The second of a 3-part series By Darla Isackson
Click here to read part one
Part One reviewed foundation principles of peace: primarily to remember Jesus always and keep his commandments that we “may always have his Spirit to be with [us].” When we partake of the sacrament we are given the very key to peace. But is our weekly promise to remember Him more than words? Can we really keep the “remember Jesus” covenant when the world constantly intrudes on our thoughts and lives in demanding and stressful ways? There is no other way to keep the Spirit with us, no other way to find peace. Jesus IS the way.
Years ago in a BYU education week class I was impressed when Stephen R. Covey explained how easy the Spirit is to access: we need only to be still and listen. In the noisy world we live in, electronics alone can fill every moment with voices and images and ideas that crowd out the Spirit. Brother Covey suggested to a large audience in the field house that we all be still for a couple of minutes. He told us to think of the Savior, then ask a question such as, “What is one thing I could do to be a better disciple of Christ?”
As each of us in that large crowd of hundreds of people sat quietly, asking the Spirit a question of personal import, a spiritual feeling seemed to sweep over the whole audience. It was as though the quality of light increased, and a palpable feeling of joy seemed to be present. I believe most of us felt thrilled to realize we could get answers simply by being still, asking, and listening. “Ask and ye shall receive.”
I urge you to try that same experiment. Be still, think of Jesus, and ask any spiritual question that is on your mind. When I recently challenged a small audience to try this and had my husband time us, it was interesting how long two minutes of silence seemed. I recognized what a rare occurrence meditating in silence, even for two minutes, has become.
The Spirit Always Whispers Peace
The voice of the Spirit may give comfort and specific direction or tell us to repent, but it always invites us to continue the upward path. The presence of the Spirit can be recognized by the peace it brings, and Satan has no counterfeit for that peace. We can know for sure that the voice of the Spirit is not the voice of discouragement. In Ether 2 when the Brother of Jared was chastised by the Lord for three hours for not praying, that experience did not leave him beaten down and depressed. Rather he felt motivated to repent and go to work to build the barges the Lord told him to build. I suspect he might have been a bit in awe that God should care that much about him personally and care that much that he remember to pray.
In part one we also considered how negative comparisons can distract us from remembering Jesus and thus destroy our peace. Now let’s look at another pattern that is equally distracting and peace destroying.
Hanging onto anger and bad feelings.
For decades I have known a man who often expresses anger at others who are misusing their agency. I think he feels his integrity depends on staying angry, that otherwise he would be condoning evil. Does hanging onto such anger ever bring peace? Not that I can see.
How can we avoid unproductive anger and find peace—even with the tsunami of evil that is flooding the earth, especially when some of that evil impacts on us in a very personal manner? I remember the day I learned that three decades ago two of my innocent and unsuspecting sons had been introduced to pornography at an early age, and how that had negatively impacted their lives. They didn’t ask for it, didn’t go looking for it, and yet it was there. Our young people today are even more susceptible to this evil influence that so often pops up on various electronic devices with no invitation from them whatsoever. So many people in the world today choose to follow Satan’s promptings to promote his evil agenda, and we and our loved ones can innocently suffer because of it. How can we keep from being angry about all that? How can we find peace in the midst of such negative realities?
The most important way to maintain our peace is to remember that trusting God means trusting His plan, which includes suffering from misuse of agency—our own and others. We voted in favor of Jesus as our Redeemer and in favor of God’s plan of choice before we came to earth, but Satan never quits trying to get us to change our vote. When the adversary can’t tempt us to DO evil, constant anger at others whose choices cause suffering is sufficient to make us miserable. Can we let go of anger and find a measure of peace by voting again for agency, knowing there is no other way to fulfill God’s purposes?
Another perspective that brings peace with the painful consequences of others’ wrong choices is to remember that God consistently brings Good even from Evil.
Because God knows all, He made plans eons ahead to bring good from the most evil choices all through human history. Think of Joseph of Egypt. God knew Joseph’s brothers would make the unthinkable choice to sell their brother into Egypt as a slave. Through that very negative circumstance God opened the way, after many trials of Joseph’s faith, to make him the means of saving the lives of not only his family, but a whole nation.
Some of my favorite scriptures are: D&C 122:7, “know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” And Romans 8:28 “All things work together for good.” I see the promise of these scriptures fulfilled in the profound life lessons I learned after my son’s death that I was able to document in articles and books to help others. I invite you to think how those promises are being fulfilled in your own life.
Our peace and connection with the Spirit is determined to a great degree by our willingness to forgive the wrong choices of others. Part of voting again for agency, is remembering that freedom of choice is why we all need the Atonement. We have such mixed up ideas about forgiving others—as though our forgiveness will somehow diminish their accountability. We need to remember that final judgment and absolving sins is strictly God’s business, between the person and God alone. But letting go of bad feelings is our business, and our part of the forgiveness process—the part that frees US.
As so often happens, as I was pondering this principle I got a real-life opportunity to practice it all over again. I had a distressing conversation with a family member who, by the way is in no way evil. But I felt maligned, misjudged and yes, miserable. I was far from the peace I desired! I put both our names on the temple prayer roll and prayed to know what to do: it seemed like such an un-solvable problem since I had no control over the other person’s thoughts or issues. And my misery seemed realistic since this wasn’t a situation I could walk away from. But as I prayed I realized that my part was to relinquish my bad feelings, which had been going on for a while since this was a recurring situation, and ask God to replace them with a renewed love for this person.
I remembered the scripture in Alma 24:19 where the people buried their weapons of war for peace. I wanted peace. What were my weapons that I needed to bury? Comparing? Judging? Trying to be right? Resenting? Not relinquishing bad feelings from previous similar conversations? Was I willing to bury them all in order to have peace?
I visualized my hurt feelings, my need to be right, my need to avoid seeing my part, every bad feeling I had, going down a golden cord and being buried deep in the earth. And I kept asking the Lord to replace the bad feelings with renewed love for this person. I began to feel that love. I don’t know why it continues to surprise me, but I was reminded in a powerful way that prayer succeeds when all else fails.
By the next morning I was beginning to understand the other side of the story—that I was not the only one who was hurting. I was prompted that I could end this misery by simply going to this person’s house, expressing my renewed love, asking forgiveness for my part of the problem and telling her I knew there was only one source of such discord: the adversary, and that we couldn’t let him win. It took so much courage to walk up to that door when I had no idea what kind of reception I would receive. Much to my amazement, the Spirit had also renewed her love for me and she had also been taught that the adversary was trying to make us miserable. We were soon embracing and expressing our determination to stay out of his clutches.
The point of this story is that we drive away the Spirit and lose our peace when we harbor bad feelings, and that relinquishing bad feelings, through prayer and humility is the only way to regain our inner peace.
Failing to let go of negative feelings can create a barrier between ourselves and the Spirit. It’s easier to let go if we pray to see the other person as God sees them. We need to remember that only He knows their whole story and that God loves the person who has hurt us just as much as He loves us. I’ve come to recognize that we are all wounded little children just doing the best that we can.
To conclude part two of this series let’s look at some exercises that can decrease stress and increase our open-ness to the Spirit.
When we are stressed, we nearly always take shallow breaths. Sometimes we almost hold our breath.
We can choose to let go of stress and invite more peace by making deep breathing a habit. I love to breathe deeply while I say to myself, “Breathe in peace, joy, and gratitude, Breathe out stress, pain, and fear.”
We need a connection to the earth, to God-created beauty. Walking barefoot on the grass, sitting on it, looking up at the trees, watching a stream become a misty waterfall, any connection with nature can increase our peace. Sunrises, sunsets, rainbows, and majestic mountain peaks are immortalized in paintings, songs, and poems because of the peace we may feel when we view them. Nature can truly soften our hearts and open them to hear the voice of the Spirit.
Listening to sacred or peaceful music can also decrease stress and open us to the Spirit. Much has been written about the power of music, and music is used in our worship services because of the way it engraves gospel messages on our hearts and invites the peace of the Spirit. We are so blessed to have access to peaceful music in ways that would have appeared like magic to our ancestors. We can choose to let beautiful music calm our hearts almost any time and any place we may be.
Many kinds of writing can help return us to a place of peace by helping us get rid of emotions that do not serve us. For many years in my first marriage I did not admit or process my bad feelings. During the divorce process, I knew that in order to move ahead with peace in my heart I needed to confess my anger and get rid of my negative feelings. A dearly-loved counselor suggested going to a room where I could be alone, then inviting myself to freely write my deepest feelings. She told me to write over each line immediately so it couldn’t be read, and after the session to shred the paper and throw it away or burn it as a symbol of letting go. I was stunned to find myself sobbing the first time I tried it. So many sad, hurt feelings stuffed over the years, never dealt with, never looked at came out on the paper. After each session I felt a sense of relief. In a way it was like cleaning out a vacuum that is so full of debris it can’t do its job.
I became more functional as I cleaned out the chambers of my heart and asked the Lord to fill them with charity. Writing the words on paper was like confessing to the Lord, telling Him everything. He already knew, but somehow it was so therapeutic to get it all out.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Another writing therapy that can help us on our quest for inner peace is called cognitive behavioral therapy. In a nutshell, this therapy allows us to recognize and change thought distortions. So many times we aren’t even aware of our distorted, convoluted thinking until we write it down and look at it.
To simplify the process, I write in one column what I am thinking, and in another what could be more true. For example, one day I wrote, “I can’t do anything right.” I immediately thought, “is that true? Can I be sure it’s true? What thought could be more true?” Then I wrote, “I make plenty of mistakes but I also make many good choices. With the Lord’s help I can learn from my mistakes and move forward.”
In part three we’ll see how writing exercises can also help us recognize and cling to the truths that bring peace. Then we’ll learn how to transcend two other peace-destroying patterns.
Author note: Do you know someone whose life has been impacted by the suicide of a loved one? The common pattern is to avoid the subject and avoid processing the grief, but there is a better way. Help them find “the peace that surpasses understanding” by pointing them to one of the following: If they are LDS, direct them to After My Son’s Suicide: An LDS Mother Finds Comfort in Christ and Faith to Go On. If they are not LDS, direct them to: Finding Hope while Grieving Suicide: Opening Your Heart to the Healing Only God Can Give. For more information go to my website: <darlaisackson.com>.