Ahhh… sweet, sweet summertime! To me, July has always felt like the “Saturday” of summer -- we’re well-established in the season, and yet we’re not nearly close enough to the fall to need to begin gearing up for the hustle and bustle that it typically brings. I love these long, warm, sunshine-y days so much!
I find myself running into the same issue at this time every year, though, which always throws me off a bit: because I’m actually a Type-A, schedule-and-productivity-driven person at heart, I find that multiple days in a row of not having a lot on the calendar honestly makes me feel stressed. Don’t get me wrong, I love to relax (especially with a great book and a tasty coffee)! True leisure time is amazing. It’s typically a struggle, though, for me to remain at peace throughout the summer, when my “normal schedule” falls away and I need to craft a new one.
In times like these, when I feel a bit off-center and restless, I love to pick up the book Searching For and Maintaining Peace by Fr. Jacques Philippe. I truly can’t remember how many times I’ve read it -- it has never failed to help ground me and steer me back in the right direction, which is always closer to the Lord. The book is a short but powerful read, and I can’t recommend it enough. Here, I want to share one simple insight from it, in hopes that it will be a blessing to you, for whatever ways you, too, may be facing a lack of peace right now:
Apart from Me, you can do nothing (John 15:5).
Fr. Philippe begins the book with these words of Jesus from John’s Gospel, and they never fail to hit me like a ton of bricks. The Lord didn’t say, “Apart from Me, you can’t do much” -- He said that we can’t do ANYTHING at all. What a wake-up call for a “doer” like me! When we encounter any situation that makes us feel anxious, then -- issues at work, at home, within the Church, within ourselves -- instead of immediately filling our minds and days with all sorts of “fixes” that we’ve thought up on our own, Fr. Philippe points out that the Lord wants us to instead do something entirely different: come back to Him in prayer. Want to effect real change? Jesus seems to say here. Then come back to Me.
Every single good fruit that our efforts bear comes primarily via the power of God Himself, Who alone has the power to give life and to change hearts. Our own projects and activities, even if we do them with the best of intentions, will ultimately fall short of accomplishing all the good we desire them to, since we humans are limited, finite, imperfect creatures. Of course, we disciples of the Lord strive to know God’s will and act to bring it about here on earth, this place where we ourselves are His hands and feet, and so us taking action is certainly good and important. But instead of solving problems through the lens of “What do I think I should do here?,” if we shift our focus to “What is God calling me to do here?,” we will experience the good fruit and the peace that we desire.
In the book, Fr. Philippe uses this image to illustrate the point:
Consider the surface of a lake, above which the sun is shining. If the surface of the lake is peaceful and tranquil, the sun will be reflected in the lake; and the more peaceful the lake, the more perfectly will it be reflected. If, on the contrary, the surface of the lake is agitated, undulating, then the image of the sun cannot be reflected in it. (p. 5)
It is a little bit like this with regard to our soul in relationship to God. The more our soul is peaceful and tranquil, the more God is reflected in it, the more His image expresses itself in us, the more His grace acts through us. On the other hand, if our soul is agitated and troubled, the grace of God is able to act only with much greater difficulty. All the good that we can do is a reflection of the Essential Good, which is God. (pp. 5-6)
Turning back to God in prayer is absolutely essential if we want to be grounded in a peace that is only able to be given by God, not by the world. Remember these incredible lines from the Lord a bit later in John’s Gospel?:
“Peace I leave with you, My own peace I give to you; a peace the world cannot give, this is My gift to you. Let not your hearts be troubled or afraid…” (John 14:27)
The worldly version of peace involves nothing going wrong around me -- totally dependent on exterior circumstances. Is this ever the case? There’s always something more going wrong in the world, someone else who needs prayers and help, and even some other way in which I myself have made mistakes and failed to be the best-version-of-myself. How can I possibly be at peace with all of these problems whirling around me?!
God’s version of peace, though, is a peace that cannot be shaken by even the most difficult and painful of circumstances. That’s the kind I’m after, and that’s the kind that’s going to elude me if I regularly skip my prayer time in order to busy myself with all the things that I think will fix the problem (or distract myself from it). Prayer is where we give God the space to calm us and speak His wisdom into our hearts and minds. Really listening, and then acting on what we hear, is where authentic peace begins.
For much more, pick up the book. Happy summer reading, and may peace be with you!