Thursday, August 22, 2013

Week of Peace: Day 4

How I can I give up control? It is a frightening thought to consider doing this - yet it is, I believe, the path to peace.

Often when people are highly anxious (myself included), our minds move in the direction of wanting to gain control. If I could just get this feeling (or situation) under control, everything would be all right.

A first step to being able to forfeit control, is to realize that I never had it in the first place. We humans are very vulnerable creatures. We can be wiped out in an instant by a known or unknown medical problem. Weather can rage, with winds and floods and extreme temperatures that our bodies cannot survive. A bomb may be dropped or an attacker may accost us and we will not be able to stop it.

In some ways, we are less vulnerable than the other creatures of the earth, with all of our knowledge and technology to predict, prevent and heal. But, in other ways, we are more vulnerable because we are so capable of succumbing to evils that bring on even more destruction than nature alone offers. What really sets us apart from the other creatures, however, is that we know our vulnerability.

One of the mechanisms that helps us survive this knowledge is denial. Without denial, we would live in a state of constant, debilitating anxiety, considering all of the things that might happen. Under normal circumstances, however, we have the gift of being able to automatically label these possibilities as improbable, enabling us to go about our business assuming these things won't happen to us. Even under abnormal circumstances, such as trauma, our minds have an incredible ability to block things out so that we can live as though they didn't happen.

Thus are born our illusions of control.

With these illusions operative, we come to expect control of ourselves. I should be able to keep myself healthy if I just live the right lifestyle or follow the doctor's instructions. I should be able to remain safe if I am just careful enough. Hence, when this image of ourselves is disrupted by one of the many things that can cause harm, we feel anxious and - strangely - full of self-reproach. I should have been able to stop this...

Accepting that I do not have control and never did, may seem like a recipe for great anxiety. Yet if we remove all of the "shoulds" from the statements above, there is almost a sort of peace in being left with a simple reality, however difficult.

However, there is a second step in surrendering my (perceived) control and that is allowing Someone else to be in control. This is often not so easy even in good times - and certainly very difficult in the bad. Our limited human vision is often fearful about trusting the unseen Other. How do I even know that He is truly good?

Of course, we cannot know this. We cannot know with complete certainty that God exists or even that God is good. However, neither can we be so certain that we ourselves know what "good" is. Often we define "good" in relation to what we want - a most limited and untrustworthy measure to apply to the origin and ground of all being, should there be such a One.

For thousands of years, people have talked, written and sung of One who not only knows what good is but actually is Goodness itself. They say that this Good One has revealed Himself and has even come to live among us - to guide us, like a shepherd guides his sheep. Like a good shepherd, the Good One does not want to lose a single one of His sheep. He wants to bring them all safely home to Him - and will even carry on His shoulders the ones too injured or weak to make it on their own.

We have all likely heard the words that so famously sung of this One, hundreds of years before He lived among us. But I invite you now to listen to them with a new and open heart and to gaze upon the little image given to me in His honor. (Allow yourself to be the one carried on His shoulders...)

(Don't be shy! Join me in this Week of Peace. I welcome your comments and contributions on peace or any of the other 7 holy pauses. E-mail them to me at If you would like your words or images shared here, please let me know if you would like me to use your name or a pseudonym.)