Calmness in the Midst of Quiet Desperation
In April of 2012 the New York Times reads, “While Henry David Thoreau is often credited with variations of the aphorism “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and die with their song still inside them,” that is not what he wrote in “Walden.” He merely said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
Although the first “quote” makes much sense, the second is more accurate.
We live in a large but quiet subdivision in a suburb northeast of Nashville, TN. We know a few of our neighbors and we do love them…they are wonderful! It is a typical middle-class community (according to the new government definition of the rich being those who earn in excess of $450,000 annually) yet I would consider it overtly affluent by global standards. The houses are relatively new and nice (not ours, but some with more than 4,000 square feet), the lawns are well manicured, and the driveways dotted with newer SUV’s and boats.
It appears to be a snapshot of the American dream. But below the surface of this quiet neighborhood lurks quiet desperation. And this development is not alone – there are thousands like it strewn across the landscape of prosperous America.
You see, in the last couple of years we have observed numerous mortgage foreclosures; a sign of the economic times and those financially overextended by seeking satisfaction in material possessions. But that’s not all.
There has been a double murder (an unwed mother who drowned her unwanted twins at birth), drug busts, several high-profile arrests, too many “domestic disputes,” and a disproportionate number of failed marriages. Clearly this isn’t idyllic Camelot.
But if you were to see this neighborhood and hear how quiet it is, you would think this the most unlikely place for such trouble. You would think it was a reflection of dreams realized and fulfilled lives. But it appears that this quiet is the quiet of suppressed turmoil. It’s outwardly peaceful but inwardly despairing.
So the words of the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) resonate: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27, NIV).
“Peace,” He says. Not peace like the world falsely promises, which is fleeting and lingers near the shadows of fear. His peace – eternal, deep, rich, constant, and comforting. Peace that enables our souls to remain untroubled even in the midst of trouble.
Come again? Peace and trouble appear dichotomous, the opposite ends of the same continuum. But in the spiritual realm this is an illusion…or a paradox. For those who know Jesus understand they can experience problems and peace simultaneously.
Actually, Christ guarantees trouble in this life in the same breath that He promises peace. We see this just a few verses later in John’s Gospel:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NIV).
To those who have never experienced the abiding presence of God this is just silliness: conflict and contentment are contrary concepts. You can’t have both. Not at the same time. But those who live both in this world and in Christ know what He’s talking about it.
That’s why Paul describes this experience in such profound words: “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7).
Please note that Paul didn’t say that in the midst of troubles God would answer our prayers to our liking or “fix” our problem. Here the Apostle is loudly silent about these religious myths. He echoes the words of Christ when he tells us to not worry. Yes, Scripture says to pray…and we should. But God’s promised response is not resolution of the difficulty but rest in the heart.
This is much deeper, much richer than a God who conjures up miraculous solutions at our every request, who always comes in to save the day as we think He should. No, He comes in to save us! The principle of God’s provision of peace in the backdrop of existing problems nurtures one of the most treasured of all Christian qualities – dependence on Him. Longing not for “fixes” but for faith. And intimacy with Jesus as we cling to Him while we are being rocked by waves of doubt, discouragement, and disappointment.
May we remember, understand, and embrace God’s Word: “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.” (2 Thessalonians 3:16, NIV).
Restful peace that persists even in the reality of our troubles, that transforms our quiet desperation into Christ-given calmness.
And sweet surrender.