"I just want peace," he said. "My life is full of anxiety that I can't shake." Behind the silver-framed glasses his eyes glistened with tears, youth reflected in the smooth brown cheeks. Dark tendrils of hair hung around his face, loosened from the man bun he sported. He talked to me in a quiet fury of words. He was in my office for an appointment to test for HIV. I often hear words from people that have been compressed for long periods of time--feelings and issues that are seemingly unrelated to having their finger pricked for the blood sample and assessing vulnerabilities for exposure to the HIV virus. He went on. "This world is too chaotic--climate change, the crazy politics, pressure to work long hours. I want to be like you. You seem so calm." All of this in one brief encounter. A man I'd never met. A man I'd likely not meet again.
Little did this individual realize how well I could relate with his emotions. If I appeared calm, my demeanor was a result of God's grace in my life. The day this lovely man came to my office, I'd had an internal meltdown of sorts--bemoaning many of the same feelings of anxiety--pressure at work to perform, the polarized political environment; global agony with tsunamis and tornadoes, floods and fires. "God," I prayed. "How do I manage these feelings of helplessness and panic?"
The next day I listened to a podcast by Graham Cooke, a virtual spiritual mentor. Mr. Cooke recommended this exercise. He suggested imagining oneself at a crossroads. One direction points toward the negative feeling that is present. "Anxiety," I identified. Then he said to imagine another sign pointing toward the opposite direction. "What would that be?" I thought that my opposite direction would be the concept of "peace." Then Mr. Cooke said, "Imagine walking in that new direction, then standing there in that place. Not moving from it. Not going backward toward the negative location. Once you are firmly situated in the new territory, imagine turning on a spigot and allowing cool waters of God's refreshment to flow over you. All you need to do is receive."
I practiced the exercise. I experienced God's peace. My mind calmed. The fretfulness and worry subsided. I remembered the promise of Jesus in John 14:27: I am leaving you with a gift--peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn't fragile like the peace the world gives. So don't be troubled or afraid (New LIving Translation).
I thought, too, that experiencing God's peace is not something I strive to do. It's more about a decision I make regarding what direction I choose, then staying in that place to receive--opening my heart and mind to God's rivers of mercy, kindness, goodness, favor, wisdom, peace and joy, All of these riches come pouring down from Him in refreshment and restoration. Why would I stay in the arid geography of anxiety and fear when I can choose a different direction and make myself vulnerable to His streams in the desert?
Yes, glorious things! What wonder! What joy! May we be refreshed as by streams in the desert.~Psalm 126:2 (New Living Translation)