In today's anxiety-soaked world, real peace of mind represents a priceless commodity for many. When we're bone-tired at night, turbulent thoughts may erupt just as we lay our head on our pillow, robbing us of much-needed sleep. During the day our productivity may suffer from too much stress. How can we achieve a state of mind that provides us with mental and emotional peace?
It is possible! Allow me to relate a personal story about how I found spiritual contentment and real peace of mind.
Back in 1992 I visited my friends in the Ukraine shortly after that country became independent of the USSR. The country was in a bad way economically—in spite of its newly found freedom. Inflation was rampant as were shortages in basic necessities, namely food and fuel.
I was there in the Ukraine on one of my visits to work with people who held the same biblical beliefs as I did. Coming from America, I found it very intriguing that so much of what we believed was exactly the same, most notably the keeping of a Saturday Sabbath.
One insight that the Ukrainian Sabbatarians related to me was: "We hope to learn from you, but we also hope that you can learn from us."
I did! I learned a lot from them over many years of visits. On this particular visit I learned more about the critical virtue of thankfulness and gratitude.
We had to get around by car between two towns with populations of 40,000 people and 5,000. Fuel was in short supply, and we could only get only about two liters a day (about half a gallon). It was brought to us by 10:00 a.m. each morning in bottles. This gave us a range of about 15 miles of travel a day, with the gas gauge always showing "empty."
Staple food was in short supply. Bread was rationed. The family I was staying with asked if I'd help them out by standing in line for the weekly bread delivery. If I stood in the bread line they could get a little more for their family's weekly needs.
It was a surreal experience for me. Wasn't this the late 20th century? I had only seen this in documentaries. But I did it. I stood on the street with everyone else with money in my hand. The bread truck arrived, and the back end was opened. People pushed their way up to the truck where unwrapped loaves of bread were stacked in a large pile. Everyone was allowed two loaves. When I got pushed from behind to the back end of the truck, one of the distributors shoved two loaves at me, grabbed my money and pushed me out of the way to "serve" the next customer. I'll never forget that experience.
Another family invited me for lunch. All that was served were fried potatoes. Nothing else. They were not ashamed. We were so happy to be with one another that the meager variety was hardly noticed. For dessert we stepped outside, and the lady of the house cut off a clump of grapes from the overhanging arbor. We enjoyed the Transcarpathian treat together.
As the week came to an end the family I stayed with practiced a tradition of kneeling in a circle at sunset and all praying separately, thanking God for all that they had. Compared to where I had traveled from, these people had almost nothing from a material sense. Yet it was clear that they were spiritually rich!
I was moved to tears as I realized how hard things were for these people suffering with these essential shortages. Yet with cheerfulness and sincerity they thanked God for the good things of the past week. They thanked God for freedom, faith, family, children, health and much more.
I couldn't get over how many things become important to be grateful for when the physical things that we take for granted are not available. I felt inadequate in my praise of God because I have never gone unintentionally hungry. I have always had enough gasoline in my car to drive to wherever I wanted to. I didn't give as much thought and show as much appreciation as they did for the many things that money doesn't buy.
What an example and what a lesson! I realized that wealth and plenty doesn't produce an automatic attitude of gratitude. In these impoverished people there was a built-in peace of mind by being grateful for what they already had.
In Philippians 4:6-7 we are given this lesson:
"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (emhphasis added).
For 2013 Canada has already celebrated its national holiday of Thanksgiving. Americans will do so next week.
For this period of thanksgiving, I invite you to read an online Good News article that speaks more about this noble trait. I think you'll be surprised as how a sense of humble gratitude can be transformational—bringing real peace into our lives.
If you have your own story of gratitude, please feel free to share it with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.