“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:27, NRSVUE).
I feel a knot in my stomach whenever I pick up my phone and look at my Google Calendar. I open a calendar date on the screen, and I see so many activities or reminders scheduled that I begin to feel overwhelmed. I wonder for a moment what it would feel like to have a blank calendar of events, even if for just a few hours, and then I take a deep breath and keep going, because it’s the only thing I know how to do.
During the initial phase of the COVID pandemic, when everything shut down or moved to a virtual platform, I felt a crushing weight, too, but it was a feeling of being frozen. Now, it is a feeling of agitation, of restlessness. It is a feeling of never being able to do enough or keep up with the endless list of expectations and demands. And then I feel guilty for feeling this way. After all, I wrote a whole book about holy rhythms for overwhelmed souls. I should know better, right?
When I take a moment and get outside of my own head, I look around and I notice the overwhelm in other people too. People lament to me how tired they are. I wonder out loud with them if we were this busy before COVID changed our lives, or if we’ve lost stamina for the kinds of lives we had before. After hearing the repeated refrain from others, I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re in the exhausted and overwhelmed stage of the pandemic, and we are in need of Christ’s peace to break through and restore our weary minds, bodies, and souls. We are in the stage of the pandemic where we need to give up our busyness more than ever before so that we can receive the peace that Jesus gives to us.
“…we are in need of Christ’s peace to break through and restore our weary minds, bodies, and souls.”
In John 14, Jesus was teaching his disciples prior to the crucifixion. In this multi-chapter teaching, Jesus comforts his anxious followers and reminds them that he is giving them his peace. He will not leave them alone. He will send the Holy Spirit to comfort them and remind them of what’s true when the world is telling them a different story. I imagine that the disciples had a hard time receiving this teaching at the time. It’s hard to hear words of comfort and peace when you are bogged down by confusion and worry and uncertainty. But, I believe eventually they were able to look back and remember Jesus’s words. Eventually they were able to receive the gift he was giving to them, albeit imperfectly.
I find it interesting that Jesus tells his disciples both not to let their hearts be troubled and not to let their hearts be afraid. The word for “troubled” in the Greek refers to agitation or a moving back and forth. The word for “fear” is only used here in the Bible, and it means to shrink in fear, or to be frozen in dread. Christ’s peace reaches into our anxious hearts and minds, whether we are desperately trying to keep moving through all of our scheduled expectations or we are finding ourselves too frozen to do anything at all.
This Advent season, if you are finding yourself overwhelmed, Christ is offering you his peace. Peace isn’t just a quieting of the turmoil in our lives, but is a restoring of the things that are broken and separated from each other. We are offered a moment to breathe and to take in the good news that we are God’s beloved children, whether we’ve accomplished everything on our list or we’ve been too tired to get started.
“Peace isn’t just a quieting of the turmoil in our lives, but is a restoring of the things that are broken and separated from each other.”
Friends, this week, take a look at your growing to-do list and allow yourself to take yourself off the hook. It’s okay (good even!) to set a limit and say “no” to something. We are not the people we were three years ago. We are changed by the grief, by the worry, by the suffering of what we have endured together. We do not need to earn God’s love by forging ahead. In this busy Advent season, Jesus is breathing his peace upon us and inviting us to be still.
Prayer: Gracious God of peace, you see how overwhelmed I am, and you are holding your hands out to me to restore and refresh me. Help me find the courage to put down my expectations for myself so that I can receive the peace that comes from the declaration that I am your beloved child—here, now, before I’ve done anything at all. Amen.