“Peace on earth”? How, in God’s name (quite literally) did the concept of ‘peace’ come to be associated with the birth of child?
Anyone who’s ever had a child will tell you that the quality of peace is not something you associate with the arrival of children!
In fact the very opposite: not only are our nights shattered but many of our every waking moments are filled with very un-peaceful thoughts, such as “will they be safe?”, “how will they turn out?”, “am I being a good parent?”
I’m sure the family at the heart of the Christmas story had all these same fears.
The most frequent answer you’ll get all for all these concerns, if you look around you, if you read parenting books, if you listen to self-help experts, or sign up for whatever the latest craze is in successful parenting/living/exercising/dieting/. All of the advice can be distilled into just 4 words:
“TRY HARDER, DO BETTER”
This 4 word mantra does not just apply to parenting, it is the underlying belief that most of the world lives by.
If we can only try harder and do better then everything will be better, whether that ‘everything’ is your career, your housing, raising your kids, keeping fit, your relationships. Or simply just getting on in life?
I would be so bold as to say that “Try harder, do better” is the essence of what most people believe, they may not say it as such but they surely live by it. And, yes, of course,you will hear it expressed in 101 other ways, some of which sound more palatable: “search for the hero inside yourself”/”never give up on your dreams”/”you can be anyone you want to be” all of these motivational mantras actually boil down to this one way of life:
“TRY HARDER, DO BETTER”
and the curious thing about this belief is that it will either make you or it will break you.
We’ve all heard of self-made men or women… Someone with an admirable career, a long list of achievements. These are the people who have “tried harder and done better”, at least in our estimation they have done so to a greater extent than we ourselves have managed.
But ultimately, sooner or later, if you live by this belief it WILL break you. It will break you and it will break me. It will break even the strongest among us because all of us will reach a point in our lives when we simply cannot “try harder or do better”. Ill health, old age, external situations and circumstances beyond our control will conspire to leave us unable to improve our lives by “simply” trying harder and doing better.
We all need a better mantra to live by and we may as well start now, not wait until we reach that broken point. This is it:
“DON’T RELY ON YOUR OWN RESOURCES”
This is what Mary and Joseph had to learn to do and this is the only way to peace.
Living by this mantra means recognising that you are not alone, that you do not have sufficient resources within yourself to be the best parent, to have the best career, or the most fulfilling relationships.
You do not have those resources – you cannot ‘simply’ “try harder and do better”.
I came across a story very appropriate for this time of year, which I think illustrates this very well.
Last Christmas, a grandfather was feeling his age and found that shopping for Christmas gifts had become too difficult. Besides, like many of us, he was completely bewildered when it came to deciding what to buy for teenage grandchildren. So he decided to send everyone a cheque instead.
Being a man of few words, inside each card he wrote an obvious message “buy your own present” And he mailed them out early.
He enjoyed the usual flurry of holiday festivities and it was only after the holiday that he noticed that he had received no thank you notes in return.
Puzzled over this, he went into his study, intending to write to a couple of his relatives to ask what had happened. It was then, as he cleared off his cluttered desk that he got his answer. Under a stack of papers, he was horrified to find all the cheques that he had written and had forgotten to enclose with the cards.
So here are 2 cards: both of them written to YOU:
One has the words “buy your own present” and no cheque enclosed
The second one has the words
“buy your own present” AND a cheque which says your name, along with the words “infinite resources”. It is signed by ALMIGHTY GOD YOUR LOVING CREATOR WHO GUARANTEED THIS CHEQUE WITH HIS OWN BLOOD.
So take a moment to compare your feelings towards the grandfather who enclosed a cheque as opposed to the grandfather who didn’t?
The first comes across as cold, indifferent and harsh.
The second is warm, loving, kind, and supportive.
If you believe the mantra of “try harder, do better” you are living as if this first grandfather is the kind of God you believe in (if, in fact, you do believe in any kind of God). You are on your own in a uncertain and often unkind universe where there is no meaning beyond any meaning you create for yourself and there is definitely no one beyond yourself to help you be transformed or bring transformation to others.
If on the other hand, you know your resources are finite, if you know you need external help, guidance, power and strength to live by, then you are like the grandchild who opened the card with glee and cashes the cheque with confidence.
God, our Creator and Heavenly parent knows and understands that we cannot make life work on our own. He doesn’t say to any of us “try harder, do better”, he doesn’t say ‘make your own way in the world’, he doesn’t say “buy your own present”.
Instead he has given us the gift of himself in the person of Jesus, in the presence of the Holy Spirit, who is right here and right now, available to us so that we “do not have to rely on our own resources”.
This way to live is the only way to peace.