Inner Peace is a Bitch

It’s safe to say that this page is in very real danger of being crumbled up and thrown in the trash. Even now the sparseness of the page is rivaled only by the empty gaze with whom I stare blankly in hopes of an epiphany, a revelation, and believing that osmosis is a practical means in which to convey information in word and sentence form. I approach the subject of serenity with an inexplicable hesitancy. Being a regular customer at the International House of Panic I feel more than under qualified to convey any applicable thoughts on the value of serenity. After having made at least three fledgling attempts to write this I sought counsel from my wife lamenting to her of my struggles writing on a topic that I was not currently experiencing. How could I be in a place of inner turbulence and indecision and yet some how write about a calmness of spirit? My wife in a stroke brilliance suggested that that is precisely what I should write about. Why didn’t I think of that? So the more I consider the difficulties of serenity the more I understand.
In one of the apostle Paul’s many letters to the Galatians he outlines what’s known as the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Through out the scriptures we are commanded to bear these spiritual fruits and the third one in is peace. If you’re anything like me this a daunting task, but why is that? Why is serenity so fleeting? Why is the fruit of peace or any of the other fruits so difficult? I think there are 2 reasons.
When we discuss the metaphor of the fruit we are missing a big part of the equation. When we’re examining a picture of a tree and its fruit there is something we’re overlooking. There’s something we’re not considering, something that we can’t see. We often forget that the picture we’re looking at is time lapsed. What do I mean? A tree’s fruit doesn’t grow overnight. If you plant apple seeds it’s going to be quite a while before you grow any apples. A tree must endure a long journey of growth suffering the trials and rigors of the passing seasons before it reaches the harvest all the while being constantly nurtured and cared for. This isn’t a one step process. It’s a growing process that takes time and effort. The reason bearing this fruit isn’t easy is because “bearing” anything isn’t easy. Ask any mother and they will be more than happy to inform you of the agonizing details of the arduously excruciating labor of “bearing” a child. Medically speaking when a woman is in labor it is genuinely a near death experience. The birthing process pushes the human body to its absolute limits. It takes it to the brink of disaster and looms over the edge. It’s not pretty but something beautiful emerges at the end. Stay strong be patient and endure.
The second reason serenity is so eluding is more complex and harder to swallow. Reexamining the fruits of the sprit love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control something stands out to me and it makes me take a much harder look at myself than I’m comfortable with. I recently heard a sermon by Rev. Vince Anderson the co pastor of a church in New York called Revolution. The title of his message was called “My Least Favorite Fruit – Self Control”. I believe the reason being at peace and bearing all the other fruits of the spirit are so trying is because they are all contingent on self control and let’s face it self control is tough just ask anyone who’s ever been on a diet.
In my opinion self control is the fruit upon which all the others are hung. It is through self control that we love our enemies. We have joy despite our sorrows. We are patient through trials and the unknown. When we have self control we show kindness in the face of the unkind and we express goodness in a world consumed by evil and malevolence. We are faithful when fidelity is foreign and it would be easier to turn our backs and walk away. With self control we have the gentleness of a lamb even when being led to the slaughter. And it is through self control that we can speak peace to the storm. There’s a great episode of “Seinfeld” in which Frank Costanza played by Jerry Stiller is advised by his doctor to say “Serenity Now” every time he’s in a situation that puts his blood pressure at risk of rising. The episode found him adversely yelling the expression instead. I see a lot of myself in that, screaming “SERENITY NOW!!!” in a furious fit of rage when I have allowed someone or something to push my buttons. My efforts for inner peace are often futile. In the 12th verse of the Tao Te Ching Lao-tzu writes that “The master observes the world but trusts his inner vision. He allows things to come and go. He prefers what is within to what is without.” In the 26th verse he goes on to say that “To be restless is to lose one’s self-mastery”. One who has self control is not swayed by the wiles of the outside world. A person who has attained self-mastery is rooted and grounded by their inner vision and is not motivated by a world of appearances and sensory data.
Calmness of mind is difficult because self control is difficult but why is it that self control is so difficult? Why is it that this is one of the many things that are easier said then done? Our society has equated self control with self enhancement. Self improvement is a multi million dollar industry lining entire aisles of book stores with books, CDs, and DVDs. Conferences, seminars, retreats you name it they’ve got it. We are never endingly chasing down the dream of “Ten steps to a better you”. Self control is not about self improvement. We have to realize that self improvement is a byproduct of self control not the destination. Self mastery is all about humility. Lao-tzu said “For this reason the sage puts himself last and so ends up ahead.” Matthew 20:16 affirms this when Jesus said that “the last shall be first and the first shall be last”. Self control is selfless. It is a letting go of the “self” and living free of ego. Lao-tzu also said “Serve the needs of others, and all your own needs will be fulfilled. Through selfless action, fulfillment is attained.” We are fulfilled through fulfilling the needs of others. We will never attain peace if we do not bring it to some one else. “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:14). The great apostle Paul…McCartney that is, said that “In the end the love you take is equal to the love you make”. You get what you give.
Serenity does not exist with out self control. Peace will not occur with out self mastery. Not one fruit of the spirit will ever be gained unless the tree that bore it first entwined its roots in self control. But above all else we cannot forget the most important fact of all in that a tree does not eat its own fruit. A tree does not produce fruit for its own benefit but for the sustenance of others. Be the tree. Bear the fruit. Feed the hungry. It is your calling, fulfill it.
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