Pursuing Peace

Over my lifetime I have desired a lot of things – always feeling positive that the next thing would satisfy, and I would thirst no more. But that is not how life works, is it? The acquisition of anything only seems to whet our appetite for more. We always want more. I am sure there are a few things on your wish list that would make your life more beautiful – the next iPhone, a newer car, a bigger home, or maybe a bag of gummy bears – at least for the moment. The truth is most of what we seek to satisfy is temporary.

So what do you really long for? What is the one thing that would truly satisfy?

In 2 Chronicles 1:7 God appears to King Solomon and said, “What do you want? Ask, and I will give it to you!” He could have anything in the world and King Solomon asks for wisdom. What a smart thing to ask for. As I imagine God asking me that question, “what do you want?” the answer is immediate and comes from deep in my spirit: Peace.

For me peace is sweet like a cup of hot cocoa and comforting like a warm blanket. Peace is tranquil like the quiet of the early morning hours. It is contentment in the midst of lack. But most of all, after having struggled with anxiety for years, peace is the absence of fear.

Peace prevails in any storm. Peace is a game changer.

But even peace, as we know it, is often temporary. Think about a busy mom shutting herself in the bathroom for a moment of “peace” only to enter back into the fray within a few short minutes. Sometimes that is all we get in this life, a few short minutes of peace, here and there. But that is not what I am talking about – I don’t want just a temporary respite from the daily grind. I want peace in my soul – a peace that passes all understanding – a peace that transcends the daily grind.

The original Hebrew word often translated as peace in English is shalom. Shalom gives a deeper, fuller definition of peace. In addition to the absence of fear or conflict, it means wholeness, completeness, soundness, and permanence. That is what I am talking about.

In my view from the edge, I am finding that peace, or shalom, is the ultimate goal for my patients at the end of life.  Rabbi Steve Leder confirms this in his book, “The Beauty of What Remains”; he writes, “the agenda of the dying is not one of fear, it is one of peace.”

As a hospice chaplain I must write a SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely) care plan for each patient. Many of my care plans include this measurable piece: “as evidenced by patients acknowledgement of inner peace or as evidenced by patients peaceful demeanor.” Because when we get to the end of life, what else could we possibly want?

Peace is the end goal, but it is not always that simple or straight forward. Afterall, we live in a world where life is high-energy, and anxiety driven. Many of us come to the end of life dragging a lot of baggage. There is no room for all that baggage on this last leg of the journey.

I work with terminal patients and some are visibly anxious as they wrestle with fear, anger, and depression. They are not ready to go yet. We begin the work of life review to help loosen their grip on the baggage they are clutching. Sometimes it is letting go of old hurts or offenses. They may need to forgive themselves, others, or even God. It is letting go of regret, shame, and the need to control. It is surrendering to the situation, to God’s will, to their own mortality. Or they may simply need to know their loved ones will be OK without them. Whatever it is, once they let go of it, they find that sweet inner peace that makes no earthly sense.

As I work with patients in this place, I can envision it for myself. Not that I am ready to die, but I can see myself, when it is my time, getting to the place where I am surrendered and ready. Total peace. Like being totally exhausted and just wanting to crawl in your warm bed, pull the covers over your head, and sleep. All of the sudden nothing else matters.

To die peacefully at home is the goal of most people and that is the goal of hospice. I help people find their peace at the end of life. It is a beautiful thing to witness this transition as my patients visibly lighten their load, exchanging it for wholeness, completeness, and peace.

Like the sea, like the rising and setting of the sun, disease, age, and decline have their own rhythm, an internal wisdom and power that sweeps us up, carries us, schools us, enlightens us, exhausts us, and without our fully knowing it, prepares us for death, the perfect peace.”

Rabbi Steve Leder

 What more could we possibly want at the end of life than to die in peace?

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