A conversation on peace and distress
Under the Mask
In our new series Under the Mask we’re taking a look at all the ways we as followers of Christ can try and put on masks to cover up what is really happening inside. Hopefully this will be an exercise in us growing in being more real with ourselves and letting God into our messes.
We’ll focus on these things in the next five weeks:
The mask of peace while feeling or being distressed.
The mask of joy while feeling or being full of sadness or being empty.
The mask of security while feeling or being overwhelmed by worry.
The mask of love while feeling or being ruled by hate.
The mask of right relationship while feeling or being estranged.
Think about current life because of covid-19.
How does wearing a mask affect your connecting and relating with people?
Don’t worry, this isn’t an anti-mask rhetoric series.
You can “breathe” easy. (ba-dum-tss)
We are going a lot deeper than that, but there is pain in wearing a mask every day.
The fogging up of glasses.
The restricted breathing.
The sweaty face.
The moments it’s hard to hear what someone is saying.
Now think about the metaphorical masks we sometimes wear.
How does wearing a superficial mask affect connecting and relating with people?
I believe there are things God wants for us, and even expects of us, but he’s not dictating it all for us. He invites us to connection with Him. To partnership.
Think about all the people that have wants for us and expectations of us. Family, friends, co-workers, bosses, neighbors, pastors. The list goes on and on.
But it doesn’t end with just people. There are systems, organizations, culture; all of these also contain some level of want or expectation.
Think of all of the formal and informal subcultures that you identify with. Chances are, hopes and expectations are part of the experience of all of these.
This is not a bad thing! Life without these things having wants, hopes and expectations for us would be terrible. No care, no investment. But, the unintended result of these wants/hopes/expectations can be pressure to perform. Pressure to put on the mask of “I’ve got it.”
Let me give you a very simple example. Two people who are part of a “fitness subculture” bump into each other in public. Neither one of them have really been working out much. But the conversation goes like this:
“Hey how have you been? How’s working out going?”
“Oh it’s good, yeah, just maintaining, how about you?”
“Oh yeah, me too for sure, just keep going.”
While this could be a moment of honesty, it becomes a moment of clever dodging questions, evasive answers, and some outright lying and certainly guilt and shame.
Pressure to perform overrunning honesty or transparency.
This can happen in many environments, and maybe happens most often in Christianity.
Would you rather have to always say what you are thinking and feeling or never have people interested in what you are thinking and feeling? Why?
We’re talking about peace to start the series off. But what is peace?
Would you know it if you had it?
Is it something that can’t be missed?
Is it something that you know when you see it?
A simple definition would be freedom from disturbance; tranquility.
Peace is referred to 92 times in the New Testament alone.
The Greek word for peace represents a state of national tranquillity; exemption from the rage and havoc of war; peace between individuals, i.e. harmony, concord; security, safety, prosperity, felicity, (because peace and harmony make and keep things safe and prosperous); of the Messiah's peace the way that leads to peace (salvation); of Christianity, the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot, of whatsoever sort that is; the blessed state of devout and upright men after death.
Whew. The problem with definitions is that they often don’t really identify the reality that we know.
When we say things like “I am happy” or “I am overwhelmed”, these words don’t identify the scale of reality.
Are you happy like the moment when you find a nickel in a jeans pocket?
Or are you happy like the moment you find out that an old dear friend is coming to visit?
Are you overwhelmed like the moment you have to decide what fun thing you are going to do this weekend?
Or are you overwhelmed like the moment you hear that your job is being eliminated?
What are the degrees of peace? What stories (narrative) illustrate the degrees of peace?
We can find a lot of scriptures that talk about this concept of peace, and we can see these degrees in scripture.
"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
All of these verses make really good greeting cards and bookmarks. But what do these verses really represent? When you read about peace in scripture, what is your response?
When you see peace in scripture,
Are you thankful?
Do you “feel” at peace?
Do you think you’re allowed to have peace?
Do you think “yeah right, there’s no way that is true or real, at least I haven’t seen it”?
Do you think like it’s your job to go and get the peace? Like you have to do the series of things and then peace will be the prize you get?
Do you feel or think nothing?
We can have all of these experiences with many concepts through scripture. It’s not unique to peace. What might feel a little more unique to peace right now is that 2020 has been anything but “peaceful.” Making a list of everything that’s happened this year, peace is not something that comes to mind quickly.
What is your internal response when you read scripture about or think about peace?
Let’s zoom out for a moment. This series will focus on quite a few things and their “opposites” if you will.
Security. (fear and worry)
Then there’s all the things we aren’t even covering.
How many of these things do we feel like we’re trying to gain through some kind of action or dance or series of right moves?
Peace, joy, love, security, and many more. All of these things that we would say are good and worth having in life. Where do they come from?
Zooming back in. I know a little bit about peace. I definitely want it. When I’m at my less healthy points I have the thought “well I know I should have peace. I know it’s available to me.”
But where does it come from?
Think about peace ideas you are most familiar with. World peace. Peace between previously warring nations. Where does that peace come from?
Peace between people who maybe were previously at odds. Where does that peace come from?
An internal sense of peace during a really difficult time in life. Where does that peace come from?
Where does peace come from?
I think back to when we walked through Matthew and I think about the story we come back to every year at Christmastime.
Right before Jesus showed up, the political climate of the world was intense. Violence was intense. The Jewish people were waiting for a messiah who they thought was going to come set them free from this oppression from Rome.
Jesus comes onto the scene, and thought it’s much different over the next 30 years than people thought, he’s brought into what’s going on with “tidings of great joy”, “glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.”
In the middle of oppression, peace shows up.
This story from the gospels seems to really pinpoint where peace actually comes from. Or at least it shows me that peace doesn’t come from the places I usually expect it to.
On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”
Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”
Where did peace come from in this story?
Even though I know peace came from Jesus (external theology), I often treat peace like it’s supposed to be a byproduct of my circumstances and how I handle them (internal theology.)
Jesus didn’t just experience peace or see it play out in his circumstance. Literally, this man is called the prince of peace. Jesus really truly had peace, but it wasn’t for his own sake, so that he could feel at ease or not have to deal with hard situations. He wasn’t trying to get to a point where he “felt peaceful.” I can’t imagine Jesus walking around saying, “I just really need some peace right now.” I think it’s because he carried it. He walked in it. He experienced it. It was part of his life rhythm. I think it went deep. Peace was part of who he was, and I bet he probably didn’t expect peace to be a common denominator in all of his external experiences.
Even at his worst moments, it seems like Jesus didn’t lose peace. That didn’t mean he wasn’t grieving. That didn’t mean he wasn’t in pain. But it doesn’t seem like peace was something he lost or that left him. It wasn’t an experience or a feeling.
Maybe I’ve just been so concerned with peace in my circumstances for so long and have not realized that God cares about what’s going on in my spirit and my soul and maybe doesn’t care a lot about whether or not I have peace in circumstances or feel peaceful in circumstances.
Let’s just say for a moment that peace is something based on circumstances. That it’s something to be found through what happens or doesn’t happen throughout life. If peace is something that is supposed to be overarching and all encompassing then it can’t be circumstantial. Because circumstances constantly shift. Distress is unavoidable and constant in life.
Maybe I can have circumstantial peace in the easier events. What about the impossible ones?
Last week I watched a mother show up on a beach looking for her child who had just been swept under in a current. Where is peace in that situation? It can’t be circumstantial. Impossible. To go tell that woman that there are just some steps she needs to take to get peace, there are just some things she needs to do, there is just a different way she has to look at the circumstance...none of it works. That circumstance is completely devoid of peace.
Maybe we need to look at these things differently. Maybe peace doesn’t mean the absence of chaos or pain or distress. Maybe peace is something that is right in the middle of chaos or pain or distress.
Think about this in reality and through your own experiences.
What is peace/where is peace found in the midst of chaos, pain and distress?
I want God given peace.
Does that mean everything is perfect?
Does that mean there is no tension or struggle?
Does that mean I don’t have a need in the world?
Do I need to be perfect to get it?
What is the peace of God?
I bring us back to the context of Jesus speaking to his disciples about the gift of peace he is offering them in John 16.
Jesus shares about his soon coming death and departure.
This did not stir up peace in the disciples but tossed them into internal and external chaos.
Then Jesus builds this picture of current pain, but long term peace.
This picture of chaos in the world, but peace with God.
The father is at peace with you because you have relationship with Me.
I have told you these things so you may have peace.
Jesus was all about opening the door to peaceful relationship with God. People of the time knew that peace with God was unattainable. Jesus was in a culture that saw all things that were anthisises to peace in this world were signs of the lack of peace with God.
Sickness? Struggle? Failure? Brokenness? Hmm, must be at odds with God.
Jesus is the door to peace with God.
There can be lots of external pressure to be at peace, especially through the worldview lens of Christianity.
But what if you remove the mask and what is there is actually peace?
What has Jesus actually accomplished and how does it affect us?
How has and is God pursuing peace with you?
How can the peace of God and distress coexist outside of just being a show?
Take It Deeper Questions
Read John 14:25-27
What is peace? How do you know when you have it or when you see it in someone else?
How does a person get it if they don’t have it?
How can you help others in their relationship with peace?
How should peace be affected by current circumstances and how should it be unaffected by current circumstances?
Bible Reading Plan
2 Corinthians 7
2 Corinthians 8
2 Corinthians 9
2 Corinthians 10
2 Corinthians 11
2 Corinthians 12
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