Nervousness and nausea crept once again over my tired frame. My digestive system began to entangle itself into what seemed like the Gordian knot. Every prayer and Bible promise uttered seemed to bounce off the ceiling and come crashing down on my dorm room floor. Downtrodden and distracted by my own emotions, I ventured to my Organic Chemistry final exam, hoping and praying for the best possible outcome.
This experience was nothing new, and definitely not due to the subject matter; more often than I can remember, stress-induced restlessness attacked my mind, and thus spread its influence to the rest of my body. My early college years were tough for me, and whether it was an exam, a chapel talk, or a leadership meeting, I often found myself bombarded with this cloud of emotions, whose origin I could not find. After obtaining some nausea medication from a walk-in clinic (which didn’t help much), I was eventually able to visit my doctor over Christmas break.
Anxiety. Being able to finally pinpoint and name what troubled my brain was simultaneously extremely helpful and disheartening. For my doctor, this meant she could prescribe specific medications to help calm my nerves (which also didn’t help). For me, I could adjust the trajectory of my prayers to hopefully eradicate such fruitless worrying. But how well had such worked in the past? What if I just end up becoming anxious about my anxiety? Was there a long-term solution, or just an unfortunate glimpse into a rather discouraging future?
I don’t share these experiences with you to solicit your pity in any way, shape, or form for that is not my need or desire. This experience of mine serves to provide context. All too often, I find myself resting upon the assumption that everyone around me are just as cool, collected, and care-free as they appear, when in reality, tumultuousness may pervade body, mind, and soul. So, in refusing to make such an assumption, I’d like to leave with you what Jesus left with me, faithfully, every time my anxiety began to bubble over:
“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” (John 14:27, KJV).
Over-quoted and under-appreciated, this verse meant very little to me in those dark times, for I couldn’t say that I was experiencing what Jesus had promised. But I still chose to cling to it and repeat it day after day. Here, Jesus reminds us that His peace, unlike that of the world, isn’t some temporary relief that He chooses to leave with us intermittently. Additionally, it isn’t tied to His immediate physical presence. The peace Christ offers is a gift, something we can hold and own, something tangible, something that can be seen, felt, and heard. More than this, something about embracing this peace allows trouble and fear to leave the heart, if we let it. But that was my problem, why wasn’t it leaving? How could I let peace dispel the darkness?
Then it hit me like a ton of bricks.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23, KJV)
Yet another often-recited text, but this time, new depth and meaning spewed forth, granting the clarity I so desperately needed. All along, I had been kneeling, pleading with outstretched arms for the gift of peace to be bestowed, the cure-all from heaven that would bring the restitution and relief I so desperately desired. But what if peace wasn’t just a gift, but a fruit? What if, instead of an inexhaustible box of peace pills, Jesus left with me the Comforter, the manufacturer and source of such? What if, instead of trying to force peace into my mind, I sought a different solution?
Fast forward two years. As I rounded the corner and turned the knob on our classroom door, about to be confronted with yet another stressful exam, a little placard in the hallway caught my eye. It read, “Peace – not the absence of trouble but the presence of Christ,” a quote from Sheila Walsh I had definitely heard before. But this time, it took on new meaning. It served as a milestone of how God had led me to His peace, for no longer was I tormented by uncontrollable anxiety, but instead, overwhelmed by peace that could only come from our Savior’s presence.The presence of Jesus, in a more involved and acknowledged way, had dispelled the darkness of anxiety. Sure, not all stories of neurological disorders turn out this way, but if you’re struggles bear resemblance to my own, I encourage you to not underestimate the power of our storm-calming, ever-present help in troublesome times.
Focus is huge for us as Adventists, endeavoring to venture on the straight and narrow, day by day, closer to our heavenly home. But far too often, we’re like Peter and the disciples in the boat, desiring far too much to see the wind and waves die down, and far too little to notice our Savior’s out-stretched arms. We’re quick to notice what peace isn’t taking care of in our lives, and slow to acknowledge the Gift-giver amidst the stormy sea.
So, the question for you and I today is simply this: will we accept?
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7, ESV).
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