Monday, December 29, 2008

Peace Comes in a Whisper... I Usually Need a Roar

Written December 2008

There’s an old hymn entitled He Whispers Sweet Peace to Me. When I hear it, I always think of the funeral of a close friend of mine. He was killed in a car accident at the age of 20; an age at which most of us feel invincible. On that long ago June day, for me, invincible became inconsolable.

The reason, however, the long dreaded hymn comes to mind is because I recently shared the story of that funeral with another friend. We were discussing inappropriate reactions during tragic or emotionally charged events.

I recounted that at the funeral, a choir of elderly ladies sang He Whispers Sweet Peace to Me in what can only be described as quavering falsetto. Obviously their voices shook with sorrow. As they sang, I stopped crying momentarily, glancing at my mother, who was sitting next to me. She was looking down at her hands in her lap and her eyes widened slightly. Her response was nearly imperceptible, except to me, watching so closely. That reaction alone tipped the heavy scale of emotion from ragged grief to repressed mirth. Repressed, that is, until the gentleman in front of us, a talented and well-trained singer, gave his wife a nudge and uttered a dismayed grunt. The scale tipped all the way over and dumped my mother and me into a fit of giggles. The more we tried to suppress them, the less we were able.

Though I don’t believe anyone could distinguish between our ill-hidden giggles and the sobs from the previous moments, we were both very embarrassed. What is ironic to me is that the song was chosen as a comfort for the mourning crowd. Had I been able to get past the performance aspect and hear the message, it might have had a different impact.

Since giving the account, I’ve been thinking about the concept of God’s peace. I was raised in a Christian home and grew up in a church where I heard a lot about the subject. My mother, aside from the giggling episode (maybe that was God’s way of giving us a little peace right then!), is a living testament to the term. Even in the face of fears, disappointments, illnesses, and death, she is the stillness in the midst of calamity. When I ask her to explain, she shrugs and quotes, “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." KJV

Her answer begs the question that's at the center of the issue of God’s peace. Which came first the peace or the stillness? I’ve always been prone to running around like the proverbial beheaded chicken. Peace often eludes me as I rush around trying to control everything.

On the other hand, it has been during periods of anxiety and deep despair that I learned lessons about peace. On my wedding day, I was plagued with a case of nerves just before leaving the bride room to enter the sanctuary. While I had no qualms about getting married, I believe it was stage fright of sorts. I realized 300 pairs of eyes eagerly awaited my entrance and would focus intently on me. My ever serene mother stood beside me, soothing me as if I were a crying child, while my heart hammered erratically. After a moment of fanning myself and fluttering around, my mother took my face between her hands. “Lori,” she said, “pray for peace.” I shook my head, amazed. Didn’t she know I was too keyed up? “Mama, I can’t pray right now. You pray for peace for me!” She led me to the sofa and held my hand. “Be still,” she said, then she began to address God like I asked. Almost instantly, a veil (no pun intended) of calm descended. Looking back, I believe God answered her prayer, and fast. I also believe her command to be still was a factor in the equation. I was no longer fretful or anxious. I floated through the ceremony on a happy high.

After my son was born, I experienced a similar feeling of fright (times 1000), only this time my body waged war on the perfect life I had planned. While I worried and cried without ceasing, my husband and my mother (who are eerily alike, by the way) were the catalysts for my calm. As I became increasingly desperate, they urged me to seek medical attention. While medication dealt with the chemical imbalance, it served another important function: it allowed me to be still. God sends peace in all kinds of packages, doesn’t He? My nearly hourly prayers were answered with a peace born of hope. Hope that I could get past the fear. Hope that I could be a sane mother to my precious baby. Hope that one day in the not too distant future, I could help my child understand that it’s not for nothing, that song. Be still and listen up…He WHISPERS sweet peace.

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