A New Word
I pulled my second verse out of the jar this morning. Unlike yesterday, my heart didn’t immediately catapult into my throat. Instead, it felt rather like a simple one. John 16:33: “Jesus said, ‘I tell you these things so that you may have peace in Me.'” My instinctive thought was, “Jesus brings peace; yes, I know this already.” Unlike yesterday’s verse, this one didn’t shadow me around as I fed the girls breakfast; it wasn’t riding in the passenger seat beside me as I traveled down the road; it even wasn’t in my thoughts as I had to be careful doing something that should have been mundane, like going to the bathroom. Honestly, I didn’t really think much about the verse.
Until I drove home late this afternoon.
Guilt ate me up all day long. You see, Abba, I am never away from the girls; only on extremely rare occasions have I been away from them for longer than an hour. I home-school them, I teach their church classes and, in all their extracurricular activities, I am a constant presence. During camps, I sit in the car all day long if I am not allowed to physically be a part of the teaching staff. While they’ve had a vast array of friends stay at our house for sleepovers, neither of my girls have ever spent the night away from home. To be even more honest… I’ve had a few people I trust offer to watch the girls for me during this. A leader at my church actually offered to let me drop them off at the church and told me she would play games with them, they could watch movies, it would be a “home away from home.” But in my heart of hearts, I can’t bring myself to accept any of those offers, generous and wonderful as they are. Not only can I not accept them because of the fear of becoming indebted to others (thereby running a risk of losing those I like to consider friends) but my girls have never had a single playdate without me present. Not one. And yet… in the last two weeks, I’ve spent two days away from them. By the time we make it home, it is ready for dinner, bath and bedtime routine (and, to be honest with You, I’ve struggled to keep ‘bath’ in the mix).
As I played a simple game of Twister and then stood at the stove to try and round up something edible for them to eat, all I really wanted to do was cry. It does me no good to whine about the pain I was in—You already know and it makes me feel and sound like a wimp—but, suffice it to say, I felt like I’d been awake for decades. As I laughed with the girls about my inability to stay on my feet, I thought of the verse from this morning for the first time all day long and, as usual, my mind fixated on one word: peace.
In the space of a heartbeat, I realized the verse didn’t bring me to my knees this morning because I don’t really understand the meaning of the word peace. Just as a child may know a dollar bill is money but not fully grasp the value of that dollar bill, my mind knows the definition of the word “peace.” I know what it’s supposed to be. But I don’t have a working understanding of what it really is. Intellectually, I can say that peace is sustained contentment; a state of mind that accepts the present and releases fear of the unknown. But I do not know what that feels like. In the movie Ghost, Patrick Swayze tries to tell his beloved that he’s always been afraid of happiness, afraid that something will come along and “bust the bubble.” I remember that line because it is exactly how I’ve always felt. Happiness is too fragile to thoroughly enjoy and, as a result, my guard never completely diminishes. Because of this rigid hold on control I maintain, I’ve never been able to land on the surface of peace. I hear it, I strive for it, I try—but I always miss it because I’m always looking for a way to safeguard whatever joy I’ve found within reach.
While the word was flashing like a marquee sign in my head, my daughters laughed. And, just as it often does, the musical, magical, beautiful sound caught me unawares. I focused my attention on them, and on acting silly, so that I could continue listening to their laughter.
Jesus said, ‘I tell you these things so that you may find peace in Me.
Abba, I don’t think I would understand that verse even now, except that You gave me a gift I’m still trying to earn: my daughters. You see, I know the world is magical because I see it through their eyes. Every time we go to the park, Breathe hunts for long sticks. Without my girls, a stick would just be a stick and I’d just step over it. But my girls know different. In our garage is a collection of sticks of varying sizes and widths because they are “cool” and, upon a moment’s whim, can become a snake or a creek-stomping aid or sword with which we’ll fight off evil fairies. Who would have thought that one cloud could form three completely different shapes simultaneously? Who would have thought to ask a question like, “What does a rainbow feel like?” Not me. I would have been too concerned with getting through the day. I know because, right up until the moment Breathe was born, that was my focus: getting through each day. Not enjoying it. Not experiencing it. Just getting through it. But watching them explore and discover the world around us has taught me a renewed sense of curiosity—along with a reason, and a sense of freedom, to chase it. Before, I stifled curiosity because Fear convinced me it was dangerous. But those girls have taught me that it’s okay to climb to the top of the monkey bars and hang upside down just because you can. Those girls have taught me that there are incredible and amazing things in this world, like bears who defend wounded deer and dolphins and mermaids and human beings raising in excess of $40,000 for one homeless man. During the tender moments of early morning or late night Chatter Chats or the excitement of going down the Zero G at Beech Bend hand-in-hand, my daughters are reminding me that there is a wealth of opportunity in the world, and reason to live. Through my daughters, You have shown me that Your Son came to show how joyful life in Him is. Through my daughters, You have given me ample reason to trust You when I have never known how to trust anyone. Through my daughters, You have shown me what hope looks like; You’ve taught me how to find You when I am sucked into a tunnel.
Peace is not the absence of pain. Peace is the comfort in the midst of pain. Peace is the reassurance that I’m not alone. Peace is what comes with the knowledge that when I look into Your face, what I’m going through is put into its proper relatively small box. Peace is knowing that I have help. Peace is knowing that this journey is worthwhile, no matter how difficult its steps.
Jesus said, ‘I tell you these things so that you may have peace in Me.’
I know what it means to look at someone else and see joy. I know what it means to find motivation and hope and inspiration in another human being because I find mine every day in the laughter of my girls. But my heart needs to trust in a strength greater than my own in order to find peace. I need the reassurance that, if I let down my guard, someone has my back. Tonight, Your word is reminding me that I have that person already: Your Son. Peace, therefore, is within my reach: all I have to do is trust in it, and in You. You are the only being I’ve ever leaned on unconditionally. You are the only being I trust with my whole heart because You are the only one who has never walked away.
What a beautiful verse indeed.