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Peace – My Word of The Year for 2019

It’s that time again, when Christmas is over and the last few days of December seem to be filled with both confusion (what day is it, again?), and reflection on another year passing by.

I find that this almost limbo stage of the year is the one where I either find a renewed sense of hope or I am filled with a sense of despair. There doesn’t seem to be an inbetween state for me, and more often than not my despair leads to overly optimistic plans as I determine to have a better year to come.

This is certainly true of where I found myself last year. I chose the word “Create” as my focus for 2018, and came up with 18 ways in which I could create more health, happiness, and success in my work. I was determined to avoid accepting how ill I was and how much I needed to give up in order to survive. I truly believed I could make things better, if only I tried harder. How wrong I was!

Looking Back at 2018

2018 has been plagued with so much stress and fear and guilt and pain. I barely left the house for the first half of it, and although things got a bit easier as the Autumn came along, it’s still been a long, hard slog. And it isn’t over yet. We still have massive financial insecurity. We still have two tribunal hearings to face at some, as yet, unknown point in 2019. And I’m still sick.

That’s not to say 2018 was all bad. We moved to a lovely bungalow in May, and I have been reflecting over the Christmas period on just how grateful I am to be here and not in our old home. Tim chose to be baptised, and we’ve both become more involved with the church through Bible Study and a few events. And Little Man has been coming on in leaps and bounds at school, thanks to better support and a greater understanding of his needs.

2018 has been a good year in many ways, but I cannot help but look back and realise that my hopes and dreams for this year do not reflect that. This time last year I felt desperate to fix things. I didn’t want to be sick (who does?) I didn’t want to be reliant on the state financially (who does?) And I certainly didn’t want to give up all the things that I felt gave me worth (who does?) Looking back at my post from this point last year, I could say 2018 was the biggest failure ever. But, I’m choosing to see it a different way…

Finding a New Perspective

Instead of seeing all I didn’t achieve as a failure, I’m trying to see it as a necessary step on my journey of self-discovery. I’m trying to see all the times I felt like I was knocked back as a swipe at the unnecessary burdens I placed upon myself to fix something that was out of my control. And I’m trying to see my brokenness as part of my healing, because only in my brokenness do I stop trying to rely on myself and turn to something greater than who I am on my own.

Essentially, I’m hoping to find peace. The word came to me as I tried to calm my mind before bed the other week. I had started to wonder what word I could choose to focus on in 2019, and it simply came to me. Peace. I tried variations on the theme, things like rest, reflection, and acceptance, but essentially it all came back down to peace. Pure and simple.

But what do I mean by peace? Do I mean an end to suffering? Well, no, not really. Suffering is, unfortunately, a part of life. So I don’t want to find a peace which is reliant on good times in my life, nor do I want to find a peace that exists despite hard times. No, what I really want to find is a peace that encompasses both, one which reminds me that it is okay to celebrate my joy and express my despair. I want to feel peace wherever I find myself, even when it’s uncomfortable.

The Difference Between Peace and Acquiescence

I want to stop trying to fix everything, and be okay with not being okay. That’s not to say that I will suddenly stop feeling passion for change where I see injustice (I’m never going to have peace with a government which cruelly inflicts pain on the most vulnerable in society, whilst protecting those with the most, for instance). But I hope to stop feeling such intense levels of fear, anger, and guilt on a personal level. I want to stop angrily watching the news unfold, with adrenaline coursing through my body, and instead learn how to channel that energy in other ways (what they may be, I do not know, but I hope to find out).

And therein lies the crux of this whole thing – I want to find peace, even when I don’t know how that will come. This isn’t an active thing, something I can force into being. I’ve tried that, and it doesn’t work. If anything, the more I strive the less peace I feel. The more I try to fix things, to find control in the uncontrollable, the more frantic and anxious and out of control I feel.

And as my body has a tendency to overreact with adrenaline (thanks EDS), this constant cycle of trying to control the uncontrollable has led to an almost permanent heightened state of awareness. The smallest things set off a rush of adrenaline these days, and it’s exhausting!

But whereas I have tried so hard to counteract that with affirmations, meditation, yogic breathing etc over the past few years, I now want to find a place of peace where it’s okay to feel out of control for a while, to ride the waves and trust that there is peace to be found within the madness. Because that’s where I’m at right now, and I can no longer pretend it is only fleeting and I’ll suddenly find a way to snap out of it.

Exploring The Power of Peace

When I was thinking about putting this post together, I was trying to find a quotation which might sum up how I feel. And this verse from Lamentations really struck me:

“I have forgotten what health and peace and happiness are” (Lamentations 3:17 Good News Bible translation).

If there was one verse in the Bible which summed up how I feel, this is it! Okay, maybe not the happiness part, I still have that in abundance. But health and peace? Those two I’ve truly forgotten the feel of. I get glimpses of them from time to time, but they are always fleeting. And I believe they are both intrinsically linked for me, too.

Without peace I cannot truly recover my health. For a long time I thought it was the other way around and that a return to health would bring peace. And it would, of course, in some ways. Better health would mean a return to work, a reduction in financial stress, and an even greater reduction in the guilt felt by the pressure put upon my family by my illness.

But recently I’ve begun to realise I’ve been looking at it the wrong way around. Any peace which comes from better circumstances isn’t truly peace at all, but rather ease at the situation. It may seem like I’m just splitting hairs here, but peace and ease are two very different things. Peace, to me at least, means knowing that at some level things are okay, even when on the surface they are far from it.

Finding The Peace Which Surpasses All Understanding

Which brings me around to faith. I’ll be honest with you and say that whilst my faith has become stronger than ever before over the past couple of years, I still struggle with many aspects of it. It’s almost like the harder life gets, the more I turn to God. But the more I turn to God, the more questions I have.

Not about God’s existence, that has never been an issue for me (in my darkest hours I’ve been the most angry with God – it’s hard to be angry with something you don’t believe in!) No, my questions are more about the nature of God and how I experience that in my everyday life.

I feel like God is just out of touch, supporting me and loving me but in a far less intimate way than I would like. I feel like I’ve been holding God at arms length, not quite willing to open up my heart fully. I’ve been stuck in an intellectual desire to understand God, rather than an emotional desire to know God. And there is a big difference between the two.

So with all of this in mind, I have decided to keep my plans for the year minimal. Instead of setting goals such as reading the Bible and doing yoga every day, I want to wake up each morning and tune in to how I’m feeling and what I need that day to find peace.

I want to open up my heart to the possibility of peace, and see what happens. And I want to do so in the knowledge that whatever happens is okay, even if I feel like I fail. Because the peace I hope to find is the, “peace which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).

what others think of me really doesn't matter, as long as I am happy with what I know to be true of myself.

Finding Time to Find Peace

We all want peace, don’t we? By that I mean we want to feel at peace with ourselves and our lives rather than World Peace (although, I’m sure many of us would like that too!) We want to feel that quiet confidence in our lives, that the things we do are “just right” for us, that life is unfolding as it should, and that we are “on the right track”. At least, that is what I think of when I think of peace, a quiet knowing that life is okay, we’re okay, no matter what.

But as much as I strive for this sense of peace, I find it so difficult to catch hold of. It feels like something I am chasing, constantly, as I battle one difficulty after the next. And no matter how hard I try, that peace continues to elude me. Or at least it did, until recently…

Finding Time to Find PeaceThis past year has been a major learning curve for me, and despite making huge leaps forward in many ways, I have felt myself dragged down by circumstance and a fear of the way the world looks at me. I’ve put far more stock in what has happened to me, rather than focusing on what is happening inside of me. And that has led me to chasing after things that do not make me happy, but instead make me jealous and bitter.

I could look at the blessings in my life – my little family, my home, the food on our table – and instead of seeing them for what they truly are, I focused on what they weren’t. I didn’t have the larger family I had dreamed of. Our home was not a place of refuge, but rather a jumble of boxes and piles of “stuff” we had to sort through. And the food on our table was hard won, a constant battle to balance healthy-eating with budget living.

And no matter how hard I tried to see the blessings, I just couldn’t feel them. Gratitude isn’t something you can force yourself to feel. No matter how many ways I went about thinking about it, I just couldn’t get my heart to embrace it.

Until I realised what the problem was – I wasn’t giving myself time. I needed time to stop everything and just focus on being. I needed to step away from all the pressures that wore me down and take some time out to simply be. And I definitely needed to cut down on the amount of time I spent looking at other people’s lives and yearning for things that were never meant to be for me.

The internet and social media can be a wonderful thing. It has brought me a lot of peace lately, but it can also be a dangerous trap to fall into, if you’re not careful (or should I say “mindful”) in how you use it. Not only does it bombard you with “edited” images of other people’s lives (by that I mean most people tend to show more of the “good” in their lives than the bad, giving us a skewed impression of what a “good life” looks like), but it also feeds us with ideas of all the things we need to do to be happy.

We need to have a perfectly pristine home. The food we cook should be ever more adventurous. We should be doing everything to make our kids’ childhoods perfect for them. And we definitely need to be “seen” in a certain light by not only our close friends and family, but also friends of friends and even perfect strangers we have only just met.

The latter is a lesson I am learning gradually. I put far too much stock into how others see me, I have done so for many years, but it has been brought into a whole new light of late. It is only recently, through quiet meditation and taking time out, that I have realised just why I have been so bothered by events over the past year – I am worried about what others must think of me, rather than realising that what others think of me really doesn’t matter, as long as I am happy with what I know to be true of myself.

what others think of me really doesn't matter, as long as I am happy with what I know to be true of myself.

Which brings me back to the good in the internet and social media. You see, the internet has given me access to things I may never have found without it, especially when it comes to the more “unusual” areas of my life. Most recently this has included online kundalini yoga classes (via youtube) that have brought a real peace into my life. I’ve tried yoga before, attending my first classes with my dad in my late teens, but I’ve never felt so empowered by it.

TJ and I started practising with this video just last week, and already I can feel the difference. I felt it from the very first moment we tried it. It wasn’t even that I was doing anything different, simply that I have found something I really enjoy which makes me take half an hour out of my day that is just for me. The benefit of that alone is immense, but combining it with the energising power of kundalini yoga leaves me feeling far more at peace and in control than I ever have. And the reality is that I’m not in control at all, I am simply riding the waves rather than trying (hopelessly) to tame them. And the relief of that is wonderful.

Suddenly I am aware of self-damaging behaviours – comparing myself (and my life) to others, constantly craving for more (or to achieve the next big thing), and feeling the need to justify my life (and my decisions). Those behaviours haven’t just disappeared, they are still there, but I am no longer oblivious to their effect on my well-being and through recognising this I am able to create change. Because I make time for it.

If there’s one thing I have learnt recently, it’s that no matter what you do, no matter how much you learn and how far you go in life, there is one thing that will never fail to assist you and that’s time. In a society where we are obsessed with squeezing every last drop of life out of every single second, it can feel counter-intuitive to stop and simply be. I know, I’ve been driven by both fear and ambition for far too long. But I also know, now, that taking that time is the most beautiful gift we can ever give to ourselves.

In a society where we are obsessed with squeezing every last drop of life out of every single second, it can feel counter-intuitive to stop and simply be. I know, I've been driven by both fear and ambition for far too long. But I also know, now, that taking that time is the most beautiful gift we can ever give to ourselves.