Peace – almost everyone in the world seeks it. I suspect that even those who appear to thrive on chaos and conflict actually engage in such things in a desperate, perverted and subconscious striving for peace within themselves. But what is peace? How often do we really ask ourselves that question? And, for something that we strive for so endlessly, how do we obtain it, and how do we know when we have found it?
D&C 93:30 says, “All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there would be no existence.” This is one of those scriptures that I have usually glossed over because it’s just barely beyond my comprehension; but I think now I understand that what it’s really saying is that our very existence is defined by the laws that govern the “sphere” in which we exist. Without these laws, there would be nothing to define us, and our existence would be indistinguishable from our fellow humans or any other object within our universe. That leads me to suggest that peace can be defined as existing in a state of harmony with the laws that govern the sphere within which we exist. When we seek peace, we seek the elimination of conflict within our sphere of existence.
If we are to find harmony with the laws that govern our sphere of existence, we must understand those laws. This task is made a bit more complicated when we consider that we exist in multiple spheres at the same time. We exist within the sphere of ourselves, our families, our community, our nation, the world, and the universe. This, in turn, implies that one could be at peace with themselves, even though there is conflict within their family, or community, or the world. In other words, one could be living in harmony with the laws that govern their personal sphere of existence, while contention, brought on by others living in conflict with their spheres, rages around them. This, of course, might make maintaining one’s personal harmony more difficult, but not impossible. Examining how one can maintain internal peace even in the face of external conflict will, I believe, yield greater insight into just exactly what peace is, how we can obtain and maintain it, and how we can know when we have found it.
I’ve already alluded to the first key to maintaining peace or maintaining harmony with the laws that govern our sphere….we must first seek to understand the law. On a personal scale, we must also understand ourselves. We must understand who we are – our strengths, weaknesses, desires, hopes and fears – and we must understand who we hope to become, or what we must learn in order to become our best selves. Even at this level, though, the laws that define us are not limited to our own personal sphere. Our hopes, fears, and desires encompass multiple greater spheres of family, community, etc…….ultimately including the Kingdom of God. So, we must understand at a very personal level our place in these ever-expanding spheres of existence and the demands placed upon us by these spheres. We must be constantly seeking to understand not only ourselves, but the dynamics of our families, our community, our universe, simply because we don’t exist in a vacuum.
Once we understand ourselves completely; once we understand the laws that govern our existence, the next key to peace is to live with integrity. I define integrity as making choices that are consistent with one’s knowledge of right and wrong. Integrity can also be defined simply as “Choose the Right”. I’ve heard it said that integrity is “how you act when no one is looking”. Living with integrity doesn’t mean that one doesn’t make mistakes, but it does mean that, if one is constantly seeking to do the right thing, a mistake is just that…..a mistake. It is something that can be forgiven by the Lord, will probably be forgiven by anyone who is harmed, and it is something that can usually be forgiven by oneself.
Other keys to finding personal peace include:
Make and keeping promises – I talked with an inmate at the Salt Lake County Jail the other day, and he said, “I don’t believe in making promises – because I’m a man of my word.” I was left to deduce from this comment that he didn’t trust himself to keep promises (or he just didn’t want to be bothered), so he didn’t make them. Making promises, and keeping them, is what anchors the soul. This is especially true of making covenants with God. Making and keeping promises builds our self-respect and our trust in ourselves – it builds power.
Seek after righteousness – We must constantly be seeking to understand the Lord’s will (which is arguably the very definition of righteousness), working to live in harmony with that will, and striving to understand what righteousness is. How can one have peace if they are deliberately sowing seeds of conflict around them? How can one have peace in their heart when they go about knowingly making choices that are contrary to their sense of goodness, and by extension contrary to their very nature?
Feel and Express Gratitude – But ye are commanded in all things to ask of God, who giveth liberally; and that which the Spirit testifies unto you even so I would that ye should do in all holiness of heart, walking uprightly before me, considering the end of your salvation, doing all things with prayer and thanksgiving that ye may not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils. (D&C 46:7)
It is critical that we feel and express gratitude for all that we are, all that we have, and all that we can be in order to feel peace. Failing to be thankful leads to conflict between who we are and who we think we should be; between what we have and what we think we should have. If we are ungrateful for what we have, we will most certainly finding ourselves setting our hearts on the things that we don’t have. A lack of gratitude also reflects a lack of trust in the Lord’s plan for us, for if we have truly trusted Him, He has promised that we shall have all that we need (Matthew 6:25-34).
Know that God loves you – We must understand that, because of this love, he will forgive us following sincere repentance, and he will bless us to the full extent that we will allow him. The scriptures are full of promises of protection, of blessing, of guidance, of forgiveness, of power……of love. Lay hold of this greatest of gifts…God’s love…. and call on the Lord to show it to you.
Lose Jealousies and Fears – D&C 67:10 says, “And again, verily I say unto you that it is your privilege, and a promise I give unto you that have been ordained unto this ministry, that inasmuch as you strip yourselves from jealousies and fears, and humble yourselves before me, for ye are not sufficiently humble, the veil shall be rent and you shall see me and know that I am – not with the carnal neither natural mind, but with the spiritual.” We must lose our jealousies and fears, and humble ourselves before God. Jealousy is the opposite of gratitude, and fear is the opposite of love (1 John 4:18). I am convinced that, given the expressed intent of this scripture, losing our jealousies and fears is one of the major keys to eternal life. It is absolutely a key to experiencing peace in our lives. “Jealousy and fear” is also the primary source of power-seeking, and thus a primary cause of conflict on the broader spheres of existence such as family, community and nation.
Don’t sweat the small stuff – Maintain an eternal perspective. Much of what causes contention in our lives is just not all that important. If you truly believe that you are destined for eternal life, with your eternal companion, what difference does it make if the air-conditioning goes out, or the car won’t start, or a family member makes a disappointing, but not life-threatening, choice?
Repent – Repentance involves acknowledging that the law exists, that we are governed by it, and that we have transgressed it. Repentance requires humility and honesty with oneself and with the Lord. Life without repentance thus implies deception, a failure to acknowledge God’s law, and a refusal to recognize our place in His kingdom. A life without repentance is a life without peace.
Give and Accept Forgiveness – We must be quick to forgive and accept forgiveness. I love the adage that “carrying a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”. On the other hand, failing to accept forgiveness is like calling the Lord a liar. When we fail to forgive ourselves, we are basically saying that we don’t believe in the Lord’s promise of forgiveness. We deny Him and in doing so we deny ourselves.
Be Patient – Patience is the acknowledgement that time exists only unto man. It is an expression of trust in God and in His plan for us and for others. Patience is also an acknowledgement of the agency of others – that they have the right to progress and learn at their own pace and in accordance with God’s plan for them. To be impatient is to impose our will and our “wisdom” on God and others. Stated this way, it is the height of arrogance.
Have a purpose in life – Most of us have received counsel consistently, from many sources including prophets of the Lord, to set reasonable, meaningful, and achievable goals and strive to meet them. While I personally don’t do this very well, I definitely have purpose in my life. My goals run the spectrum from seeking my Calling and Election, to earning my quarterly bonuses at work, to loving my wife and family, and meeting all of the different obligations that I have on a day to day basis. If one has no purpose, one might think that would help to avoid conflict, when in fact it creates a very basic conflict between who we are as a Child of God, and our failure to reach our potential. Living life without purpose creates contention so deep and subtle that it is often impossible to overcome, except through sincere repentance, humble prayer and inviting the Holy Spirit to point the way.
Accept the Atonement – We are all imperfect, but we all want to be perfect. We are even commanded to be perfect (Matthew 5:48). So how can we nurture peace in our souls in the face of such conflict? The atonement of Jesus Christ makes it possible to temporarily be imperfect without losing hope, thus resolving the conflict between the required perfection and the inevitable imperfection. If we truly believe in the atonement and in the plan of salvation; that we are here to make mistakes, learn from them, and to metaphorically descend below all things in order to be resurrected in power and glory; we can more readily find the motivation we need in order to learn to lose our jealousies and fears, forgive ourselves and others, draw on our eternal perspective, strive steadily toward our divine purpose, and live grateful for all the many blessings that we receive in our lives.
How Do We Know When We Have Peace?
My personal and very simple indication of the level of peace in my life is based on how I feel when I go to bed at night. I have become so calm and blessed that it doesn’t take much at all to cause me to feel upset so that sleep doesn’t come. Fortunately, this rarely happens any more. However, I think there are other great indicators:
Anger – especially spontaneous anger – is a symptom of the lack of peace. The absence of anger, therefore – absence, not repression – is a characteristic of a peaceful soul.
Elder David A. Bednar gave a memorable talk in the October, 2006 General Conference titled “And Nothing Shall Offend Them”. Although Elder Bednar never actually says the words “You choose to be offended”, I heard them often enough from my wife that they became like scripture around our home. I have noticed, though, that as I have grown closer to the spirit, I hear those words less and less. As the peace that comes from living the gospel becomes more engrained in who I am, I find that I choose less and less to be offended, saving my precious wife from having to scold me.
We choose to be offended because we are experiencing conflict between ourselves and the sphere within which we live, and we fear that conflict. However, if we are secure in ourselves and in our standing before God, we need not fear, and we therefore have no need to be offended. If someone says or does something unkind, taking offense is always an illogical response. If we have wronged or hurt them, repentance and humility are the appropriate response. If we have not wronged or hurt them, then the intended offense is the result of their lack of peace, and our response should be one of compassion and empathy.
Finally, the Lord said to the prophet Joseph as he suffered in Liberty Jail, “Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.” (D&C 121:45) What greater peace can we possibly hope for than to live in such a way that we know we can stand with confidence in the presence of God?
May peace dominate your existence.