Quest for Peace
A few days ago, Joe and I played a game of the Quija. This was rather scandalous of me: growing up, we had learned that the Quija was not something you just lightly played with. The makers of the game, Hasbro, claim it’s a simple board game. But I was reluctant, somewhat even fearful, of playing a game that even theoretically could conjure up any type of spirits, be they angels, demons or anything else. Still, a bit of curiosity, combined with the fact that it had recently been released with a brand –new, glow in the dark board, and, well…. there you have it. A date night with me, Joe and the Quija board was arranged.
I was uncertain about what types of questions I could ask it, how I was supposed to ask questions and whether or not there were types of questions whose answers I did not want to know, even if I could. In the end, the game was very intriguing ,with a lot of weird and, frankly, unexplained responses. In fact, a few of the responses actually seem to have become remarkably accurate. Perhaps not surprisingly, the whole thing got me thinking.
The first question that came to mind was —- well, why *do* people want to know the future ahead of time?
Throughout history, fortune tellers and the like have made tons of money telling people the future. People actually give away hard-earned money to call a phone number and have someone they have never met tell them what’s going to happen. And not, I might add, in any concrete manner but rather in vague, abstract responses the person must decipher himself. I have not, and will not ever, pay money to have someone guess my future. Still, I can’t claim to be oblivious, either.
In my family, we have a tradition. Now, this tradition dates back generations and, in all the generations in which it has been utilized, it has not —ever—been proved wrong. Supposedly, it predicts not only the number of a children a person will have, but also what the gender of the children will be. Again, it is eerily accurate. You just put a gold ring on a piece of thread, hold it over the palm of the person in question and watch it swing. Back and forth means girl, side to side means boy. The thing is crazily accurate. I knew the girls’ gender before the ultrasound technician told me because of it. Do I believe in the “ring thing”? I know its accurate and I just accept that, without questioning how or why. So, in some ways, I understand the people who pay money to have the future foretold. I even sympathize with those who do it in a desperate attempt to communicate with dead loved ones. I don’t really believe they DO (at least, I don’t think I do), but I understand. When considering these individuals, I realized my answer.
People want to know the future because they are seeking peace. They hope that discovering the future will inoculate them against the uncertainty that otherwise defines life. They want reassurance. They want peace. And they want it quick. They want someone in authority to tell them that, despite life’s obstacles, despite the trouble they’ve experienced, life has a point, that it will all be okay in the end. They’ve read the first and second chapters, but want to skip the rest and move right to the last sentence of the book. Reading the whole books one page at a time makes them nervous an d frightened. And they do not know how else to obtain peace: they think they can’t do it by themselves. They indulge in superstitious traditions because they hope to discover a positive, worthwhile answer worth trudging through another day for. Most (if not all) people who ask the Quija, or a fortune teller, a question know the response they secretly hope for. They want reassurance that their ideals will become reality: they want reassurance. They want peace.
Then, later, I saw one of the magnets on my fridge. It lists the fruits of the Spirit. In case you don’t remember all nine, they are:
Joy Patience Kindness
Love Goodness Gentleness
Peace Self Control Faithfulness
and, suddenly, it hit me. I stood there, smiling at the fridge. Then I said a quick prayer, thanking God. You see, the “fruits of the Spirit” are *gifts* from God. Those who believe and act accordingly will receive these blessings. One of them is peace.
Let’s be honest. Both sides of my family are, in varying degrees, crazy. The last time I saw my maternal grandmother, she took a cast iron skillet and brought it down over my mom’s head. Violence is normal. Instability abounds. Dysfunctional families run rampant. Then, there’s the other side of my family. The side that appears perfect. Wealth, stability, and the like. But they hide things. They forget easily and, when they don’t forget, they defend the wrong people. Put those families in the midst of my desperately nomadic, and otherwise deeply painful childhood, and, as a child, I could have written Freud’s book for him. And yet. Happiness did find its way into my life. My sister became my best friend. My mom and I developed and maintained an extremely close relationship. I learned the importance of strangers. I realized that people in Oregon have things in common with people from New York. I learned that there is not a single second in a 24 hour period that does not matter. I learned to make life count. I learned the joy of writing. I learned the joy of music.
But, most of all, I learned the peace found by being God’s friend.
You see, even in the worst of nights, I was able to retreat behind clasped hands and closed eyes to a place where nothing existed except the Almighty God, a being so powerful that the earth shook and went dark when His Son died. In this place, deep within me, when all was quiet, when the room was empty, when my pen was still, God held my hand. And that truth alone made everything else that was happening around me tolerable. Sometimes the feeling of peace lasts but a moment, just the length of a prayer, or until I fall asleep and awake without the warmth of God’s hand in mine. Sometimes it was easy for me to wish for peace—-but then, I’d remember I knew the secret to obtaining that quiet feeling that told me everything was going to be okay, that I was important, that I was doing my best, that God still cared. All I had to do was close my eyes and pray, or put my hand over the front of the Bible and ask Him to lead me to a verse. Unfailing, when I did those things, peace permeated my heart.
Upon the heels of peace came a dim glow of joy. I’m really good at pretending. I’m really good at smiling when I don’t want to. I’m really good at fooling people into believing I’m perfectly fine. But. When I’d read Proverbs or Isaiah, when I’d feel the heat of God’s hand settle over my palm, when I heard what I knew without question was His whisper, when I heard or sang Amazing Grace, when I thought of my favorite story in the Bible—-during these moments, my smile was real. It may not have lasted long. Within an hour or two, I might have felt worse again, and overwhelmed. But, in the moment, joy was real and within reach. And not just spiritually. I was genuinely happy when I got to ride a horse. I was sincerely relaxed and joyful when I heard Tanya Tucker sing. I was honestly happy when I had a pen in my hand. And, then, when I was older and had begun working with the volunteer organizations, I was ecstatic when I got to teach or when a kid told me he was going to frame the letter I wrote him. I knew I was blessed when my sister and mother and I talked or played or did anything together.
Was life easy? Was it fun? No.
Was it always filled with tears? No.
Had I not known the secret, though, had I not realized that prayer and God were my secret weapons, I would not have experienced peace much (if any) at all. And if I had not experienced peace, I would not have been able to experience joy. See, the two go hand in hand. Peace is the pre-requisite for joy. And joy is needed for kindness. Patience, another of the fruits, is a product of kindness. From patience comes self-control. And from these things, you learn to give and receive love. You learn gentleness and goodness. But it all starts with peace.
My point is that the fruits of the Spirit aren’t just abstract. They aren’t just for individuals who are lucky enough not to have to worry about economic concerns or marital disharmony. No, the fruits of the spirit are dispensed to all who believe. sometimes it’s hard to see the gifts. Sometimes its hard to feel them, too. When life’s obstacles are big, and the pain is awful, the gifts of the spirit can seem, well, rather trivial. There have been times when I’d think of the list of these gifts, and shake my head. I could not see that they were anything more than a good list of desires. But they ARE more than a nice list of qualities most of us want. They are real attributes that can bless our lives, if we choose to believe God loves us enough to give them to us.
Our souls need awakening, yes. They need comfort, yes. They need reassurance, yes. They need significance. But we don’t need fortune tellers. We don’t need ‘ring thing’ traditions. We don’t need Quija boards. The peace we seek is at our fingertips. God waits to bestow it upon us. All we have to do is believe.