Having a sense of peace

Photo of river and sky invoke a sense of peace.

Nature can help us maintain a sense of peace.

Sometimes having a sense of peace in this world is hard to do. Of course we hear that we should keep our sense of peace about us. Christ said He gave us His peace. Other times, however, we are enveloped in peace, like a field of energy surrounding us, emanating from within. It might sound a little woo-woo, but it’s real nonetheless. You’ve probably experienced that yourself.

Sense of peace amid turmoil

The kids are fighting, the baby is crying, the insurance company is denying your claim, your spouse just got fired, the house is a wreck, and you have company coming over in ten minutes. It may be “natural” to scream and pull your hair out, and you may find yourself doing just that.

You may also feel as if you’re standing in the eye of the hurricane, aware of, but not controlled by, the things going on around you. This is one of the goals of Orthodoxy: to maintain a sense of peace, no matter what is going on in our lives. I think it’s a result of theosis and taming the passions. I am no expert on Orthodoxy, though, let me tell you.

How to have a sense of peace

I don’t have any silver bullet or magic pill to make that happen for you, or even for myself. There are still times when I feel shaken up, angry, or afraid, such as every time my cyberstalker sends someone else to contact me for him. Also, there are times when I can’t see the next step in the path, or when nothing seems to work, and I’m frustrated.

Getting out into nature, even if it’s just for a few minutes, almost always helps me. Sometimes standing in front of our icon wall and praying helps the way I feel, and sometimes it doesn’t. Notice I said “how I feel,” not “how things are.” Feelings, while important, aren’t the most important thing sometimes. Sometimes what we do is more important than what we feel, and sometimes things can be getting better even when it doesn’t feel like they are.

I have suffered from depression and anxiety my entire life, stemming from severe abuse with no way out. Trusting God is HARD for me. I can CHOOSE to do it, but I might not FEEL it. That’s okay, because the feeling follows the choice. It might take a while, but it comes. I have to do it over and over. Perhaps someday it will be automatic, but for now… I have to make the choice. Trusting God, for me, is what provides that sense of peace. Not all of the Saints had that abiding sense of peace, but many did. I hope one day it just stays with me. Until then, I choose to step into it whenever I can. If it doesn’t come naturally to you, may you do the same. I wish you a deep and abiding sense of peace.

God wants some people poor

When I was a Protestant, I heard all kinds of platitudes for “explanations” of why God allowed such horrible things to happen to me, including the abuse and poverty I endured. I hated the platitudes, and at times, the people who spewed them. It didn’t help. I didn’t want to believe that a loving God would purposefully allow, much less send, things like that into anyone’s life. I didn’t think anyone deserved those things, much less that I did. I couldn’t see any good reason for them.

Christian platitudes never end

Since I’ve become Orthodox, I’ve still heard a lot of those platitudes, along with some new ones, about how life is suffering, and I still didn’t like them. It seemed to me that people were still making God out to be a horrible Creature, and that anyone who accepted these ideas had to be depressed. Why would life be worth living, if all it’s about is suffering?

Then I began to see a longer-term perspective—a longer term going beyond this lifetime—due to reading some of the quotes from saints. What if it is—or could be, if we let it—a purifying process? What if it’s true that it’s not about whether or not we will suffer, but about how we handle it? What if the whole point is learning to handle these nasty things quietly, without kicking and screaming? What if THAT is the point of these difficult things?

Some people have come to this conclusion long before I did, many of them with far less suffering than I took to begin to see things this way.

How I survived

I stayed alive the first 20 years of my life or so by kicking and screaming most of the way, by objecting to the horrendous things that were done to my mind, body, and soul during all those years of abuse. Objecting to the things being done to me, believing that I deserved better, that there was something better to look forward to in life… that’s what kept me alive. Or so I thought.

And now, the terrible thought: what if, instead of being what kept me alive, what if that held me back somehow? What if, had I believed that I deserved that treatment, that it was somehow good for me, that it was a “blessing in disguise,” what if that would have cleansed and developed me more, somehow, if I had approached things with a different mindset? When I “tried on” those attitudes I heard from others, I immediately rejected them. They were not helpful in the least, at the time. But what if they had been? What if I had decided to respond in a way that could have transformed me into something even better than the way I dealt with it did? Could I be a saint by now?

Dealing with suffering

There are currently some pretty bad things going on in my life, though thank God I’m not being sexually assaulted or knocked around anymore. Some would say the current happenings are no fault of our own, but we all know that our decisions lead to consequences, so…though my husband and I were deceived by someone, and though these things are wrong and illegal, I still put us here. I also say the current situation is still better than the one my decision got us out of, and I hope it will be worth it in the end. Some Orthodox friends have encouraged me to get a lawyer, or to get out of the situation (both impossible for us to do).

The other night, when I read a quote about the importance being not what we are going through or getting it to stop, but HOW we go through it, it reinforced decision I had made to endure this. Maybe I hadn’t been doing it so quietly. I had been complaining about it somewhat. I can still pray that the situation will be resolved soon, but in the meantime, I can go through it with a quieter, calmer spirit than before.

The process of transformation

This is the part of Orthodoxy that I find so hard to explain to people. Yes, the historicity and therefore authenticity of the Church that Christ founded is all I needed to decide to convert. But this…this process of transformation…sometimes it’s so gradual we don’t notice it, and other times, we can see it as it’s happening. Who knows where we’ll end up, or what we’ll end up looking like, but we sure won’t be the same.

Maybe instead of going kicking and screaming, digging in my heels all the way, objecting, “This seems like a horrible idea, God,” maybe I can feel okay with the decision to believe that it really is for the best, no matter how idiotic or unfair it may seem to me. And plenty of things have seemed idiotic and unfair, and I have no qualms saying that. God knows exactly what I think, anyway, and trying to hide it is useless.

God wants some people poor

There was another statement by a saint, about how some are rich, and some are poor no matter what they do, and that even though it seems unfair, God is using it. I have railed against that notion since I was a child. I thought when people quoted scriptures along that theme, it was just wealthy people justifying the way they trample on the backs of the poor.

If anyone deserved to be wealthy, I thought… if anyone deserved to benefit from all her hard work, I was the one. I had so many dreams of helping so many people, but all I could do when someone else was in need was to cry with them and pray for them. Anything I had to give was just a drop in the bucket and didn’t make any difference. It was so frustrating to be unable to make any kind of difference physically, materially, practically.

And now, I accept that for whatever reason (I always swore it was because God hated me for some reason unknown to me), I’m going to be broke and unable to provide any kind of financial help to others my whole life. I don’t say “poor” because I believe in America, “poor” is caused by mindset and decisions; it’s a way of life and “broke” is a bank account status.

God wants me to be broke

So, apparently, God is going to keep me in poverty forever, living hand-to-mouth, and He thinks it’s a good idea to do that. Knowing my luck, he’ll keep me that way in heaven, too. There will never be the luxury of being able to buy clothing from a retail store, or to go out to eat on a whim, or to have a home that isn’t riddled with code violations. I’ll never be able to look at my bank statement and sigh with relief, knowing that when something comes up (in our lives or the lives of others), we can just write a check and take care of it, like so many people we know can. That has probably always been the truth, the way is was going to be, though only God knows why. It doesn’t matter how many books I read on building wealth, or how many decisions I make that line up with how rich people think and behave, or how many hours I work on my marketable skills each week (it’s “many” on all counts).

Accepting God’s will

(That phrase sounds so Protestant to me. Sorry. If there’s an Orthodox equivalent, I don’t know it yet.)

The only thing that has changed is now I’ve started to accept it. Do I like it? Nope. Do I think this is because I’m depressed? Clinicians would probably say yes, but I don’t. I think it means that I’ve come to the conclusion that for some reason, God thinks it’s good for me to lack in material things. Thankfully, I am surrounded by resources for spiritual growth, so at least I can work on that. Something tells me He won’t deprive me of those things, and in the long run—and I mean the eternal long run—those are better anyway, though the material is important to God or He wouldn’t have created it. It’s just not something He wants me to have.

It would be nice if God would lift this ban on good things and grant me some comfort in this life, but something tells me He never will. And something tells me that even though it will never be fair and I will never have the things I want no matter how long and hard I work, eventually it won’t matter anymore. In the meantime, I’m going to double my spiritual reading and prayer time again. Something good may come of it.

It definitely takes a load of stress off, deciding to stop trying to climb out of this hole, just hang out with the kids and become like them: have no aspirations in life. As long as I don’t think about it, just totally shut down my brain about it, I can live with it.

Thinking is the enemy

 

The moment I start to think, though…I’m right back to trying to make things better, even though it seems God wants the opposite. Something tells me that He’s going to have to remove the part of my brain that is responsible for seeing possibilities if I am ever to become a saint, because as long as I am aware that there might be a chance, I’m going to keep going back to fighting with how things are and trying to have a better life. I think that saints must be able to shut down that part of their brains, to be able to just accept things the way they are and have no desires or drive to make things better. I haven’t totally become okay with this even now. Maybe I’ll never be able to, but I can keep working on it, and I will.

Looking perfect, A tale of two vases

A story about looking perfect

Two pottery students each were tasked with creating a slab vase from clay. The first one hadn’t taken a pottery class before, but the second one had.

The first potter was quite concerned with appearances, and thought that if the outward appearance of her vase was good, then her vase would be good. So she threw the clay onto the table once, cut it into slabs, pried them up, and forced the pieces together in the shape of a vase.

She then spent most of her time focusing on smoothing out the surface of the clay, making sure there were no blemishes showing on the outside of her vase. She wanted her vase looking perfect before it went into the kiln, and it did. Other students came by and “oohed and ahhed” over the appearance of her vase. Yes, it certainly did look good. She and her vase had succeeded in looking perfect.

Build a good foundation

The other pottery student wanted a beautiful vase, too, but her approach was different. She knew that

  • the clay had to be worked to the point of pliability,
  • the air bubbles inside it needed to be removed, and
  • getting the air bubbles worked out takes time.

The clay needed to be thrown again and again and again, to remove the air bubbles. It needed to be warmed by her hands to be made pliable, and worked gently into shape or it could crack and split and need to be redone.

Better than you

During that time, things didn’t look so pretty. So while the first potter instantly had something that looked good on the outside, the second potter’s work didn’t look so beautiful at the time.

The first potter pointed at and made fun of the bumpy appearance of the second potter’s slab as she worked on it, and kept throwing it repeatedly to work out those bubbles. She said, “You should do it like I do, and make that thing look good, fast. You’re a horrible potter. Everyone can see that I’m better than you.” By the way, if you do anything like that in my class, or anywhere within earshot of me, my response will be swift. Mistreating others is not tolerated.

Ignore bad advice

The second and slightly more experienced potter knew that yes, her slab still had some blemishes, and it didn’t look as good on the surface as the other’s, but it would soon be air-bubble-free and thus structurally sound, and ready to survive the fire of the kiln.

A piece of pottery that has air bubbles in it would explode in the kiln, and while the shards might look beautiful, it wouldn’t be a whole, functioning vase. It might be able to be glued back together, but the damage would always be there, and would be pretty easy for people to see.

Beautiful but shattered

The second potter also knew that any on-the-surface problems in her vase could be smoothed over before it was fired, or sanded away after it had been fired. Either way, it could be glazed or painted and its appearance improved even more after it had been tested in the kiln.

The more important thing was to build it soundly so it would withstand the heat of the kiln. Appearance was secondary to that, and it would come in time. Appearance without correct underlying structure just gives beautiful, broken shards—shattered vases.

Quit worrying about appearance and be concerned with reality

Looking perfect has nothing to do with being good. Christ called this way of doing things being “whited sepulchers, full of dead men’s bones and all manner of filth.” It doesn’t lead to life, but to death. Is appearance important? Yes. But far more important is the underlying structure, the reality. Take care of the structure underneath before worrying about the surface. Take your time and do it right.

~An art-class lesson I gave years ago (without the reference to Christ or scripture, as it was designed for public-school classes).

Stop trying and start doing

A counselor once told us, “Try to get up out of your chairs.” We gave each other and him puzzled looks. “Excuse me? What?”

“Try to get up, but don’t get up. Just try to.”

I said, “Well, that’s stupid. We’d just wear ourselves out, being halfway up out of the chair.”

“Exactly. So don’t ever ‘try’ to do something again. Just do it.”

For decades now, I’ve been in the habit of waiting around for the guy to do something. Yeah, yeah, it’s the way I was raised. It’s the example I saw forever. There’s a lovely word for it:

Codependency

It’s frustrating.

It wastes so much time.

It leads to anger (at the person you’re waiting on, and at yourself for waiting on someone who is probably never going to change, but wait, there’s a chance he might…).

There is also a hidden benefit to codependency, to dealing with passive aggression. Do what? There can’t possibly be any benefit to waiting around for someone to get off his tail and do something. Can there be?

Sure, there can be. It’s a dark, nasty truth none of us wants to face when we’re the one doing the codependent waiting. If we’re pacing back and forth, wringing our hands, waiting and begging and pleading for our spouse to do something… If we’re motivating and cheerleading and manipulating, and putting all our energy into pushing and trying to get the person to do the right thing… That keeps us pretty busy, doesn’t it? It takes up a lot of our time, right? It also takes all of our energy.

Why put up with passive aggression?

It’s a sneaky way for our subconscious brains to keep us from doing things on our own. It helps us avoid taking risks, and putting ourselves and our ideas out there. It keeps us safe from failing, too.

Because, as you probably know, we’ve been taught from birth that women shouldn’t do things on their own. We should be dependent. We should each ask our husband’s permission first. Especially if we were raised to be Christians, we’ve been told those kinds of things.

That kind of garbage has kept us in bondage for far too long. It is scripture that has been twisted and used to abuse us, like so much of it is, and has been for generations.

He will never change

Say it out loud. Repeat it until you come to accept it. That might be 10 times; it might be 100. It might lead you through a trail of emotions – anger, defeat, and despair, for instance, before you get to acceptance. Just because you accept it, that doesn’t mean you like it. You don’t even have to be okay with it. It is wrong that he’s being a lazy butt. It is wrong that he’s expecting you to do more than what’s fair. But, it is what it is. He’s never going to change.

Are you?

Make changes

I had an unpleasant little talk with myself, and it went something like this:

He is never going to change. He is never going to make a move. He doesn’t care. He has everything exactly the way he wants it. If you want something done, you are going to have to do it yourself. Are you going to grow up and do what needs to be done?”

Shocked silence from myself.

Yes, I said, “Grow up.”

Screw you.

Either grow up and start doing things on your own, or shut up and let the passive-aggressive person control your life.

Do it myself

So apparently I decided to start doing things on my own. I had a series of conversations with the Deacon, so I knew I had the church’s go-ahead on this. And then I found myself just doing things. Usually something little, but it was something that, before, I would have waited on him for days or weeks, getting plenty frustrated, before getting all exasperated and doing it myself. I stopped wasting that time, and the energy getting frustrated. I just did it.

Things started getting done! So I started doing more things.

Is it fair? Of course not. So what?

Does this change the fact that he’s still not doing anything? No.

Did it inspire him to follow my example and start doing things, too? Only in the movies.

Do I care? Not anymore. Why not? Because I took my power back. I wouldn’t trade this new feeling for the old one, ever again.

One day recently, I got several things done that had been he had been promising me he’d do for MONTHS. I just got in the car and went and did them, one right after another. And man, did I ever feel GREAT! It’s like the opening line of a techno dance song (by SNAP).


The huge smile on my face at the end of that day put a big smile on the Deacon’s face, too. He approved. I enjoy those smiles and his approval. 😀

So that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I went from trying to doing. It’s still a journey. I didn’t suddenly become 100% independent overnight, and won’t–we are to be interdependent, after all. But when something needs to be done that we’ve discussed, and he’s not making any moves to do it, I don’t sit around tugging on him anymore. I know how to drive and use the phone and handle some cool power tools all by myself. I can get things done on my own.

 

Clicking into place

I feel like things are clicking into place in my brain/composition. They are mostly things that my parents should have taught me when I was a child, but didn’t. I guess they were too busy with their drama ever to think about teaching us anything.

Personal development

Every time something falls into place, I am a different person–just a bit usually, but sometimes it changes me substantially. I’m not the same as I was several months ago when we moved and lost internet access. I’m certainly not the same person I was over a year ago when I started attending an Orthodox Church. In some ways, I don’t recognize myself, but that’s okay.

Sometimes I can feel it happen in the middle of a sermon. Shift. Slide. Click.

Sometimes it’s during an interaction with my children or husband. Sometimes, I don’t know when it happened, but I know something recently did.

Orthodoxy changes us

Sometimes it feels like I’m supposed to pass through a cut-out of a certain shape, but my shoulder is too wide in this spot here, and the passage sands away that part of me. Sometimes it hurts, and sometimes not so much. At first, I objected loudly. What?! You’re going to reshape me? Rebuild me, redesign me?! I like who I am just fine, thankyouverymuch. I would cease to be me if you did that. No.

But they were right. Not only am I still me, as the people in my parish said, but I am more whole, more integrated than before. And when I say that, yes, I do mean it in the psychological sense with a dissociative disorder.

Inner peace

I feel at peace, and to realize just how huge that is, you have to understand something about me: my life, from the womb on, was chaos. I didn’t know where “home” was going to be at the end of any given day, for example, or if I’d have anything for dinner that night. I never knew any peace. I had only an intellectual understanding of the word’s definition. It was like a street urchin hearing about a feast at the palace. Yeah, riiiiight. Like that’s attainable for me.

To experience peace, calm, serenity… my soul and even my body let out the proverbial Ahhhh! After, that is, I got used to it. At first, I was so accustomed to turmoil that if there wasn’t already some in my life, I’d subconsciously find a way to create some. It took a while to get used to the idea, and even longer to get used to feeling it.

Sure, there will be times of stressful happenings, but I will never again revert to that previous state of chaos, tension, fear, and stress. I will never again lose my peace, Lord willing. Now, I welcome these “sanding” moments. At least a little. I know I’ll be in better shape when I’m through that doorway.