Our world can be characterized by out of control schedules, lack of rest, frenetic activity and little margin. Yet our hearts long for peace and serenity. We cannot change the frenetic pace of our world but we can choose to live in peace and serenity ourselves. Here are eight practices that can lead to a life of greater serenity.
1. Places of refuge. These are places where our hearts feel at peace and where we can slow down. For me it includes a study in my home that has no television, is filled with books and a comfortable couch. Whenever I enter I feel a special peace come over me because it is a place of peace. It may also be a stream where I can fly fish in solitude. For all of us it will be different but identifying those places of refuge that we can go to regularly will help us negotiate what is otherwise a busy existence.
2. Time with Jesus. Out of control schedules or even the typical challenges of our lives lead to anxiety and personal stress. The best place to leave our anxiety and stress is with Jesus who told us that he can bring peace to our souls. Who does not long for peace? Psalm 23 says "He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul." It is a picture of rest, quietness, peace - in the presence of God. But none of that happens in frenetic activity. Only in quietness and time with Him.
3. Quiet reflection. The art of quiet reflection is time without distractions to think deeply about our lives, God or situations we face. Reflection demands times of peace and quiet: Television off; radio silenced; cell phone muted - maybe soothing music on. I write this blog in the peace and quiet of an early morning, one of my favorite times to reflect and think.
4. Special friends. I am thinking here of friends who bring peace and joy to our lives and fill us emotionally. This is not your average friend. Many friends are needy and drain us. There is a time for those friends but not when we are needing peace and serenity. These are friends who encourage us, accept us, love us and allow us to be who we are in their presence without pretense or expectations. To often in our busyness we do not nurture the most important friends who can bring peace to our lives.
5. Good books. Well chosen books can help us relax, reflect and grow. It is why my personal place of refuge is lined with them. One need not be a prodigious reader for this to be the case. Even a few pages or a short chapter can stimulate our thinking and reflection. Books help us stretch our minds and offer perspectives of others that can change our own perspectives.
6. A journal. Journaling is a practice that can bring greater peace and serenity to our lives. It allows us to record insights we gain in our times of reflection. The simple act of writing those insights down dramatically increases our retention of them. It allows us to have a record of our personal growth. It allows us to be more reflective in our prayer lives as we write out our prayers from time to time. It forces us to think more clearly and reflect more deeply. It is worth the effort even if we are not naturally writers.
7. Interludes of prayer. These are times during the day when we intentionally reconnect with Jesus in prayer. For instance, my cell phone alerts me on the hour, every hour during the day. When it does, I silently engage Jesus about whatever I am working on or the meeting I am in. It reminds me to be present with Jesus, it reminds me to check in with Him and it reminds me to bring the events of my day to Him. They are hourly check ins with the only one that can ultimately bring me peace of heart and soul.
8. Learning to be present. How often do you find yourself mulling on a problem or anxiety when you should be concentrating on a conversation, a work project or playing with your kids? Being present means that we are mindful of what we are doing in the moment and truly focused on that rather than focusing on other things that distract us from being present in the moment. Being present means that we are fully "there" in whatever we are doing. It also prevents us from being "elsewhere" which is usually a problem or challenge that we should have left with Christ rather than carrying it around with us. The hourly reminder from my cell phone not only reminds me to check in with God but to check in with myself to see if I am present in the moment.
A life of peace and serenity does not happen by itself but comes from healthy practices in our lives. It is a beautiful place to live and something that we can grow in regularly.