It's the beginning of September and my body knows it. For the past three years, September has been an oddly complicated month and my mind, heart, blood and lungs are practicing for any complications that might arise now.
To explain: Three years ago I was preparing for a final month as lead pastor during my boss' sabbatical, as well as anticipating my daughter's birth and going on maternity leave. Really weird stuff had happened during that time, but I had managed it without too much personal cost (so I thought). The cooling air and the changing leaves invigorated me, heralding both the temporary break from my job and my daughter's arrival.
Two years ago I was preparing to return from maternity leave to lead my parish through transition and (though I didn't know it) some taxing inner turmoil. I was excited and nervous, feeling competent for the task after having lead short-term a year before. What beautiful, blessed naiveté! How quickly my sense of competence was replaced by bewilderment and anxiety!
September of one year ago was when I handed over the reins to my new senior pastor and faced the reality of my own failing mental and physical health. It was September that the building burned down, so to speak; September that I stopped sleeping and eating and finally was put on medication and medical leave.
This September, God willing, will be more peaceful. My panic is now mostly suppressed by pills (let's take a moment to thank Him for antidepressants and anti-anxiety medicine, shall we?) I keep my anxiety in check by limiting caffeine, running, going to counselling and doing the things my therapists and doctors have told me to do. I have more weapons at my disposal to fight the beast that turned my world upside down a year ago and still haunts my steps.
Peace, as an ideal, tempts and troubles me. When someone has (as I do) a faith that commands "Don't be anxious about anything" and an actual, clinical anxiety disorder, it's hard not to fixate on the promise of peace: what it can be, what it can't possibly be. I have preached two or three times on peace (and its nemesis, anxiety), and was always honest with my congregation that peace is a hard sell for me. The Seer of Lublin, one of the earliest Hasidic masters, was said to have preached joy in between bouts of depression. I have done that myself, as well as preached peace during seasons of panic.
I had a conversation with Jesus about this the other morning, very early in the day. I woke up agitated and unable to go back to sleep, so He and I talked or, more accurately, I practiced a spiritual exercise where I imagined Jesus writing a letter to me. We didn't get very far, really, but far enough that I received some...well, peace, on the subject. That letter is below, with love and the hope that it will help comfort similarly afflicted, similarly frustrated peace-seekers.
What up, girl? (Just kidding. It's not yet five in the morning and you're awake again. So YOU'RE what's up, right? Ha ha!)
So you keep thinking you'll write about peace but you're not getting very far, yes? And you've come to The Master to see what I can say on the subject? I get you, I get you. Let's talk it out, shall we? Just you and Me.
What's that? You're getting hung up on the "Peace I leave you, My peace I give you, Don't let your hearts be troubled," bits that I threw to you and My other disciples? Yeah, maybe I shouldn't have said that. Just kidding. Kind of.
But seriously, what else could I say? What kind of Jew would I be, let alone Messiah, if peace, if shalom, played no part in the Way I had for you all? What kind of Saviour overcomes the world but can't give His children peace?
I know, I know: peace doesn't seem near. I know, I know: your heart IS troubled.
Don't worry, dearest: My heart was, too. It still is sometimes. Any fool could see that in Gethsemane, and if they couldn't they did when I ended up screaming on a cross. That whole "became flesh" thing was legit, and I know too well the straining for peace, and the suffering that follows when it just can't seem to be found.
Are you with me so far? Good. I know where you have been these past months. Don't think I didn't see it. I did, and I'm sorry for it. If there was a way to bypass it you know I would have found it.
[Interrupting Jesus here to say that the elusive "peace" just flooded my heart and sent small tears rolling from the corners of my eyes.]
So thank you for not giving up on Me. We have a ways to go still, yes? But we will go together. I will seem to be lost and wandering, but you will find Me again. You will seem to be lost and wandering, but I will always find you.
That is the peace I give. That's it. I will find you, and you will find Me. The road will narrow and the darkness will fall; but I will be with you, always, to the end.
A blessing for you, and for me:
May peace drip down,
Slowly and often;
Restoring anxious hearts and
Calming ravaged minds.
May His peace be our peace,
Now and forevermore.