This year (2020) I was invited to share my thoughts in Sunstone's "Why I Stay" plenary session for their co...
When I was just starting college I found myself struggling in my personal life, with my parents, in my studies, and with my testimony. One Sunday we sang “Where Can I Turn for Peace?” during sacrament meeting. It spoke to me in a way few things ever have.
Where can I turn for peace?
Where is my solace
When other sources cease to make me whole?
When with a wounded heart, anger, or malice,
I draw myself apart,
Searching my soul?
I had indeed been searching for peace. It wasn’t at home, or in my classes at school, or with my friends. I felt alone, lost, and angry that my life wasn’t what I had imagined. By the time we reached the third verse I had the answer I needed.
He answers privately,
Reaches my reaching
In my Gethsemane, Savior and Friend.
Gentle the peace he finds for my beseeching.
Constant he is and kind,
Love without end.
These poetic words changed my life and created a love of the hymns that sticks with me to this day. Because of this song I drew myself out in prayer and dove into my scriptures. My little testimony that had been reduced to embers was rekindled. I felt a personal fulfillment of John 14:27:
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
Christ has promised us peace. He has promised us light in darkness. Through coming unto him we dispel fear, become clean, and we are healed. In return, he has asked us to help in his work. In 3 Nephi 15:9, 12 we read the directions he gave his chosen apostles. This same advice goes to all that desire to follow him:
Behold, I am the law, and the light. Look unto me, and endure to the end, and ye shall live; for unto him that endureth to the end will I give eternal life.
By looking to Christ we can find the peace we need in a troubled world. It is then our responsibility to be peacemakers and share the light of Christ. But how? By defining what it is to be a peacemaker in our own lives. The dictionary definition is simple, “a person who brings about peace, especially by reconciling adversaries.” What is more illuminating is the synonyms: mediator, negotiator, conciliator, intermediary. All of these are words describe Christ himself. I would like to add some more practical definitions and discuss their application.
Being a peacemaker means starting with tolerance.
The opportunity to be tolerant of others comes every day. Social media especially provides a variety of diverse opinions and people to interact with. President Gordon B. Hinckley said:
We live in a society that feeds on criticism. It is so easy to find fault, and to resist doing so requires much discipline. … The enemy of truth would divide us and cultivate within us attitudes of criticism which, if permitted to succeed, will only slow our pursuit of our great divinely given goal. We cannot afford to permit it to happen.
When we become intolerant of others we let pride creep into our hearts. Pride teaches us that being right is more important than doing what’s right. It wants us to justify hateful actions in the name of “righteousness”. Luckily there is a vaccine; it is patiently following the example of Jesus Christ. During his earthy ministry Christ associated with all kinds of people. In fact, some of his greatest teachings were given to the Scribes and Pharisees who ardently apposed him. (Yes, I know that’s putting it mildly.) Notice that at every turn Christ tries to expound his teachings to them. He always answers their questions, even when he knows they are trying to entrap him. He never starts a fight, instead he uses every opportunity to show love. When they came for him in the Garden of Gethsemane he healed the ear of the Roman soldier. Then finally on the cross he exclaimed, “ Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34.
Tolerance isn’t agreeing with someone as much as it is allowing the other person the right to their own thoughts and the expression of them without hatred on our part. We can disagree, but we need to do it always in a patient way. Many arguments can be solved simply by looking for common ground and not attacking the other person’s character.
Ann M. Madsen shares some illuminating thoughts on tolerance in the April 1989 Liahona Magazine. She councils;
If we can learn patience, allowing all men the privilege of seeing truth at their own pace, we will have moved measurably toward the compassion and love of the Savior, who saw no enemies among his crucifiers. His example stands for all time to teach us the tender path from tolerance to compassion and perfect love. With every cause to rage against his adversaries, he said rather, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” ( John 12:32), thus offering himself on our behalf, that we might have room to repent.
Being a peacemaker means not letting fear motivate us.
As Christ pointed out, when we are following him we have no reason to be afraid. Doom and gloom prophecies are all around us. We can either give into hopelessness and say, “the world is full of darkness and that will never change” or we can illuminate the conversation by spreading the love of God. Fear takes many forms, including but not limited to: racism, classism, sexism, warmongering, isolationism, and any other ideology that preaches “us” vs. “them”. Christ called ALL unto him and as his followers we have a responsibility to do the same thing.
Wo be unto them that shall pervert the ways of the Lord after this manner, for they shall perish except they repent. Behold, I speak with boldness, having authority from God; and I fear not what man can do; for perfect love casteth out all fear.
We must remember what the source of fear is. In his epistle to Timothy Paul said;
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
Fear gives us only two options: fight or flight. The opposite is true of charity, or the pure love of Christ. Charity is what gives the world beauty, meaning, diversity, and value. That means if we are to be peacemakers we must reject fear and not allow it to control our reactions. We must look for good and light up the darkness with our love of God and fellowman.
Being a peacemaker means following the commandments.
In the Beatitudes Christ used the word “blessed” to describe different states of mind. An alternate translation for ”blessed” (μακάριος) is “happy”. Replacing happy gives us a better understanding of how this section of the Sermon on the Mount becomes a guide to a fulfilling life. (Try it, read Matt 5.)
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
There is great joy to be found in looking for the good in others. Yes, we all are flawed, but there is more to us than our defects. We are complicated whole beings who have a right to be treated with respect and not diminished to a long list of our inadequacies. No one wants or deserves such an unfair judgement. For if we only see people for their capacity to do evil we miss the beautiful parts. How can we extend hope as our Savior did if we can’t even recognize the other person’s ability for good? Even the cruelest human beings have people they love, does that not speak to their dual nature? And we cannot forget that God loves all of this children, despite knowing exactly what we are capable of.
But what does the way we see others have to do with our own personal happiness?
There can be no real happiness without peace, yet honest men and women in all parts of the world are seeking personal peace and know not where to find it.
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is called the Prince of Peace, and his message is a message of peace to the individual and to the world. It is the peace that makes us really appreciate mortal life and enables us to bear heartbreaking tribulations.
Franklin D. Richards, October 1974 General Conference, “The Blessings of Peace” (Note: Elder Richards thought this topic so important that he gave this address nearly exactly the same in 1983. “Be a Peacemaker.”)
As followers of Jesus Christ we all have a responsibility to be “Christian” in our behavior. This is the higher law Jesus taught. We can’t sink into the muck of gloom and hatred. Let’s instead be the ones to help pull others up. Let’s share the Good News of the atonement with them. Let’s let the light of Christ shine through us and bless others. Let’s never give up trying, just as God never gives up on us.