Not as the World Giveth. . .
Let’s begin with a story.
Once upon a time there was a farmer and his son who worked very hard together to make something of their small farm. The farmer’s wife had passed away some years earlier and so it was just the two of them, scraping by as best they could. They shared a dream–to buy a mule. They knew that a mule could pull the plow, allowing them to plant twice as much seed and harvest twice as much food. But, mules cost money. The farmer had found a man in a village about five miles away that bred and sold mules. They scrimped and saved for two years, and finally they had enough. They walked the five miles and purchased the mule.
Now, as much as they wanted this mule, they didn’t actually know much about mules. They weren’t sure whether they should ride it or not. So, they decided to just walk beside it, to be safe. And so they led the mule by a rope and began the journey home.
About a mile down the road they passed another farmer, sitting on his porch. He saw the father, son, and mule and began to laugh. “You fools! You are wasting a perfectly good mule! You don’t walk beside it. One of you ought to hop up and ride that mule. Save your legs.”
The pair thought that made sense, but they weren’t sure who should ride the mule. The father decided that his son should ride it. He was a very kind father. So, he helped his son on to the mule’s back and they continued on their way. The mule, for its part, was enjoying the journey a little less now.
Another mile or so down the road they passed a woman, hanging her laundry out to dry. She saw the pair and their mule and flew into a rage. With her hands on her hips she shouted, “What kind of a son are you? Making your old father walk while you ride along like a prince. He’s an old man, he should be riding that mule!”
The son was embarrassed and thought she had a point. So, he hopped off and took the rope to lead the mule and helped his father get on the mule’s back. They continued the journey and the mule was having even less fun than before, since the father was quite a bit heavier than the son.
They were only about a mile away from home when they passed a beggar. He was a bit of a troublemaker and he decided to have some fun with these fellows. He whistled out at them, “Whew, that is one fine mule. But, you look like you’re breaking his back. Mules aren’t meant to be ridden at all you know. In fact, they really are only designed to walk on soft soil. This gravel road is going to shorten his life and ruin his feet. If you want that mule to be happy, you should probably carry him the rest of the way home.
The farmer and his son looked at each other, each beginning to wonder if this mule was such a good idea after all. How were they going to carry a mule? The beggar sat back and enjoyed the show as the farmer and son found a good solid log, and used their belts and the rope to rig up a sort of harness to string up the mule from the log so they could carry it between them. The mule observed that this trip was quickly going from bad to worse. He had had quite enough.
The mule began to kick and thrash so much that the men dropped their load. And the mule kept kicking until he was free of the ropes and the belt. Then, he hopped to his feet and ran off, never to be seen again by the farmer or his son.
Here is a different kind of story. It was Passover and Christ was gathering to have a Passover meal with His disciples. He knew that this would be his last Passover. He knew this was the end. And He knew that this ending would be very frightening for His disciples and friends. He had spent enough time with them to know that their faith and understanding had quite a long way to go.
Still, He wanted to reassure them. He wanted to help them see that He was not going to leave them alone. He taught them that “the Comforter. . he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” (John 14:26) He promised them that the Holy Ghost would not only comfort them, but that he would help them remember all the things Christ had taught them. Then, he taught them a principle that, I imagine, He hoped the Holy Ghost would help them remember often:
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid,” (John 14:27)
“Not as the world giveth, give I unto you.” This is an interesting phrase. It leads me to compare the “peace” of the world and the peace of our Savior. What are the differences?
Peace is a popular buzzword in the world. The world promises that you can feel peace and joy if you can just get enough likes, followers, subscribers, adventures, acceptance, money, or fun. Then, you will have peace.
Those things are not inherently bad. Those can be wonderful. The products the world pitches as peace aren’t the problem, it’s the sequence. The voices of the world tell us, “Get these likes, followers, adventures, money, fun, etc.” and peace will definitely follow. But, the Savior, who offers us a peace “not as the world giveth” invites us to seek the peace first, just for the peace itself. Seek the quiet, the faith, the stillness, the discipleship. Find the peace and then the right kind of likes will come, the right kind of followers will appear, we will have the right kind of adventures, acceptance, money, and fun. If you “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness. . . all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33)
But, here’s the thing. Everyone on your journey to peace is going to have an opinion as to how you get it. Experts are going to tell you exactly how to get your peace, how to handle your mule. And if you try to listen to every voice of every “expert” along the path. . . there is a very good chance you’ll lose your mule, or rather, your peace.
As an example, let’s take a case study of a population that is certainly in need of peace. And it seems rather appropriate considering the holiday. Let’s think about the mother, trying to find peace as she strives to raise children that are faithful, hard-working, and kind. What might it look like if she seeks peace “as the world giveth”?
This mother might walk along the path of life listening to as many people along the road as possible. The voices echo in her ears, “Read this, eat that, do this, be that.” If only you do all this, then your children will all turn out perfectly and give you a hug and kiss every night as they thank you for feeding them vegetables and teaching them to pray. That’s what all the voices will shout in this desperate mother’s mind. As she clamors to obey all of them, she could very well lose her mule, or her mind, or her children. And there will be very little peace.
OR. . .she could first seek the peace the Savior gives unto us. No parenting hacks or pinterest boards, just peace. Just study. Just some early morning stillness as she visits with her Savior. She finds peace within through Jesus Christ first and then she walks the path, seeking out the guidance of the Lord, recognizing that He often speaks through others and that course corrections will come, but she will know what is for her and what to release because she will have the peace of Christ and the gift of the Holy Ghost to discern what is true and right for her and what is not. Does this guarantee perfect children? Absolutely not. God’s perfection certainly did not guarantee Him perfect children. Sometimes they simply kick and scream and run away.
But, it does promise peace. It does promise the ability to trust in the saving grace of Jesus Christ and trust that no matter how far our little mules might run away, Christ will always be able to find them. This mother can rest in the promise that we are “saved after all we can do.” (2 Nephi 25:23) And there can be peace in knowing that all we can do is enough because Christ’s Atonement is there. Perhaps the reason that our Heavenly Parents can maintain their peace and happiness as they see their children do horrible things to each other is that, unlike us yet, they have a perfect faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ. They know exactly what He did and what that triumph means. They are able to feel sadness and peace at the same time because they look at the sin of the world and the tragedy of our choices and can say, with confidence, “Yes, Christ can heal that.” What could happen if every mother could look at her children and herself and feel that kind of confidence? Miracles could happen.
But, there are many people here today who are not mothers. Can this apply to us all? We all carry so many kinds of “mules” in our journey for peace—school, children, or lack thereof, spouses, or lack thereof, work, addictions, depression, anxiety. And all along our roads there are voices tell us what to pick up and what to put down and how to fix this and why to drop that. It isn’t wise to walk our path and ignore all counsel, but again is the sequence that matters. We FIRST build a relationship with God and seek a peace within. Then, when advice is given we will be able to know if it is from God and good for us. This way we can receive both comfort and correction. But, it is an inside out process.
When I was in Nairobi Kenya I learned an interesting story. The president at the time was named President Moy and he was quite corrupt. He had declared that he was going to clean up the terrible slums of Nairobi. So, he cleared some large areas of land and built a couple of large, lovely apartment buildings. Then, he ran a huge lottery and filled the apartment buildings with people from the slums. For the first time, they had plumbing and electricity, and a real roof over their heads. He had kept his promise and cleared out the slums.
Within months, the apartments were a shambles. These people had never used a washing machine. They didn’t have jobs, education, or training. They had never paid bills, used a kitchen, or lived in a building. The big fancy apartment buildings simply turned into very tall well built slums. President Moy sought peace “as the world giveth,” from the outside in. But peace as Christ giveth works in the other direction.
Ezra Taft Benson said, “The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. THe world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of the people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.”
This is a wonderful rephrasing of Christ’s words, “not as the world giveth, give I unto you.” Peace is not something that lands on our head if we are only standing in the right place at the right time wearing the right clothes. Peace is something that starts within and it only stays as we choose to keep it by focusing first and foremost on the voice of the Lord and not the voices of the people that line our path, shouting advice as to how to carry our burdens.
And how do we work from the inside out? After Christ promised His peace unto His disciples, he then made this invitation, “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
Christ had seen his apostles afraid. It was a particularly hard day when Christ got the news that his cousin and disciple, John the Baptist, had been beheaded. Though he naturally wanted some private time to grieve, the people clamored to him, following him. He “was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.” (Matthew 14:14) Evening came and the disciples wanted to send the people home to eat, but Christ had other plans. He invited them to give Him everything they had, which wasn’t much, and with those five loaves and two fishes, Christ fed thousands of people.
It had been a very long day for the Savior and His disciples. He instructed the Apostles to “get into a ship” (Matthew 14:22) and go before him while he dispersed the crowd. Then, He finally got some much needed alone time to pray. The apostles were together in the ship, also probably very tired after an exhausting day. And suddenly, “the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves. . . And in the fourth watch of the night (between 3:00 and 6:00 in the morning) Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.” (Matthew 14:24-25)
The disciples were worn thin by the day and the storm, and now they saw a figure walking on the sea. To say they were “troubled,” was probably an understatement. Then, Christ called out to them, “It is I; be not afraid.” (Matthew 14:27)
Here, good old Peter rose up and asked Christ to invite him into the miracle. We don’t know why Peter wanted to walk on the water. But, we do know he wanted to be closer to Christ. And so, Christ said, “Come.” Because that is what Christ says when we want to be closer to Him.
Peter walked on the water. Sometimes Peter gets judged harshly. But, can we take a moment and recognize that he walked on water. The storm didn’t stop because of Peter’s faith. The winds were boisterous and the waves were high. Naturally, Peter was afraid, and “beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” (Matthew 14:30-31)
We all sink. No matter how much faith we might have when we step into the waves, there will come moments when we will be afraid. Sometimes this story is told in a way that makes Peter look weak. But, I would like to point out that Peter didn’t call for a rope or an oar from his fellow apostles. He didn’t cry out for the boat, he cried out for Christ. And, Christ caught him. Certainly, compared to Christ, Peter had “little” faith. But, can we celebrate the fact that he reached for the right person? He was paddling in the right direction? He sought Christ first, not the boat. Faith does not mean we are never afraid, it means we know where to look when we are afraid. Peace is not found in perfection, it is found in persistence.
And it does take persistence. It takes choosing daily to make time for the Lord. Christ promises peace, but it is a peace that asks something of us, unlike peace “as the world giveth.” It is a peace that will hold us together as we grieve for a child, bury a loved one, or battle an addiction. It is a peace that tells us we are enough when we fall short again and again. It is a peace that “surpasseth understanding.” (Philippians 4:6) It is a peace that the world simply cannot offer, no matter how much advice it shouts from the side of the road.
I’d like to visit with one last mother who would have deeply needed peace from Christ, especially as she watched Him, her son, dying on the cross. Jesus Christ became the Savior of the world, but first he needed to learn how to walk, speak, and read. Mary taught Him that. Much of what Jesus Christ was had to have been shaped by His mother. Can we think on this when our daily, repeated efforts to teach, clean, tutor, and serve in our small circles feel insignificant? He came into the earth as a baby and grew into His role as a Messiah. While he was perfect, he was also, at some point, two years old. And while he was probably a very wonderful two year old, He was also still two years old, with all that entails. Mary, I am quite sure, did not get everything “right.” But still, she fulfilled her mission. She raised a son that saved us all. And she did it one day at a time, trying her best, loving her son, and seeking the will of the Father who sent Him, because He is the source of all real peace. The voices along our road might shout out plenty of good advice, backed by possibly good intentions. But, in the end, they do not know us or our burdens and if we live our lives and make our choices based on the advice of everyone that crosses our path, we risk losing it all.
Christ knows us. He knows every triumph and every failing. He knows how to heal us, to make us whole. He suffered and died for us, finishing the task not only because He is an obedient son, but because He is an incredibly loving brother. He knew I would be lost forever if He did not finish the work God sent Him to do. And so He finished. That is the kind of voice I want to heed on my journey home.