I would like to share with you seventeen times that I have felt peace.
In the garden picking strawberries. Reading scriptures in my bedroom. Reading poetry in my favorite chair. Praying in sacred buildings. Hiking in the forest. Listening to music. Nursing my babies. Hearing prayers offered on my behalf. At the ocean. Listening to wise words from spiritual leaders. In yoga class. Listening to heartfelt comments at church. On mountaintops. When I married my husband. When my babies laughed for the first time. Participating in holy ceremonies. When my children are all home safe at night.
These are all happy times for me. In many instances, I had mindfully chosen to put myself in a sacred space. Each of these times that I felt peace, I was also calm and safe. My inner peace was in line with the peace of my surroundings. I hope I have many more such experiences, and I hope you have many peaceful experiences like these as well.
But what about the dark days? What about the times when your surroundings are not peaceful and you are living in conflict? The times when everything around you is falling apart? When there is disharmony with someone you love. When disaster strikes. When you experience deep loss. When everything around you is chaotic and unsettled. When you are in danger and afraid. Is it possible to still find peace?
I would like to share with you seventeen unexpected times when I have felt peace.
Trapped underwater in a river, unable to breathe. After a large rift with friends. Holding my father’s hand as he died. When my husband was unemployed for 4 months. When I had a miscarriage. After having a handful of hair ripped out of my head by a fortune-teller on my LDS mission. Waiting for more tests after being told I had a brain tumor. The week after the Sandy Hook shooting. Crossing dangerous crevasses on Mt. Rainier. The second time my husband was unemployed for 4 months. When I had another miscarriage. Finding out that my husband’s computer died in the last moments of the Bar Exam, before he was able to upload his test to the system. Watching my youngest daughter have an emergency surgery after she fell and ripped her cheek open. When my middle daughter was hospitalized with pneumonia. When my oldest daughter was 4 and smashed her tiny fingers with a bowling ball. When I found out my mom had breast cancer. When I found out I had breast cancer.
These are the times when peace becomes more than just a nice feeling, but a lifeline and a power. In some of these instances, peace came to me as an unexpected gift and a blessing. In other instances, I had to be very intentional about seeking it out.
6 ways to nurture Inner Peace
1. Make space for solitude and study.
We live in a culture of frenzy, where busyness is a status symbol and the measure of our worth is often whether or not we are constantly “productive.” In this kind of environment it is often hard to take a breath and to make time for stillness and study. And yet, I have found that time spent reading holy words and meditating has a huge effect on the amount of peace I welcome into my life. If I am feeling anxious after too much time reading the news and fretting over politics and personalities, I find that some time spent in the scriptures or breathing on my yoga mat is the perfect antidote, and can replace worry with peace.
2. Set boundaries and let go.
I have learned, and this has been a very hard lesson to learn, that an important part of inner peace is letting go of things that aren’t yours to carry. Boundaries in relationships are so important, and when it comes to emotional burdens, peace has come as I have learned to recognize which part is mine, which part belongs to someone else, and which part I can allow my Savior to carry.
Over the past few years I have made a very intentional effort to simplify my life in various areas. This has been everything from owning fewer material things, to eliminating debt, to reducing junk email, to being very selective about the ways I commit my time. The amount of peace that this has brought into my life has been enormous. If you are seeking more peace in your life, don’t underestimate the power of simplicity.
4. Be patient.
When Paul visited the Corinthians, he found that these new Saints were experiencing some confusion about some of the doctrines he had previously taught. He taught them, “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace.” Like the Corinthians, we can get confused sometimes when it comes to doctrines or other spiritual things. Maybe it is because we don’t yet have all the light and knowledge we need. Or maybe it just isn’t the right time. Or maybe something else. In times of confusion and doubt, I have found it is so important to be patient with myself and with God. Over time, I have discovered new knowledge and learned to understand things in unexpected ways as I have increased my capacity for spiritual understanding, developed empathy, and had new life experiences. Patience brings peace. Eventually.
Another important thing I’ve learned in my life is that forgiveness is a spiritual gift. Like some spiritual gifts, it only comes when you ask for it and seek it out specifically. Through the power of the Atonement we are given capacity to forgive that may be beyond what we would be able to offer on our own. Forgiving others creates space in your heart where peace can dwell.
6. Repent (Make Positive Life Changes).
Sometimes when I hear the word “repent,” I imagine an Old Testament prophet wearing a white robe standing on a wall, pointing down at me, yelling, and pounding his staff on the rocks, a lot like Gandolf did on that underground bridge in Lord of the Rings. This visual maybe makes me not have the most positive feelings about the idea of repentance. For me, it is helpful to alternatively think of repentance as positive change and growth, and detach the concept of repentance from feelings of shame. I try to imagine myself as a sunflower in a garden, or maybe a zucchini. Every day, these plants reach toward the sun, absorbing all of the light they can, and they allow that light to change them. They reach their roots into the earth, nourishing themselves with good things. In order to grow, they are constantly letting go of what they were in order to transform into what God meant for them to be. Although slow and gentle, it is constant and, in the end, enormous change occurs. Repentance can be like this. We all have repenting to do because we are, each of us, still transforming into who God intends us to be. Be kind to yourself. Sometimes this process is hard. But it is always a pathway to peace.
You can also help others to find peace. Here are 3 ideas:
To be honest, I have to try really hard to be a good listener. I have to fight against my natural urge, which is to interrupt with advice. This is something I am actively working on right now, and I still have a lot of work to do. I often feel that if I’m not offering advice, I’m not helping. But when we listen, we create a space where someone can tap into their own inner wisdom, and, through the process of verbalizing and paying attention to what God’s Spirit is telling them, work things out for themselves. Making a space for someone that is free from judgment where they can talk through challenges is a huge gift, and definitely a way to help a friend nurture inner peace. I am so grateful for my listening friends, and especially for my listening husband.
Service brings perspective. When my problems have seemed huge, spending some time helping someone else always has the benefit of putting things in their proper place. Perspective has a way of bringing peace.
Be a peacemaker
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught, “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called the Children of God.” Being a peacemaker doesn’t mean avoiding conflict, but boy would I love it if it did. If given the choice between fight or flight, I will choose flight every time. But peacemaking is neither fight NOR flight. Those are egoic, or what the scriptures call “natural man,” tendencies. Peacemaking is from God and it involves the hard work of restoring true peace and wholeness. This takes patience, forgiveness, time, wisdom, and humility. Peacemaking is not ignoring problems, and it is not a temporary people-pleasing patch. The Hebrew word for peace, shalom, refers to harmony, wholeness, prosperity, and welfare. In Matthew 5, the Savior heals the woman with the issue of blood. He says to her: “Daughter, they faith hath made thee whole, go in peace, and be healed of thy disease.” She walked away after encountering the Savior with restored wholeness, harmony, and health. She received true and lasting peace. To be a peacemaker means to face problems with courage and kindness. Remembering empathy, it means not allowing those we love or ourselves to wallow in our own excuses. Peacemaking is actively working to create wholeness and real, lasting peace for our families, our friends, and ourselves.