David L. Goetsch
Finding Peace in the Midst of Strife, Stress, and Conflict (John 16:33)
A plea I often hear from counseling clients is “I am so tired of all the bickering, conflict, strife, and stress; I need some peace in my life.” I understand the need for a break from the strife and discord that often characterize life in a fallen world. In fact, I share it. We live in a world in which we are beset daily by cacophonous squabbling, animosity, and disunity. Discord and controversy virtually leap off the pages of your morning newspaper and shout at you from nightly news programs. Civility and decorum have given way to volume and vitriol.
Reports of road rage, mass shootings, workplace violence, rioting mobs, sideline rage, terrorism, political discord, and armed conflict monopolize media coverage in all of its forms. Politeness and courtesy in public discourse seem to be a thing of the past. Frankly, there is a lot of ugliness in the world and it can be difficult if not impossible to get away from it. Add to this the conflicts that occur in personal and work relationships and it is easy to see why so many people cry out for peace and harmony in their lives.
Do you ever feel like you just want to get away from it all, even if for just a little while? Do you ever wish you could find a safe haven from the strife, bickering, and discord in your life? Most people have these thoughts from time to time. I certainly do. People who long for peace and harmony in their lives sometimes find temporary respite by doing such things as traveling to the mountains, walking through the woods, or canoeing on a tranquil lake. Others travel to the coast seeking the serenity of the sea. Yet others find a few moments of peace and harmony puttering in their gardens, walking through parks, or retreating to their designated quiet places. There is certainly nothing wrong with any of these coping strategies; they can certainly be helpful. Unfortunately, though, these strategies all share a common shortcoming: they are temporary. You cannot get away from the strife and discord of a fallen world forever, and even in these placid locations, the ugliness you are running from can catch up with you. I still have an unpleasant memory of checking into the lodge on the north rim of the Grand Canyon. My wife and I were anticipating a few days of serenity immersed in the beauty of God’s creation. But it wasn’t to be.
As I stood in the check-in line, the crowd in front of me grew restless with the wait and then unruly when it turned out the lodge was overbooked. I won’t go into the ugly details of that scene, but suffice it to say that even in one of the most beautiful locations on earth conflict and discord intruded. Frankly, I should have known it would. Because of the fall in the Garden of Eden we all suffer the consequences of paradise lost. Adam and Eve saw to that.
If you are distraught over strife, noise, and stress in your life, the advice I give counseling clients might be helpful to you too. It is simply this. You will never find the peace and harmony you seek in worldy coping strategies. The peace and harmony you crave are available, but in one place and one place only: the loving arms of Jesus Christ. Unlike the fleeting relief that comes from worldly coping strategies, the peace of Christ is permanent. More importantly, it is real peace not just a temporary lull in the din and clamor of life. When the peace of Christ washes over you, the stress you feel from the noise, discord, and bickering that sometimes engulf you is washed away and replaced by a deep-seeded tranquility available from no other source.
To experience the peace of Christ, begin with the Bible. Scripture makes clear that peace and harmony are possible even in the midst of strife. This is the message in John 16:33: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” If you understand its true source, not only can you achieve peace and harmony for yourself, you can be God’s instrument in bringing these things to others.
SCRIPTURE IN ACTION: AN EXAMPLE
Victoria wanted to lock her bedroom door, pull the covers up over her head, and stay in bed. She knew the minute she dressed and left her bedroom the bickering would start and she would be engulfed in squabbling, conflict, and discord the rest of the day. That’s just how her days were. Her twin sons fought like cats and dogs from the moment they got out of bed every morning. She could not understand how two teenagers could look so much alike but be so different. They fought over clothes, food, girls, homework, sports, and most other subjects.
Even after she got the boys out the door and off to school, Victoria found no peace. As a professor of political science, she needed to keep up with the news of the day but knew that the programs on television would be little more than verbal shouting matches involving commentators and guests who were long on opinion and short on facts. On every news program there would be political adversaries hurling insults back and forth, questioning each other’s motives, and verbally punching and counterpunching. To make matters worse, the volume and vitriol just seemed to increase the longer they argued.
Victoria got no relief at work either. In fact, that’s when the real ugliness in her day began. As the only Christian on a political science faculty proud of its secular views, Victoria spent her days interacting with colleagues who disagreed with her on practically every subject and made a point of telling her so. Her terse retort to “Save it for your students—they’re probably naïve enough to believe it” was typically ignored as her fellow professors questioned, rejected, and even belittled her views on issues large and small. Then there were the protests.
Because she was widely known on campus as the only Christian professor in the political science department, students with anti-Christian views had begun to picket her office and protest outside of her classes, often loudly enough to disrupt her lectures. After class, Victoria could not get to her office without being confronted by protesting students who were as ill-mannered as they were ill-informed. A thought that came to mind every time she encountered a group of snarling protestors was “they are all heat and no light.” Victoria craved some relief from the animosity, bickering, and disharmony that seemed to engulf her at home and at work. Finally, she decided to talk things over with her pastor. She wasn’t sure he could help, but Victoria felt like she had to do something.
Pastor Joe empathized and told Victoria he understood how she felt. In fact, he had felt the same way for years and had almost left the ministry because of the constant sniping he received concerning doctrinal matters and different interpretations of Scripture. Pastor Joe told Victoria if he asked ten members of their congregation to interpret the same Bible verse, he would get eleven different opinions. When Victoria asked the pastor how he managed to find the peace he needed to continue in the ministry, he surprised her. Pastor Joe said, “I stopped looking for it in the wrong places.”
The pastor told Victoria he had to finally accept that in this fallen world true peace and harmony were to be found not in worldly escapes or the reassurance of people but in the arms of Christ. “Only Christ can provide what you seek, Victoria.” Then Pastor Joe showed Victoria several verses from Scripture and suggested she put them to good use in her life. If she would do that, Victoria could find the peace and harmony she sought. They prayed about her situation, and then discussed some specific strategies Victoria might try.
The first thing Victoria had to do was get it settled in her heart and mind that the only real source of true and lasting peace is Christ. It took several days of prayer and numerous readings of John 16:33, but Victoria finally came to the conclusion that Pastor Joe had been right. She had been looking for peace and harmony in the wrong places. Getting away from the clamor and strife by escaping to her quiet place at the end of each day brought temporary respite, but not lasting peace. When she emerged from her cocoon, the turbulence in her life was still there.
The next thing Victoria had to do was tamp down her own temper. It seemed she started every day loudly threatening her quarrelsome sons with all manner of retribution if they didn’t stop their bickering. In her twins’ eyes, Victoria’s yelling just validated their behavior. Both liked to respond by saying, “Mom you are worse than we are.” Further, she often lost her temper with colleagues and student protestors at work. Ironically, her angry outbursts just seemed to egg them on and make matters worse.
In the aftermath of a temper tantrum, Victoria always felt remorse. She knew deep down that her temper contributed nothing to bringing peace and harmony into her life. It took memorizing the warning against losing one’s temper contained Proverbs 16:32 and repeating it to herself over and over for days, but Victoria eventually got her temper under control and stopped giving her detractors ammunition to shoot at her.
Pastor Joe had read Hebrews 12:14 to Victoria and encouraged her to obey its admonition to “Strive for peace with everyone…” Victoria took this verse to mean she should reach out to her fellow Political Science professors and start engaging them rather than condemning them. Rather than argue with them over differing points of view, she started listening to them and trying to understand what they believed and why. She still didn’t accept their views, but did become adept at disagreeing with them without being disagreeable. Victoria knew she was making progress when she overheard one of her most vociferous detractors say to another professor, “Lately Victoria seems like a different person. Her views haven’t changed but she has. I actually enjoy talking to her now.”
Victoria’s biggest challenge was to live out the message in Matthew 5:9 to be a peacemaker. She knew this meant she had to reach out to the students who were bent on disrupting her classes. Her first move in this direction was to bring three dozen donuts, coffee, and tea to work and put it in her conference room. Then she waited for the protestors to gather outside of her first class. After class she went outside and invited them to join her in the conference room for some dialogue. The students were reluctant to join her until Victoria said, “I brought donuts.” The protestors may not have wanted dialogue, but they did want donuts. Most of them accepted her invitation and joined Victoria in the conference room.
Victoria made a point of listening more than talking. She even told them there was a time when she felt the same way they did about social and political issues. Victoria shared some photographs of her as a college freshman protesting against the war in Viet Nam. The students were flabbergasted. They could not believe that the most conservative professor in the department had once been a “hippie” and an anti-war protestor.
When they asked why her views had changed so radically, Victoria responded that people who refuse to change their views as they mature and as new facts become available—facts that alter the landscape of an issue—are either intellectual hypocrites or mindless zealots. Then she encouraged them to always go where the truth leads, but to be open to listening to differing points of view. She closed every discussion with these words: “Remember, you don’t have to agree with people to listen respectfully to their views. Being able to disagree without being disagreeable is a sign of intelligence.”
Victoria’s meetings with the protestors soon grew in popularity. They began to attract students of all political persuasions and a few professors too. The students seemed to enjoy the intellectual give and take of the discussions Victoria led. Before long she had to find a larger venue for her meetings. Not surprisingly, students stopped protesting Victoria’s classes and some even enrolled in them. There was still a lot of noise in her life, but Victoria now knew where to go for relief. She simply took a deep breath and settled into a comforting conversation with the Lord. She found peace by seeking it in the right place: the arms of Christ.
LESSONS FROM SCRIPTURE FOR YOUR DAILY WALK
To enhance your daily walk with the Lord, follow Victoria’s example. There are several important lessons contained in Victoria’s story. The first is that any relief from the turbulence of life found in your favorite quiet place, though welcome, will be temporary at best. There is no place on earth where you can permanently escape the noise, discord, and conflict of the world. Because of what occurred in the Garden of Eden, the world is filled with tribulation and will be until Christ returns (John 16:33).
You cannot permanently escape the ugliness of the world by retreating to the mountains, shore, or any other safe haven. That’s the bad news. The good news is that lasting relief is available. It can be found in the loving arms of Jesus Christ, the only place you will find the kind of peace and harmony that are eternal. Instead of seeking peace in temporary safe havens on earth, find it in the permanent fortress that is Jesus Christ. It is available there and only there because Christ has “…overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Victoria had formed the unfortunate habit of responding to the sniping and bickering in her life out of anger and frustration, an approach that just made things worse. Reacting in this way to the incivility, squabbling, and animosity that intrude on your life is a mistake. Better to take control of your temper before acting. Your anger and frustration will just add to the rancor and acrimony you are trying to escape (Proverbs 16:32). Remember, you don’t put out a fire by adding fuel to it.
Victoria realized that rather than condemning others she needed to engage them in a positive way. She needed to reach out to fellow faculty members as well as the students who picketed her classes. Engaging instead of condemning can be a difficult lesson to accept, but it is one of the most important. You are going to face opposition because of your Christian worldview, and it is going to trigger your fight-or-flight instinct. This is a normal human response. When this happens, human instinct will urge you to fight those who oppose you or flee from them. Scripture teaches that both of these responses are wrong. Better to engage them in a Christ-like manner (Hebrews 12:14). Never let others bring you down to their level. Instead, take the high road that Christ has set before you. It leads to a better place.
To enjoy the peace of Christ, begin by understanding what it isn’t as well as what it is. The peace of Christ is not the absence of discord, trials, or tribulation. In a fallen world, these things will always be with us. Rather, it is the peace that comes from knowing that God has overcome the world (John 16:33) so you can view your worldly troubles as temporary and see them in a better light. The ills of the world that trouble you become material for building Godly character when you seek the peace you want in Jesus Christ. In him you have a better life to come—eternal life—no matter how difficult your days on earth may be at the moment.
In a fallen world, you often have to endure the storm to enjoy the rainbow. But the peace of Christ comes from knowing there will be a rainbow after the storm passes. No matter how much discord envelops your life, there is a light at the end of even the darkest tunnel. That light is Jesus Christ. When the troubles of the day seem to engulf you in darkness, find the light of Christ by praying and reading the Bible. Then try my mystery-novel strategy.
If you have ever read a mystery novel with its rapid plot twists, you know how easy it is to get caught up in wondering how it will end. Twists and turns in the plot keep you on the edge of your seat throughout the book. You get no peace until you learn how it ends. But if you have read the book before, you can relax and just enjoy it because you already know how it ends. The peace of Christ is like that. Because you have accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior, you know how your story ends. This being the case, you can focus on the light at the end of the tunnel instead of the darkness along the way.
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press and Christians on the Job: Winning at Work Without Compromising Your Faith, Salem Books, an imprint of Regnery Publishing, 2019: www.david-goetsch.com