We all like to think of Jesus as a man of peace. That’s one of our main categories for picturing Jesus – a man of peace. He preached peace. And we also imagine that his interior life was very peaceful, very centered. And surely this is true.
Yet, if we look closely at the Gospels, it is impossible not to notice that Jesus’ daily life was anything but peaceful. Just the opposite – it was a life of CHAOS and COMMOTION! In fact, the chaos that surrounded Jesus often overwhelmed him.
We hear in one story that after Jesus began healing people, so many sick people came to see him, and try to touch him, that four guys actually had to lower a paralyzed man through the roof. And by the end of the day, Jesus was overwhelmed with the demands made on him, and the Gospel of Mark says, he had to sneak away to a quiet place.
Another time, so many people came to hear Jesus that he had to get into a boat and teach the crowds from off-shore because, the Gospel tells us, he was afraid of being crushed. That’s hardly the story of a person who lived a peaceful daily life. This was a man who understood the phrase – “I’m being pulled in a hundred different directions. ” The demands of daily life often overwhelmed Jesus.
And yet, we also know that Jesus was a man of deep, and centered, peace. So the question becomes: how does he pull it off?!! How does Jesus stay centered, and interiorly peaceful, in the midst of a very hectic and demanding daily life? If we could answer that, we would have some really helpful insights into how to live our own lives, which are also very demanding.
Well, there are all kinds of answers we could come up with. I came up with four based on the Gospels, and these are in no way exhaustive.
1. Jesus often withdraws to pray. How many times in the Gospel do we read, “And Jesus withdrew to a solitary place to pray"?
- Before he gave the Sermon on the Mount
- Before he selected the 12 apostles
- At the Transfiguration
- In the Garden at Gethsemane
Time and again we read it, almost a throwaway line: “And Jesus withdrew to a solitary place.” It raises the question for us: how often do we take time to be in silence, alone with God? To pray. To re-energize, to re-focus, to re-gain our peace. We’ve got to be able to do that from time to time, if we’re going to keep our centeredness and our peace.
2. Jesus surrounds himself with friends who supported him in his mission. We know at one point, Jesus is so overwhelmed that he complains out loud: “There are so many people, like sheep without a shepherd. Pray to the Master of the Harvest that he will provide more laborers to tend to them.” That’s Hebrew for: I only have two hands here! And the next passage tells us, he went and chose the 12 apostles.
So Jesus made sure not to take on the world alone. Jesus so clearly in the Gospels often regains his centeredness by sharing a meal with his friends, by surrounding himself with others who are dedicated to the same mission.
This is an important lesson in leading peaceful lives, interiorly. And it is a hard lesson for us Americans. Because we are individualistic, and like to get things done on our own. And we’re often too proud or stubborn to ask for help. But its no coincidence that we’re also often fried – our nerves are shot, we’re constantly tired, we quickly lose patience with others. Jesus lived a life at least as hectic as ours, maybe more. But he did not live it alone; he lived it with a group of friends who shared in his labors.
3. If we read the Gospels closely, we’ll see that Jesus, though he’s constantly working for the mission, doesn’t spend a ton of time focusing on what the mission is costing him. Rather, when he thinks about his work, he thinks about the good it is doing for others. He thinks about it in terms of service to others.
If we spend too much time thinking about how much energy we’re expending on behalf of others, we start to wonder why others aren’t more thankful, or why others aren’t working as hard as us (remember the story of Martha and Mary). Jesus doesn’t spend a lot of time on this. Rather, he stays focused on the good he is doing for others. And this seems to increase his energy, not drain it.
Not thinking too much about the cost, but about our service to others: it’s not an act of self-deception, it’s an act of inner peace.
4. To the extent that Jesus does focus on himself, it is almost always in realizing his life is in the hands of His Father:
- “I have come to do the will of my Father.”
- “My Father and I are one.”
- “I speak not my words, but the words my Father has given me.”
We never get to hear how Jesus prayed when he was alone on the mountainside. But we do get to see what happens afterwards. No matter if he experiences the adulation of the crowd, or the criticism of the Pharisees; the success of someone accepting his teaching, or the disappointment of someone walking away--a leper, a blind person, an adulterer, an authority--whatever and whomever he encounters, positive or negative, he seems absolutely convinced that this moment is unfolding in the hands of his Father, and his Father’s plan for his life.
Jesus models us for a way of life that always realizes that, whatever we are being asked to do, it is all unfolding in God’s Providence, and never apart from that Providence. And this brings with it the gift of peace.
This is how a person in the middle of a daily and unrelenting whirlwind stays centered and at peace:
- Taking time to pray
- Not taking on the world alone, but with friends in faith
- Focusing on the good we are doing for others, rather than the cost
- Realizing that our lives are unfolding always in the hands of God