In a world of turmoil, with crisis after crisis, stress and anxiety thrive. How can we find peace of mind when life seems unpredictable and out of control?
Even before the coronavirus pandemic and the resultant global economic crisis, life for many was stressful and uncertain. But facing the onslaught of an invisible enemy and unprecedented emergency measures, everyone’s level of anxiety and stress has exploded.
And like disastrous hurricanes, these crises have spawned tornadoes of trauma for families and individuals around the world.
The crises of 2020 have been compared to some of the worst catastrophes in history, including the world wars of the last century. We’re told things will never be the same.
The feelings of panic, lack of control and uncertainty fuel worry and fear, depression and substance abuse. The mental anguish and turmoil sap us of hope and peace of mind.
Natural reaction to disaster
Experts acknowledge that emotional distress is to be expected in times of trauma.
The CDC says, “It is natural to feel stress, anxiety, grief, and worry during and after a disaster. Everyone reacts differently, and your own feelings will change over time. Notice and accept how you feel. Taking care of your emotional health during an emergency will help you think clearly and react to the urgent needs to protect yourself and your family.”
But facing unrelenting waves of crises makes this even more challenging.
The new normal?
Do we have to just accept the unpredictability of our age as the “new normal”? It certainly is not normal! And its effects are not healthy or sustainable.
So where can we find inner peace and serenity during stressful and uncertain times?
Finding peace of mind
How can we find true inner peace? Where can we find someone capable of helping us? Someone with the power, wisdom and caring concern to calm the storms and give us peace of mind?
A story of seasoned sailors facing a literal windstorm helps point us to the answer.
Jesus and His disciples set out across the Sea of Galilee in a small boat, and the exhausted Jesus fell asleep as they sailed.
Meanwhile, “a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. … And they awoke Him and said to Him, ‘Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?’” (Mark 4:37-38).
Several of the disciples were experienced fishermen, and if they thought their lives were in danger, surely they were.
Instead of bailing water or preparing to swim, Jesus “arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still!’ And the wind ceased and there was a great calm” (Mark 4:39).
The loving God who has the power to create the earth, sea and wind, and to control them, can also easily calm the storms of worry, doubt and uncertainty plaguing our minds.The loving God who has the power to create the earth, sea and wind, and to control them, can also easily calm the storms of worry, doubt and uncertainty plaguing our minds.
William Barclay concludes his commentary on this passage with: “He gives us peace in the storms of anxiety. The chief enemy of peace is worry, worry for ourselves, worry about the unknown future, worry about those we love. But Jesus speaks to us of a Father whose hand will never cause his child a needless tear and of a love beyond which neither we nor those we love can ever drift. In the storm of anxiety he brings us the peace of the love of God” (Daily Study Bible, note on Mark 4:35-41).
“Peace I leave with you”
During the most traumatic time of His life, Jesus made a profound and surprising promise to His followers. The night before His arrest, trial, beating and crucifixion, He said:
“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
Saying “shalom”—peace—was the common way to say hello or good-bye, but Jesus’ promise meant far more.
“The peace Jesus spoke of could not be exemption from conflict and trial. Jesus himself had been ‘troubled’ by the impending Crucifixion (12:27). The peace he spoke of here is the calmness of confidence in God. Jesus had this peace because he was sure of the Father’s love and approval. He could therefore move forward to meet the crisis without fear or hesitation” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Abridged Edition, note on John 14:27).
Jesus Christ made it possible for His followers to share in this powerful inner peace by becoming right with God and trusting fully in His loving care.
What He offered was real peace of mind.
“The world can give only false peace, which mostly comes from the ignorance of peril or self-reliance” (ibid.).
“I have overcome the world”
Later the same night Jesus added, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
The kind of peace Jesus offers is not found in some monastery cut off from the world, but right out here in the midst of the troubles and uncertainties of the real world.
“Jesus does not overlook the trial that will affect them as well as himself, for that is inevitable in a world alienated from God. He does, however, proclaim victory over it” (ibid., note on John 16:33).
Even while troubles swirl around us, we can have a real inner peace. Jesus set us the example of experiencing peace and joy in spite of terrible trials. He did this by focusing on His essential mission in fulfilling God’s plan of salvation and on the end result, the peaceful Kingdom of God. And He wants us to focus on the mission He has given us and that wonderful world that will come at His return. (See our online articles “4 Ways to Find Joy in Trials” and “What Is the Mission of the Church?”)
“Be anxious for nothing”
The apostle Paul identified peace as part of the fruit produced in a repentant Christian through God’s Holy Spirit (see our article “Fruit of the Spirit: Peace”).
Paul also outlined steps we can take to enjoy a peace that is beyond our full comprehension.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
When our worshipful and trusting prayers include both requests (supplications) and gratitude, God promises to give us His peace.
William Barclay says, “Paul insists that we must give thanks in everything, in sorrows and in joys alike. That implies two things. It implies gratitude and also perfect submission to the will of God. It is only when we are fully convinced that God is working all things together for good that we can really feel to him the perfect gratitude which believing prayer demands” (Daily Study Bible, note on Philippians 4:6).
Not only does the peace of God remove the need for anxiety and fretfulness, but it transcends our understanding.
William Barclay says this “means that the peace of God is so precious that man’s mind, with all its skill and all its knowledge, can never produce it. It can never be of man’s contriving; it is only of God’s giving. The way to peace is in prayer to entrust ourselves and all whom we hold dear to the loving hands of God.”
As Paul said, God’s peace serves like a soldier, protecting our hearts and minds.
“Meditate on these things”
Paul continued in verse 8 with a plan for directing our thoughts. Thinking about positive things is another key to inner peace.
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”
Cast your cares on Him
What storm are you facing? Cast your cares on God, and ask Him, with thanksgiving, to give you peace of mind and help to face the challenges with faith and a positive attitude.
When He says, “Peace, be still!” miracles happen. Accept His offer of the peace that passes all understanding.
Practical Tips for Relieving Stress
We naturally feel stress when facing turmoil and trauma. Experts point to the health benefits of stress-reducing activities such as:
Exercise. According to Mayoclinic.org, “Exercise in almost any form can act as a stress reliever. Being active can boost your feel-good endorphins and distract you from daily worries.”
Enjoy God’s creation. Clinical psychologist Robert Puff advises, “A daily practice of appreciating nature is one of the most beneficial activities you can do to increase happiness and reduce stress. While you may feel like you have no time in the day, it only requires a few minutes. Start by taking a five-minute walk outside every day. During this time, disconnect yourself from electronic devices” (psychologytoday.com).
Spend time with a pet. This may even combine the previous points. The U.S. National Institutes of Health article “The Power of Pets” says, “Nothing compares to the joy of coming home to a loyal companion. The unconditional love of a pet can do more than keep you company. Pets may also decrease stress, improve heart health, and even help children with their emotional and social skills.”
Spend time without screens. “High screen use can have a negative impact on mental health,” writes Nina Schroder on the National Alliance on Mental Illness website. “Research suggests that less time on social media leads to better well-being.”
What Disrupts Your Peace of Mind?
“The most disruptive for my peace of mind is social media and the level of panic and misinformation I see. The solution, for me, is to spend less time logged on to Facebook and more time praying, studying and [being] with my family.”—Kevin
“I am most disrupted when I allow fear to separate me from God. I had some childhood trauma that brings back fear in me to the point that I seek out God to help me, but my fear keeps me separated from Him. After I repent of my fear and allow Him to help me, I feel peace.”—Rachel
“My peace of mind is often disrupted when I feel like there isn’t enough of me to go around. With seven grown kids and 16 grandchildren and another on the way, it is easy for me to get discouraged when I can’t be there for everyone when I feel that they need me. I often read Psalms to help me to keep things in perspective. I often listen to a sermon and knit or crochet when I am alone to calm my mind.”—Sarah
“Allowing too much to take up my mental space and energy. … It can be any multitude of things in this crazy, distracting world. Keeping to a healthy schedule and sound structure and not allowing anything to crowd out prayer and Bible study—regardless of what else is going on in my life—goes a long distance in ensuring peace of mind. No matter what wasn’t attended to—be it dirty dishes or responding to one more work email—putting it all aside and doing that which is most important has to be priority. Each day we wake up is another opportunity to put things in our life into the correct place!”—Tommie
“When my peace of mind is disrupted, it is because I am out of balance spiritually [in my] relationship with God. Which usually means I have allowed something in my spiritual life to slip: prayer, study, fasting, meditation.”—Alicia