Joe’s Mom died over ten years ago. He had been very close to her growing up. He still thought of her practically every day. Yet, although Joe would be the first to admit that his Mom had had a profoundly positive effect on his life, recently he came to the realization that there were some things that she subconsciously taught him that weren’t helping him in his adult life. This realization came through the help of a trusted friend who worked with him and who got to know Joe very well over the past several years.
They were at lunch one day, and Joe was very upset about something that was happening at work. He started sharing with his friend what was going on in his department, but within a few minutes Joe was getting himself all worked up, and then started to get into the “what if” game, which usually involved Joe trying to predict the future.
By the time Joe was finished telling his story he had decided that he would be fired from his position, be caught up in some financial scandal, and would have to dodge the reporters hanging out in his driveway when he got home that very evening!
His friend, in a very calm voice, then said, “Joe, I don’t mean to minimize what you’re saying, but I have to be honest with you, I think you’re taking things too far. You’re blowing all of this way out of proportion.” He then went through things one by one and showed him how he was just letting his imagination getting the better of him.
He then said, “I think I see a pattern here. When you are confronted with something the frightens you, or at least makes you uncomfortable, you get yourself all worked up. You think that if you can get yourself ready for the worst possible scenario, you will be able to control the situation, or be able to stop bad things from happening. From the stories you’ve shared with me about growing up, and the drama created in the house by your Mom always getting excited, it seems to me that maybe your Mom didn’t do you any favors modeling that kind of behavior.
Now God is showing you this in yourself so that you can be freed from this way of reacting to uncomfortable situations.”
Jesus says that the gift he wants to leave with us is peace. And what disturbs peace? It’s anxiety and fear. So much of this comes from within ourselves. We manufacture it. And most of the time it’s not the reality of a situation.
A few years ago the Vietnamese Cardinal Joseph Xavier van Thuan died in Rome, exiled from his homeland. Everyone who knew him during the last years of his life was impressed by his interior peace and joy. He was someone who found Christ’s peace, the stability that comes from discovering and clinging to deeper truths. Before his exile he was serving as the Archbishop of Saigon. After the Vietnam War, when the communists took over both the north and the south, he was arrested by the authorities. He spent the next 13 years in prison, as the communists tried unsuccessfully to destroy the Catholic Church in that country. Nine of those years were spent in solitary confinement, in gruesome conditions.
At first the authorities decided to have only two guards watch over the Archbishop, so as not to risk contaminating too many young soldiers with the Archbishop’s Catholic ideas. But after a month, the Archbishop had made friends with both of them and taught them some Christian hymns and prayers. The officials were forced to rotate guards every week in order to avoid such embarrassing conversions.
But the rotation strategy backfired. The holy bishop radiated Christ’s goodness so powerfully, even in the midst of emotional and physical suffering, that he would win over his guards without even trying, sparking their curiosity and interest in his “secret”—that is his faith. In the end, they went back to assigning two permanent guards. It was better to lose two than twenty! That’s the kind of interior strength and peace of mind that Christ wants to give each of us.
The Lord wants to give us this interior peace which will then help us to deal with the challenges of life. The more we open ourselves to this peace and confidence in God, the more we will stop trying to control things, we will stop living in fear, filled with anxiety. So don’t let fear, anxiety and stress distract us from the great gift of peace that comes to us through Christ. Make sure you’re finding peace in the right things—-not power, wealth and popularity but rather love, mercy and a clear sense of purpose. These are the things that are stable and lasting. This is why Jesus can say to us: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”