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The Hardest Five Words

The secret to keeping peace amid turmoil

By Kimberly Quatela

(Part Three of a Five-Part Series)

This week, we continue a reflection based on a passage from St. Paul to the Colossians, which challenges us to focus this Advent season on five key virtues: forgiveness, love, peace, gratitude, and praise (Col 3:12-17). Today, let’s talk about peace.

The word peace may evoke various images and feelings in each person, especially with the current unrest in our world today. To a young child, peace may be everyone having someone to love, everyone knowing they are in a safe place, hugs, or happiness for all. For us, as parents, peace may feel like protecting our children, accord between spouses, protection of all, or a quiet drive home without yelling children and honking horns. Peace has many meanings, global and personal: absence of war, inner peace, peace with God, civil order, etc.

Whatever comes to mind when we think of peace, during this time of Advent, as we await a moment of supreme peace – the arrival of the Christ Child – we are called to reflect on what the peace of Christ means (Hint: it means more than shaking our neighbor’s hand at Mass!)

When we look at the biblical root of the word "peace,” we learn that the Hebrew word for peace is shalôm. That literally means "to be complete or whole.” Shalôm is used in many different ways in the Old Testament. It can mean general prosperity or well-being, safety or success, harmony among friends and family members, and harmony among nations.

The gift of God’s peace is given to those who entrust themselves to the Lord. As Jesus told his disciples: "Peace I leave with you, my own peace I give you; a peace the world cannot give, my gift to you. Let not your hearts be troubled or afraid" (John 14:27). This peace that we read about is more than a good quote for a bumper sticker or to post on Instagram. This peace is not referring necessarily to freedom from conflicts or difficulties. Rather, it is marked by a deep, abiding inner assurance that comes in relationship to God.

As a busy, working mom, I find it difficult to achieve the peace that Jesus speaks about. When I arrive home after work, tired and hungry, “peaceful” is the last word I would use to describe the state of my mind, or my living room. Blocks are strewn on the floor. My toddler is poking the baby in the nose because he knows it makes him screech. Children are requesting cereal, cheese, bananas or yogurt, none of which is on the dinner menu. The house I come into may feel more like a battlefield. In the midst of such chaos and mess, how do we find the peace of Christ?

What I have found to be the remedy, which seems silly to even state, is gratitude. During the times of chaos in my family life or marriage, I step back (preferably in a space away from the “noise”), if even for a short minute, and thank God for the gifts he has given me. When the boys are fighting, after they are out of the death grip of each other, I step aside and thank God for the gift of my fertility and the blessing of children. When I am starving and snap at my husband for not giving glowing remarks about the dinner I prepared (or rather reheated), I take the time to thank God for the blessing of a companion on this journey of life. When someone cuts me off on my drive home, after a few calming deep breaths, I thank God that I have a job I love, money to pay for gas, and reliable transportation.

Reflecting on gratitude to bring out inner peace is not something that always comes easily or naturally, but I have found that by putting aside the constant, nagging, negative thoughts allows more space for inner dialogue with Christ.

This week, try out this exercise of finding peace with Christ through gratitude.  When stress, troubles in your marriage, a coworker’s criticism, our own negativity about our body image, a cranky toddler, or anxiety creep up on us, take a step back and look through the lens of the gift that the Lord is giving to you at that moment. Do this for seven straight days and see what the Lord can do in that space you have made.

I close with a poem from one of my beloved saints, St. Teresa of Avila, which I keep by my desk:

Let nothing disturb thee,
Nothing affright thee;
All things are passing;
God never changeth;
Patient endurance
Attaineth to all things;
Who God possesseth
In nothing is wanting;
Alone God sufficeth
.

Kimberly Quatela lives in Yonkers, New York, with her husband, Steve, and their two children. She is Family Faith Formation Coordinator for the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut.