Sometimes I feel like anxiety is the fifth child in my home. Ever-present. She peers over my shoulder, tugs at my heart, nudges me awake at night. “What if?” She whispers, her voice as insistent as any toddler. Even when she’s quiet for a spell, I wonder what she’s up to…when she’ll resurface, and what havoc lies in her wake.
Two years ago, she dropped a bomb in my life. Clint and I were preparing to go to a conference, when our oldest daughter complained of an itchy face. She had a faint rash, so we gave her Benadryl and kissed her good-bye. Three days later her face was swollen beyond recognition. Fluid drained from her eyes, her joints were distended, and sores had opened up all over her body. It was the stuff of nightmares. The pediatrician diagnosed her with scarlet fever, but her condition was worsening by the hour, so we rushed her to the children’s hospital.
The condition of my heart was also deteriorating by the hour. On day two the dermatologist arrived and delivered the greatest blow of all. He ran a tongue depressor down our daughter’s chest and her skin slid straight off. I’d never seen anything like it in my life. “Call an ambulance,” he ordered. “This child needs to get to the burn unit.”
In the hallway he told me that her skin was showing signs of detachment, and it was possible for all of it to begin sloughing off her body. I was speechless. As Clint sat with Aubrey and the doctors rushed off to prepare paperwork, I sank numbly into a chair. I was eight months pregnant with our fourth child and beyond overwhelmed. It was my lowest moment.
In my heart I whispered, “God, if she dies, You and I are through.” It wasn’t a threat. To me it was a profoundly sad thought, like telling someone you love, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think our relationship can survive this.” I just couldn’t imagine a world where my daughter had died a gruesome death, and I still felt joy, faith, and peace.
Once upon a time, anxiety snuck up on the disciples and dropped a bomb in their lives too. It was the most unthinkable disaster in history. In John 20 we see them huddled in a locked room, wrought with anxiety in the wake of the crucifixion. If ever there was a moment worthy of despair, this was it. The Messiah was dead; the hope of the world obliterated. And yet just before going to the cross, Jesus made an outlandish promise: “Peace I leave with you,” He said. “My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Don’t let your heart be troubled or fearful” (John 14:27).
How could the disciples “not be troubled” when the Light of the world had been snuffed out? How can you and I not be troubled in the midst of our own trials? Because Jesus isn’t offering worldly “peace.” He offers His peace as an alternative to the world’s peace.
The world believes peace is a byproduct of happy circumstances. That it can be achieved through tolerance and meditation. Through simplicity and minimalism. Through achievement, approval, relationships, and materialism. Many Jews believed peace would come by the sword. As Jesus talked about peace, they would have likely thought of the Pax Romana—the Roman peace—when Rome experienced an unprecedented stretch of political peace. Ironically they achieved “peace” by violently slaughtering everyone who opposed them.
Jesus comes on the scene and promises, “I will bring peace. But not like that.” He came to bring peace the most radical way imaginable—not by killing, but by being killed. You see, the true enemy of peace is not suffering, divorce, death, or frenetic schedules. The true enemy of peace is sin. Ultimately, we lack peace not because of our trials, but because our communion with God has been broken. When Jesus died on the cross He restored our relationship with the Father, instantly and eternally fixing the greatest problem you or I will ever face.
Those words—“Peace I leave with you”—were a tender farewell. But then six chapters later, Jesus appears in the disciples’ locked room, in the midst of their terror, and again He says, “Peace be with you.” This time it’s a greeting, a victorious hello! He promised them peace and now He has provided it. If we imagine that these two declarations are bookends, guess what’s smack dab in the middle? The cross! All true peace begins and ends with the cross of Christ.
When we arrived at the burn unit, we finally got a diagnosis: Staphylococcal Scalded Skin Syndrome. It’s a rare illness caused by a staph infection that makes the skin detach. We were eventually discharged and sent home. Aubrey took twenty teaspoons of medicine daily and basically molted from head to toe.
Meanwhile, I began the hard work of examining my heart. Scarier to me than the potential loss of my child, was the potential loss of my faith. How could I be so weak? I always thought my love for Jesus was strong enough to withstand any storm. But in the weeks following Aubrey’s illness, I realized my love is not the glue holding Jesus and I together. His love holds us together. If Aubrey had died, my relationship with Christ would have survived, not because I’m so strong, but because He is. He would’ve fought for me. After all, He’s the Hero of our love story. He always has been.
He holds all things together (Colossians 1:17). He overcomes (I Corinthians 15:55-57). He is the Author and Finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). And therein lies our peace. This advent season, what anxious thoughts wage war in your heart? Where will you turn for lasting peace?