The greatest, most sought after attribute in the world is peace. Yet many countries are embroiled in long-standing warfare, either internal or external. Much of the world knows no peace, and much of mankind’s day-to-day efforts seemed aimed at maintaining an atmosphere of unending acrimony and conflict. The efforts at peace are often frustrated by actions of those opposed to change.
When the birth of Jesus was announced, the advent of world peace was simultaneously proclaimed. In our heart of hearts each individual seeks his or her own inner peace amidst the daily struggles of life. This sense of inner peace can be disturbed by external circumstances, things beyond our control, and by our own frustration with personal shortcomings and failures. In many instances our inner evaluation of how we react to external circumstances leads to more frustration. Even though the circumstances themselves are beyond our control, we develop a feeling of inadequacy around how we wish we could handle these situations better: be braver, more stoic, more at peace with our selves.
Being at peace with ourselves involves acceptance of who we are. It requires a recognition of what we can change and what we cannot. How often do we expend mental and emotional energy agonizing over our physical appearance, mental acuity, personality traits, or our estimate of how others judge us?
In the struggle for peace of mind, I find that I often tell myself that I need to change the way I think and act in order to hold myself in higher esteem and thereby achieve a feeling of internal satisfaction. Life can become an endless cycle of self-recrimination for failing to change one’s behavior in any permanent way, remorse for that failure, and renewed commitment to do better in future attempts to improve. I believe that this very human but very frustrating search for self-improvement and improved self-image goes right to the heart of the Gospel and its proclamation of worldwide peace.
The Gospel did not and does not state that man should straighten himself out through his own efforts and then God will love and accept him. The Bible boldly states that while we were still inadequate, Christ died for us. God’s love for us, like that of any father for his child, overshadows any deficiencies on our part. The Gospel challenges mankind to recognize who we really are and what we really have through God’s love and grace. With that knowledge and understanding comes a lessening of the burden of self-improvement. We have been made perfect by the source of all perfection. It is okay to feel good about yourself. Why would a child of the King want to act less than regally?
Perhaps we have the order of personal improvement and inner peace reversed. Could it be that when we really see our spiritual state and worth in the eyes of God, we will react in a way that manifests itself in improved behavior? This contrasts with what I have often told myself. Namely, if I could only change myself, then I could feel better about myself. Perhaps what I instead need to do is recognize who I am and then let that improved self-image stimulate a positive attitude and improved behavior.