The Easter celebration will be over when this issue of PeaceSigns is delivered. Easter reminds us that God has made possible our reconciliation with him through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. He has initiated the restoration of shalom between himself and each person. It is this shalom with God that is foundational to all other aspects of peace, including peace with and within ourselves.
This second major element of shalom, peace with ourselves, is an important one. Jesus affirmed this when he said that we should "love [our] neighbor as [ourselves]" (Matthew 22:39) and Paul elaborates in Ephesians 5:29 saying, "no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it." The idea of loving oneself often presents problems for us as Christians as we seek to be humble, unselfish, and sacrificial. Nevertheless, peace with oneself is part of shalom.
Peace with (or within) ourselves involves many aspects. My understanding is undoubtedly partial, but I would suggest what seem to me to be several key elements of this peace. First, each of us must affirm our humanness as a positive thing. As humans (Adam) we are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), are "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalms 139:14), will some day "judge angels" (1 Cor. 6:3), are given the "ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18), and are "children of God" (Matthew 5:9). At the end of the sixth day of creation, "God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good" (Genesis 1:31). All that God made, including humans, was "very good."
Secondly, we must be reconciled to our fallenness. It is true that we are made in the image of God and that we can do great things as we follow Jesus and are empowered by the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). It is not that we gloss over our sinfulness, nor that we excuse our sinfulness, but rather that we acknowledge our sinfulness in humility crying out "God, be merciful to me, a sinner" (Luke 18:13b). It is also important that we accept God's love and forgiveness and not allow our sinfulness to weigh us down. Jesus says, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28)
Applying the general definition of shalom that we have been using to the concept of peace with ourselves means that we should have a healthy, right relationship with ourselves. Perhaps we can turn around the "Golden Rule" to say that we should treat ourselves as we would like to be treated by others. If we are overly hard on ourselves, or overly lenient with ourselves, our relationship is not healthy. We need to "[speak] the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15) to ourselves.
Some practical ways that we can nurture peace with ourselves include stewardship of our physical bodies, acknowledging and using our talents, abilities, and spiritual gifts, and cultivating a mindset and lifestyle of simplicity and contentment.
Taking the last of these first, I always think of Matthew 6:25-34 which begins with Jesus encouraging us, "do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear." And Paul saying, "I have learned to be content with whatever I have." (Philippians 4:11) A simple, contented lifestyle frees us from the tyranny of a fast-paced life, from worry about gaining or losing material possessions, and from the temptation to see our worth, security, and meaning in what we have or what we do. Some resources to help nurture a lifestyle of simplicity and contentment are:
An important element of peace with ourselves is taking proper care of our bodies. Our bodies are gifts from God and as such we should intentionally live a healthy life-style to properly care for them. This is especially crucial in the United States in the twenty-first century when poor eating habits, sleep-deprivation, and a sedentary life-style are widespread. The result is significant health problems and skyrocketing health costs.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "The latest data from the National Center for Health Statistics show that 30 percent of U.S. adults 20 years of age and older -- over 60 million people -- are obese." See <http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/obesity>. Obesity is generally recognized to be a significant factor in increasing the likelihood of serious medical problems including hypertension (high blood pressure), type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, and other significant diseases. Proper diet is one factor in overcoming obesity. The resources below provide a starting point for planning and eating a healthy diet:
Finally, stewardship of the gifts, spiritual and otherwise, each of us has received from God is an essential part of what it means to be at peace with oneself. This includes stewardship of our time, money and other possessions, and gifts. Mennonite Mutual Aid, or MMA, the stewardship agency of the Mennonite Church USA serving Anabaptist and non-Anabaptist constituencies, provides many resources and services to help Christians be faithful stewards of their resources and gifts. The following links relate to stewardship of our gifts:
The peace described in the Bible, denoted by the Hebrew word shalom, is a broad and holistic idea. It is certainly more than the absence of violence or war. Starting with a healthy, right relationship with God made possible by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, shalom also includes peace with ourselves, peace with others and peace with the entire creation. We will look at peace with others over the next couple of months.
Note: The Balancing Acts column for March was initially published with several paragraphs missing. The content that is online now has the complete column. See the complete article at <http://peace.mennolink.org/cgi-bin/m.pl?a=284>.