When I moved to the city, I spent almost every night sitting on my windowsill, eight stories high, and watched the sunset as my fireplace crackled. Too poor to afford cable or internet, my studio with views over the vast Wissahickon park would provide solace from the hustle and bustle below. In those solitary moments of dense beauty and saturated color, I felt a comfortable weight, almost like the snow softly muting and blanketing the world outside. And there was only one word on my lips.
As peaceful as this scene may sound, I had every reason to lack peace during that time in my life. As stated, I was poor and barely making ends meet. I stole bread from work. I only knew one person in that city and it was a man who had hurt me in the past, and I was in a new career that I felt so unprepared for. I thought I was failing. And maybe you’re in a scenario too where peace seems totally absent because of some paralysis bred from fear. Maybe it’s a relationship that churns your stomach, or a situation that has spoiled the present or a circumstance that feels crippling. Scripture tells us to let nothing disturb our hearts because peace is so essential in the spiritual life. But that’s much easier said than done, right?
So often, we think of peace as an absence—of fear, anxiety or worry. Or sometimes, we think of it as a result, a consequence or an outcome. Frequently, we define it as a feeling. But the truth is, it’s a presence; the Holy Spirit’s presence, to be precise. That’s why it’s so totally necessary to pray for his peace, not what we think of as peace. We are reminded in Isaiah 55:8, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.”
If peace comes from the Holy Spirit (who often speaks in whispers), how are we to foster peace when everything else seems to be speaking louder, drowning out such a fragile and delicate desire? Pope Francis writes in “Gaudete et Exsultate,” his latest apostolic exhortation, “constant new gadgets, the excitement of travel and an endless array of consumer goods at times leave no room for God’s voice to be heard.” Whether the noise is coming from within or the world around us, it’s crucial to find quiet in order for peace to seep through. Father Jacques Philippe writes in “Searching for and Maintaining Peace of Heart,” “One can never insist enough on the necessity of quiet, meditative prayer—the real source of interior peace.”
“I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world”
Once we cultivate that interior silence, how might we encourage peace to grow or strengthen? Well, let’s start with the Prince of Peace. Jesus was so vulnerable at his birth that an army of angels had to accompany and protect him from all the evil that the devil could throw at him. Peace may be fragile, but its presence is undeniably powerful. And if we follow this baby’s gaze, from the cradle to his cross, Jesus was looking to the Blessed Mother; there we have our answer.
The Blessed Mother, Queen of Peace, is the epitome of surrender. From her fiat to her assumption, she offered God her yes. Mary did not give into fear, though she had every reason to fear. She did not force or conjure peace out of some accomplishment of overcoming her anxieties. Rather, in the deepest part of her heart, she surrendered.
Peace doesn’t come from mastering our fears, whatever they look like, and it doesn’t break through after some kind of miraculous fiat moment. Rather, it comes from the trust that accompanies those multiple moments of surrender. Every moment we give our okay to the Lord, in both the big and small things, our trust in our Savior is strengthened. When we abandon ourselves to the holy will of the Father, then and only then will peace present itself.
Peace may be born in the quiet, but it is strengthened through surrender.
Though we have opportunities every hour to surrender to the Lord, sometimes it’s hardest when it seems we have no choice but surrender, when it seems that we are stripped of our free will and thrown into a reality that we don’t want or didn’t choose, when nothing makes sense. But these are the moments whenour surrender actually means the most.
Jacques Philippe writes in “Interior Freedom,” “We [can] say yes to a reality we initially saw as negative, because we realize that something positive may arise from it … even though the objective reality remains the same, the attitude of our hearts is very different.” Here are two examples. The first is from St. Therese of Lisieux, who was only ever given an hour each day for personal time. She would start each precious hour with the prayer, “Lord, I choose to be interrupted,” and when a sister came disrupting her downtime, instead of meeting it with annoyance, her heart was open in a state of acceptance.
Perhaps a more relevant or personal example can be from when we face rejection. Instead of losing our peace when something is seemingly taken from us (a job, a relationship, a hope), if we offer the Lord the one thing that is truly our own, our free will, and consent to what he is asking, peace will come flooding in through this powerful surrender. And it only takes one word. Father Michael Gaitley adds that even when our words feel flat on our lips, they are never more strongly received than when we are in the dark and we mutter: Lord, this doesn’t make sense, and this hurts, but okay, I trust you.
Mary had her fiat, but we have our okay. And that, my friends, is the most powerful word that we can speak.
Okay to letting him go. Okay to saying goodbye. Okay to sitting in rush hour traffic. Okay to this season in our lives. This constant surrender to the will of the Lord is how our trust is strengthened and how peace might reign in our soul. The more we offer our okay, the more we invite the Prince of Peace into the cradle of our hearts.
So let’s quiet our hearts, bow our heads and pray: Lord, okay. Amen.
Carolyn Shields is the founder of the YoungCatholicWoman, an online ministry that encourages women across the globe to grow deeper in their faith through sharing their stories. Carolyn currently works as a campus minister in Philadelphia, and you can find more of her writing and other projects at CarolynShields.com.