It happened last night, around midnight, on a near-empty gym floor, after I took a break from grading exams to go work out for a while. I’ve found that I can’t control these things, really — I just take them where they fall, and sometimes, wonderfully, they fall on me. It was a feeling of pure, wonderful peace. And it was just what I needed.
There’s never a bad time for a feeling of peace. But this one was particularly welcome. I’ve been feeling my way through a few personal trials lately, and life has been stressful at times for me and my family. Trials sometimes involve difficult learning processes, as we have to find ways to deal with new problems that we haven’t faced before.
In the past few days, things had eased up a little. A few key pieces fell into place; I had good talks with my wife, and with close friends; I was able to say and do things that needed saying and doing. But none of my own efforts gave the kind of satisfaction and comfort that descended last night.
It was a feeling of peace and comfort that came out of nowhere. I wasn’t praying or meditating or reading scripture; it was midnight and I had been listening to music and grading exams for hours; I was worn out. But as I stood, ready to begin working out, the feeling just washed over me.
It’s hard to really describe, as these things often are. It was a feeling that things were okay, and that they were going to be okay. It was something like a voice telling me: “Life will be good. You can keep the good things, and let the bad just wash away.” And I stood there and looked at my reflection in the lighted window, and couldn’t help but smile.
It took me a moment to realize what I was feeling – it was peace. Comforting, soothing, relaxing, sponging away the hurts and pains and tensions that had preoccupied me. It was amazing, as such experiences always are, and for a short while, I just stood there on the treadmill, and smiled, and basked in the peaceful feeling, all around me. (And thought vaguely that, this sure is a weird setting, good thing there’s only two other people here). Later, as I drove home, a song on the radio reminded me of a dear friend. Peace was all around me, and I smiled again. And I realized, slowly — I wasn’t thinking about it, just enjoying it — that it was the kind of peace that comes from God.
Peace, it turns out, is a lousy workout partner. My mile time was not so hot, and the weight room — well, the less detail given, the better. And with all that, it was still the best workout I’ve had in a long time.
I thought a lot about that experience today, as I continued to winnow down my stack of exams. Why did I feel such peace, — and why right then? It was utterly unrelated to anything I was doing. I had been been working and applying myself; focusing on overcoming problems in life with typical overachiever focus — yet peace ultimately came not because of my efforts, but because of something else entirely. (This made abundantly clear to me by the fact that peace came at the furthest time removed from any of my own feeble efforts at self-improvement).
I recalled that some close friends had mentioned that they were praying for me. And I wondered if that was connected. I think it may be. I think that often, the love of God operates in conjunction with the love of others; we become catalysts for connections to God, through our love for other people.
I also remembered that we had the missionaries over for a dinner appointment on Monday, and they left us with a scripture. At the time, I was shushing kids and barely paid attention as they read John 14:27:
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
Today, as I mulled over my experience of last night, that scripture seemed more relevant, more vibrant. God’s peace is not as the world gives. God’s peace is not directly related to our efforts to overcome our trials. It comes when we don’t expect it; it comforts us and soothes us in the car, or on the gym floor, or as we lay in bed, late at night.
As a lawyer and a know-it-all, I have to fight my tendency to try to extrapolate and explain everything. This time, it’s not all that hard. I don’t know why peace suddenly fell on me last night. I don’t know why God chose to act in that way, at that time. I can’t really explain it, and that’s okay. It was — and that is enough.
I also have to admit to myself that, as wonderful as this peaceful feeling it, I don’t have any particular reliable formula for recapturing it. I’ve never been able to reliably create such moments on purpose. They tend to appear in my life like butterflies, beautiful and chaotic. Like butterflies, impossible to steer. Like butterflies, impossible to cage without killing them. So I can sit and think about the moment now, a day later, and still feel the aftershocks — but they’ll dissipate, soon enough. And I half-wish that I had a button I could push and summon peace-on-demand. But I’ve learned that it’s not something I can demand or control. I can only notice it when it happens; reach out and and enjoy it while it’s there.
And I can share it with you all, a day later, through the internet.
Peace be with you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. Have a good night (morning?), all.
And as for me, I’m off to the gym.