by Becky De Oliveira—
A young woman in her 20s—a friend of the family—sent me a text message last week, asking what my “secret” is. “You’re the most peace-filled person I know,” she wrote. This made me smile—a quiet, enigmatic smile because that is the kind of person I am. I exude calm. People confuse this with peace. I’m reminded again of how prone human beings are to mistake affect for substance.
Because I’m not particularly calm, let alone peaceful, I don’t know what my secret is. If what people want to know is how toseemcalm, like I do, my best advice would be to follow these rules: 1) Always be a little tired, 2) Be middle-aged, 3) Constantly be preoccupied, thinking about, if possible, something complicated that you read earlier or one of the many unsolvable problems you face.
As for achieving an actualstate of peace, I’m not sure. Mine come and go. My default state is one of a mild panic over all the things that might go wrong—this hour, this day, this week, over the course of this complex and sometimes frightening lifespan. I worry about how much I weigh, about what will happen if one day I have to quit running, about whether I’ve made any mistakes in my work, about falling behind on the coursework I need to finish to earn my PhD. I worry that once I have the degree I’ll be unable to find a job in my field, that I’ll be too old, that I’ve already missed the boat, professionally, personally. I worry about my parents and their health and my husband’s parents and their health. I worry that I lack the personal mettle—let’s call it grit—to see my life through effectively. What if I manage to let everyone down? My kids have to get through college and find lives that they love. I have to help them do this. What if I can’t continue to come up with the money? People complain about my husband—a pastor—often enough that I worry about his job. Is he in the right place? Are we in the right place? Are we of any use at all or would everyone be better off without us?
I worry about where we would go if we left. What if people there complained even more? What if there is simply nowhere in the world for someone like me? I’ve stopped social media because I’m so tired of the constant arguing and posturing—other people’s, my own. I would like to be a person who actually has a life of substance, not just a life that looks OK in nicely cropped photographs. I’m tired of noise. I crave silence.
A few minutes later, my friend sent another text, asking what I was like when I was her age—specifically, “How was your relationship with God?”
Easy. It was non-existent. I never thought about God. I went to church maybe a handful of times during any given year, usually late and only for the social benefits. I seemed calm then too. Probably peace-filled. That’s just my personality. It’s the way I look. Nothing to do with being spiritual.
“Wow,” she answered. “And you married a pastor.”
That is an accurate statement. That is what I did. And if anything has made me more spiritual over the years, it might be that. Not so much that people expect it of me, though they certainly do. It’s more that people talk to me about spiritual things more often, and so I end up thinking about them more than I might if left to my own devices.
I wish that the life of faith were easier, but I suspect there is a good reason it is not. Finding meaning, discovering how you can fulfill your purpose on earth, learning how to trust God to see you through endless worries about problems, is really the work of a lifetime. I use the word “work” quite intentionally. When I remember that, I also remember that perhaps I am not such a disaster after all. Maybe I am only progressing just as I am supposed to. That gives me a feeling that seems like it might be approaching peace.
Becky De Oliveira is a teacher, writer, and graphic designer working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference from her home in Colorado.