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Building the strength to find peace

Last week, I knelt behind a pew and prayed.

For clarity of mind.

For strength of spirit.

For the patience and compassion to teach with firm fairness, no matter the anxiety or irritation caused by my timely lesson or experienced myself while teaching.

As the sermon echoed between the walls just after noon on that weekday, I prayed for peace.

“Don’t give up now,” were the words from the pulpit as the sun danced in from windows above onto the paintings adorning the alcoves and archways. “To know that in our faith we can’t just do it when it’s easy…”

The message that day was focusing on endurance, on long-suffering.

But what does it mean to be long-suffering?

The chorus sings “forgiveness, can you imagine? If you see him in the street, walking by her side, talking by her side, have pity. They are going through the unimaginable.”

Can we be long-suffering, if we deny suffering that we cannot imagine?

If we are to take scriptural guidance to heart and practice what’s written in Proverbs 3, are we not called upon to “in all ways acknowledge him?”

If he has said ‘inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me’ then are we not denying him just as Peter by not acknowledging the experiences of others?

“With lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” we read in Ephesians 4.

If we shall have peace, shall we not acknowledge — rather than erase others?

An old Sunday school teacher from my time in Virginia posited this week that by washing our songs of worship of soul in an effort to strictly adhere to joyous reverence, we do injustice to the acknowledgment of suffering.

And then it struck me:

For as long as I can remember, my favorite carol wasn’t one of happiness or joy.

I still hear in my head in the deep baritone of Brother Connell from my family’s time stationed in South Carolina.

“And in despair, I bowed my head, there is no peace on earth, I said.”

His voice reverberated in your chest whether you sat in the elevated seats of the choir in front of him, or below with the congregation.

“For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Hate, indifference, erasure of experiences other than our own — especially when delivered in a way that we feel uncomfortable or “canceled” — is an abuse of the power our creator has given us to become more like him.

To treat the least of these as not only our own sibling, but as a sibling of our Savior, a child of our God is a charge we face until we leave this earth.

Can we but listen, first, and then ask both ourselves and the one gracing us with their story how we can create space for them to be seen, heard and valued, too?

Only then shall we build the strength, condition the muscles of our mind and our hearts to accept God’s grace through longsuffering.

Only then, shall we have peace.

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