My weary eyes have seen too much war and genocide, too much evil manipulation and dying. I have taken my turn at the entrance of the Sandeman Hospital in Quetta, Pakistan, near the border of Afghanistan, and watched the hundreds of injured and sick lined up on the sidewalks with family members holding the heads of the wounded in their laps, and an intravenous contraption in their hands. There was no more room for the injured in the hospital.
I have listened to the words of the Marxist leaders in Africa, who were routing the frightened people from their villages to the newly formed refugee camps: “You don’t have to kill all these fish; you just have to get them to the lake and then drain the lake.”
I stood in the neighboring country of Uganda as the Rwandan radio stations screamed, “Pick up the machete now! We will have jobs, power, wealth, and homes as soon as every Tutsi in our blessed homeland is dead!”
I was born before the U.S. became involved in World War II. I was in grade school when the war ended. As kids, our time after school was spent going around the neighborhood on our bikes looking for discarded gum wrappers and foil candy wrappers. We would carefully peel the aluminum foil from the paper part of the wrappers. and put the foil into rolled balls of aluminum. The schools held contests to see who could collect the largest ball of “tin-foil.” What we had collected would then be turned over to the U.S. military in order to build peace machines, so that we could win the war.
After the war was over, it was announced that they were constructing a huge building in New York City called the United Nations. We were promised that there would never be another war again. Everyone who had a dispute would simply come to the building and discuss their problems and agree on a proper solution. Instead of collecting any more “tin-foil,” we put our efforts toward collecting “buffalo nickels,” and our class sent them to New York City to build the magnificent building with a flag of every country in the world in the front of the building. It seemed like we sent a lot of money, but we knew it would be worth it to always have peace.
It was hoped that peace would be a gradual process of changing people’s opinions and slowly learning how to tear down old barriers and quietly constructing new ways of thinking and new structures. It was hoped that the power of love would overcomethe love of power, and there would always just be peace everywhere. They said that the old way of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was really ridiculous, because the end result would be that everybody would end up blind and toothless. So, peace was better.
Once we were informed that peace now lived in the big building in New York City, we began asking ourselves where war lived . . . what made it so awful and terrible? Was it possible that the awfulness lived inside us? Was it likely that war really grew out of the desire of certain individuals to gain an advantage at the expense of others? Had we forgotten the desire to make other people of our world better off?
We all watched the experiment of the UN take place in New York City. Albert Einstein reminded us, “Every kind of peaceful cooperation among men is primarily based on mutual trust and only secondarily on institutions such as courts of justice and police.” There seemed to be a certain kind of futility in the thinking that the sheep could talk about peace with wolves. Peace had to be more than just the absence of war. It had to be a virtue, a state of mind, a spirit of kindness, justice, and righteousness on this earth.
Teddy Roosevelt had instructed us that, “Peace is normally a great good, and normally it coincides with righteousness, but it is righteousness and not peace which should bind the conscience of a nation as it should bind the conscience of an individual; and neither a nation nor an individual can surrender conscience to another’s keeping.” That is why the slogan “peace at any price” won’t work. I have discovered while observing human nature in over 150 countries of the world that this particular doctrine of peace has done more mischief than any other espousal afloat. It has promoted more wars and strife than any of the notorious and ruthless conquerors. It has undermined and nearly destroyed the dignity and equilibrium necessary to the welfare and liberties of the world’s fragile cultures. If you can’t find peace within yourself, you will be frustrated to look for it elsewhere. It is always good to remember that peace won by compromise of principles will always be a short lived solution.
Before her death, Mother Teresa pointed out to us, “Everybody today seems to be in such a terrible rush, anxious for greater developments and greater riches and so on, so that children have very little time for their parents. Parents have very little time for each other, and in the home there begins the disruption of peace of the world.” Thankfully, that dysfunctional cycle can be reversed. You can find and experience peace within yourself, peace within your family, and you can become a person who lives at peace with others. That inner peace can take root as you effectively embrace it regardless of all the dysfunctional circumstances. You will find the effects of that peace multiplying exponentially in your own life as you experience the joy of providing that peace to others. Blessed are the peace makers.
Probably, the most difficult thing you will experience in embracing and practicing your new life of inner peace is the readjustment of your heart and your head in order to calmly and gratefully accept the gift of peace that God wants to give to you. I like to think of it as an attitude of spiritual hospitality. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). I am bone-tired of seeing and hearing the cacophony of strife and conflict throughout this otherwise resplendent world, and have concluded that to be at rest with God is to experience true peace. It comes from the inside and alters all things on the outside. The world is a beautiful place, and we can do something positive about the discord.
My prayer for you for the coming new year is that you will not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever; that a calm spirit will trump every ounce of disquietude, even though your whole world seems upside down. Let your heart reach out to others in love, warmth, and encouragement and expect God’s peace to surround and protect you. Be assured that whatever happens to you is less significant than what happens within you. Happy New Year!