There is no Secret

You will probably never find a secret to let you smile through all the hard times and really mean it (you can pretend easily enough, maybe even play some good mind games; but if that’s all it is, it won’t last). All of us have heard people, over the years, quote the verse which goes:

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)

In every crisis I have ever faced I have wanted to get to that place, to realize that peace that passes all understanding. In my mind, I imagined it to be a place I could find somewhere inside, a place metaphorically made of rolling green hills and a few gnarled trees, and somewhere close by, a babbling brook, where the air was comfortable and soft. It was a place where I would no longer feel bad or afraid and I wouldn’t hurt anymore. I wanted the bad feeling that came from any crisis to go away and leave me alone.

For instance, many years ago, our foster baby died of SIDS. We were soon hit with a 31 million dollar wrongful death lawsuit (along with the county and the hospital and our foster finding agency). In the middle of my days, or at night as I stared at the ceiling, I wanted something to replace the heavy weight on my chest, the sense of despair and emptiness, the sense of being abandoned and alone and all the other negative feelings. But nothing would ever happen. My feelings did not change. When I prayed, I felt nothing; reading the Bible was unsatisfying. I maintained my daily pattern: since I was sixteen, I have read through the Bible once a year, every year, and so I continued that practice during the three years from our foster baby’s death through until the lawsuit was finally tossed out and dismissed. And you know what? I never felt better. Time healed the wound of that baby’s death and the stress of the lawsuit.The phone call from my attorney that the lawsuit had been tossed out—dismissed–is what finally made me feel good good again.

Was I somehow not spiritual enough? Was I a bad person? Did I not have enough faith? Why couldn’t I have felt the way I felt after I got the phone call from my attorney the whole time I was going through the crisis? Why could I not have found relief from the stress, a stress that daily was like having someone pounding on my head with a small hammer, without letup, for months and years?

And yet, when I look at the Bible, I find that how I felt, the way I handled my crisis, was not any different than the way any of them did. May of the Bible characters complained during their suffering. Jacob complained that everything was against him. Genesis 42:36). Moses complained that he had done just what God told him to do and all that happened was that everything got worse. (Exodus 5:22-23) Abraham complained that he had no heir (Genesis 15:1-3). Even Jesus complained in the Garden (Matthew 26:38-44)–and later on the cross (Matthew 27:46). And you know what? I’ve come to understand something significant and profound.

The peace of God is not always a feeling. Sometimes it is a doing.

It means being able to get up every day and do what you have to do even though you feel like dog dung. It means reading your Bible, it means praying, it means loving people and loving God even when there’s nothing inside that seems to make it easy or natural. The peace of God is simply knowing—as reflected in what Peter said when Jesus asked him, “are you going to leave, too?”—that somehow God is still there and you have no other option each day but just to keep on living and abiding in Him.

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69)

You come to realize that all is really going to be okay, despite how it looks. You are not free of pain, the baby stays dead, but you decide to trust that God really does know what he is doing and it really will be okay, because no matter what, you still have God and he still has you and he loves you and knows what he is doing. So the anxiety eventually fades.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm a deacon at Quartz Hill Community Church. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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