We hosted a dinner gathering recently. We opened our doors and friends came, bringing with them smiles and laughter and dishes to share. We enjoyed delicious food and excellent company and uplifting conversation. After dinner, the kids played together in the living room, their shrieks and their games prompting grins from the adults (and, on occasion, gentle reprimands from the parents).
And all of it was good.
Near the end of the evening, as things were winding down, a friend paid Jonathan and me a compliment:
“Your home has such a sweetness to it,” she said. “When I walked in here tonight, I just felt peace.”
I needed these words. I needed to listen to them, to receive them, to see the grace that they were and the grace they recognized, for I am prone to look at my life and see anything but peace. I see dirt marks on a floor that’s gone too long between moppings and grease caked to the stove. I see crumbs in the toaster oven and splatters in the microwave. I see toddler tantrums and stay-at-home angst and my own heart’s selfish pride. I see long days and short years, toys and books strewn about, the messy and exhausting chaos that is life with two small humans.
I see all of these things, and believe they are incompatible with peace.
In this, of course, I am wrong.
For, as my friend’s comment reminded me, peace is so much more than stillness, or quietness. It is more than the absence of noise or war or conflict. It is more than a lack of strife. To have peace, to have shalom, means to be complete, to be sound, to be whole. To have harmony with others and a right relationship with God. To live well.
Someday, cultivating peace might mean quiet, the time and the energy to focus, to give myself to deep work. It might mean a good conversation uninterrupted by the needs of my kids. It might mean a coffee date or a long, leisurely lunch. It might mean an immaculate home (though, since this is me we’re talking about, that doesn’t seem likely). It might mean working with a charity organization, or writing on a broader scale, or seeking better ways to touch and interact with lives very different from my own.
For now, however, in this stage of life, cultivating peace looks like morning snuggles and nap time songs. It looks like wondering whether she’ll ever give up diapers. It looks like letting the baby cry for a moment because the toddler needs me more, like trying (and often, failing) to balance their needs and his needs and my own needs in a way that works. It looks like planning to get up after the 5:45 AM nursing in order to have an uninterrupted hour to pray and journal and read, and it looks like giving myself grace on those (frequent) days when the temptation to sleep wins out. It looks like shrieks of laughter and shrieks of frustration, like baby smiles and dirty diapers, like laundry and dishes and board books and stuffed animals.
And, too, it looks like opening my home. It looks like providing warmth, comfort, and lots of tea choices. It looks like a smile. It looks like wiping down the counter and clearing the table and ensuring you won’t be grossed-out by the bathroom. It looks like a hug of welcome. It looks like leaving the toys and deciding not to stress about the floor and choosing to ignore the dirty stove. It looks like trusting your graciousness and kindness as I leave you to fend for yourself so I can soothe a crying baby. It looks like knowing there might be confrontations or melt-downs or fighting while you are here and inviting you to come anyway. It looks like sharing my words here, in this space. It looks like welcoming you into my life – all of it, the mess and the chaos, the frustrations and the joys – and hoping you will do the same in return.
This is my desire, my hope for myself and for my family and for my home: that we would be people of peace. That this house would be marked by it. That we would offer it to others. That we would love others, love God, and live well. As followers of Jesus in a world that so often seems ready to tear itself apart at the seams, we’re called to be peacemakers, to cultivate peace, to share what has so freely been given to us with others, and I want to pursue that calling in every way I can.
I’ll seek to cultivate peace – to inspire shalom – in the ways given to me in the here and now. Dirty floors and toddler tantrums and all.
What about you? How are you cultivating peace, inspiring shalom, living well in your present reality? What does that look like for you?