Peace through tears

Last week, I took a friend for chemo treatment. I felt some apprehension leading up to it. Caregiving is not one of my top gifts, and I expected to feel some sadness in witnessing my friend’s suffering at the effects of the drugs and in remembering when I took my late mother-in-law for her treatment.

So I asked some others to pray for me, and I too asked God to give me peace in this small act of service. As I picked up my friend, I really did feel at peace, and that sense of calm remained through her appointment and the return drive home.

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The moment I walked off her porch, however, tears welled in my eyes. I fought them as I made my way to the car and shut the door. My inclination was to wipe the tears away (along with the feelings behind them), drive home, and go on with my day. But they were pretty insistent, so I gave in to the waterworks and had a good cry for a few minutes.

When I stopped, I chided myself for the lapse in my calm demeanor. My tears, runny nose, and red face served as accusers—God had answered our prayers and had given me peace, but had I allowed it to slip away. Once again, I thought, I’d taken my eyes off God and focused on the bad and the sad. Shame on me.

As I’ve thought more about my reaction that day, though, I’ve wondered more broadly about my understanding of what it means to be “at peace.” Is it really just feeling calm in a storm? Contentment in the midst of sad things? Feeling A-OK when something is most definitely not OK? Saying “it’s all good” when facing tough situations? I think that’s how I’ve always viewed peace: as an absence of—or perhaps, on some level, an ability to deny—any emotion that’s not a warm, fuzzy feeling.

But God gave us the full spectrum of emotions, so it seems strange that in granting us a “peace that surpasses all understanding,” God would disconnect us from some of those emotions as though they were invalid or unnatural. Perhaps, instead, his peace comes amid those feelings—not replacing or cancelling them out. And perhaps I’m focusing on the wrong word all together. Maybe instead of asking God for peace in a stressful circumstance, I should ask God to help me be aware of his presence in it, to help me authentically feel all the resulting emotions, and yet be assured that, in the words of Julian of Norwich, “All will be well, and all manner of things will be well.”

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