next move is like this move and turning forty is as emotionally unsettling as turning thirty was, I’m not entirely sure what is going to keep me sane.
“Emotional stability” is like this weird, unattainable Shangri-la of mental health. A sense of peace. Mental calm. A leaf in the wind. You get the idea. We all strive for it, but badly, it seems to me. If we kept the analogy of a hidden mountain paradise, we’re like explorers without a compass, wandering along craggy peaks and valleys, searching for that place of rest. Along our trek we’ll pass beauty and experience adventure, all of which are awesome, but even so, that one perfect spot eludes us. The place where we will feel truly stable.
“It’s out there!” We say to ourselves. “I just have to figure out how to get to it!” So we head in a lot of different directions at different times of life. We try the “optimal health” trail for a while: exercising, dieting, organically nourishing our bodies. We try the “medical” path for a bit: using medication to calm our brain when needed. We try the “relational” loop for a while: creating friendships, pouring into other people, social justice stuff. We try the “organized life” valley too, (just for the heck of it and only for a short period of time because deep down we know that a strict adherence to a schedule will only last a few days in our house, with our people : )
(It’s here that I should acknowledge that when I say “we” I really me “I.” Because I have tried all these paths. None of them have seemed to work. Which, in the case of diet and exercise I was actually grateful. Because I hate the gym and love pasta. Sigh.)
Anyway, during a recent bout of crazily fluctuating emotions, a verse came to my mind, no doubt through the power of the Holy Spirit.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe [have faith!].” John 14:27-29
As I look at the first of these verses, I am reminded that peace is a gift, not a goal. NOT A GOAL. There is no compass, no map, no remedy which will produce the peace that we truly crave. Rather, we must acknowledge that peace is one of the multiple of blessing that Jesus has promised his children.
Now, based on this passage, Jesus seemed to realize that the world would offer us avenues to stability. I’m sure that there were first century equivalents to our organic diets, yoga flows, organizational apps, and church life groups – things which the world assures us will bring us to a state of inner calm – and Jesus was probably referring to those things when he said, “not as the world gives do I give to you.” The peace that Jesus promises will eclipse all other options and make their success seem paltry.
So why do I try so hard to find my stability in anything other than my relationship with God? The God who created me, loves me, died for me, protects me, supplies my needs, prunes me, and who is preparing a heavenly home where I will see him face to face. (Just imagine THAT peace.)
But of course, that’s just it! I’m content to imagine the peace that I’ll feel in heaven while standing in the presence of God. I mean, “Hello?! I’ll OBVIOUSLY have emotional stability then. Duh!” Well if that is true (and it is,) I have to ask myself if it will be the absence of all conflict that will bring about such peace, or will that settled state of mind and heart stem from being in the presence of my overwhelming God?
I think that it’s pretty clear that is it the latter, not the former.
So when I turn around in my chair and look at my life TODAY, what should I realize? I should realize that the overwhelming presence of God that I anticipate in heaven is with me RIGHT NOW. No matter what food I eat (GMO, non-GMO) what physical activity I pursue (running up and down my stairs 100 times a day or cross fit at the local gym) what mental exercise I employ (mindfulness or having 100 internal tabs open all at once) what household organization I enforce (page long chore lists or unfettered clutter) or friendships that I cultivate (dozens of acquaintances or just the four people who share my name) my mental peacefulness does not depend on any of those things because my God doesn’t change when they do!!
My house could be immaculate, my children quietly playing together, my to-do list conquered, my friends all cared for, my marriage perfect, and my body in shape and radiating youthfulness and peace could still elude me.
Because I’m trying to find it in things which are wholly unequal to the God who is with me. They can grant an mild ok-ness; He can grant true peace.
So emotional stability, inner calm, whatever you want to call it, that is a gift. Not given to those who have it all together, but to every single child of God who submits to will of their Father and waits expectantly for the gentle and powerful ministry of the Holy Spirit in their mind and heart.
Are there barriers to receiving this gift of peace? Certainly. If I have sought my peace in sinful choices and refuse to acknowledge them and ask for God’s forgiveness, I probably won’t receive true peace. If I seek peace in a scheduled life and am consumed by anxiety and demand that the omnipotent God follow my plan, then I probably won’t receive true peace. If I strive for peace and stability through home, work, children, waist, or relationships (all excellent things!) but these start to become so consequential that they drown out the voice of the Holy Spirit, then I probably won’t even be aware enough to receive true peace. They might actually smother any divinely gifted calm! But if I seek a day to day relationship with my Father, one where I am quick to run to him for both forgiveness as well as wisdom, where I seek to do His will first and my will second, where I love God and love people more than I love myself….well, then I believe that Jesus will give me peace – he promised!
So today, as I go about my chaotic life which is not as organized as I’d like, eat food that isn’t as healthy as I’d like, put on clothes that don’t fit my aging body as well as I’d like or sit and try to write a blog post without the quiet that I’d like….I can still have emotional stability.
Jesus said, “I want you to have peace. I want you to be deeply joyful. I want you to believe in what I say and what I do — to have unshakable faith. I want you to have the kind of peace that I give, not the world.”
In fact, St Augustine’s wise words have never seemed more appropriate to me,
“Great are you, O Lord, and exceedingly worthy of praise; your power is immense, and your wisdom beyond reckoning. And so we [humans], who are a due part of your creation, long to praise you – we also carry our mortality about with us, carry the evidence of our sin and with it the proof that you thwart the proud. You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.”
I hope that today you are able to put the promises of the world in their proper place and set your mind and heart on the promises of the one who can quiet your restless heart. I pray that in three years, as I move into both midlife and new home, I will remember these words and preach them to myself.