One person called me their human Xanax. Another person called me the family hothead. How can one person contain both elements of peace and war in their soul? Maybe you ask the same question about yourself.
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My Name is Divided
My name, Gregory, has two meanings. First, it means fierce protector. Second, it means watcher. So, one part joins battle while the other quietly observes. When I’m honest with myself, I find my spirit possesses both of these characteristics. Those who describe me as a human chill pill have often asked me how I can be so meditative and peaceful. I usually answer that I’m not as much at peace as I might seem, but that I need meditation to ground me and settle the fire within.
An Instrument of Peace
I have had extensive training in counseling and nonviolent de-escalation. It was a pastor for a quarter-century. Now, I work as a case manager and behavioral health specialist, with a volatile population. It has always been my job to step into unstable situations and bring peace. In fact, the prayer of Saint Francis is one of my favorites that I often pray on the way to work: “Oh, Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” I have practiced and taught meditation in one form or another for the past couple of decades. I try to live by the words of Kimberly Jones, who said, “Don’t let people pull you into their storm. Pull them into your peace.” But it doesn’t always work out that way.
An Instrument of Unrest
Last week in my personal life, I demonstrated how one person can have two opposing aspects: one of peace and the other of war. My wife and I were at a pet store, buying chew toys for our dog. While the machine at the store said our debit card was declined, our bank app said the purchase was complete. Even though we showed the app to the merchant, they refused to let us leave the store with the product. We called our bank, and the customer service rep explained to the merchant that the money had been transferred from our account to theirs. Still, the merchant refused to honor the sale and let us leave with the product.
My wife is a strong woman, and as it was her card, she took the lead in arguing our point with the vendor. When the store employee became rude, things began to escalate. You might think that I would step in with my de-escalation techniques and chill everyone out. Instead, I became angry and how disrespectfully the employee was treating my wife. I escalated the situation further. Finally, it was the manager who provided a solution and calmed everyone down. I felt sheepish when I left, because instead of self and instrument of God’s peace, I allowed my temper to make me the instrument of someone else’s bad day.
Many who know me would be surprised to read that story. Someone told me recently that I radiate love and spirituality. But that’s not always who I am. Treat my wife with disrespect, and you’re going to get your head bitten off. The human chill pill can also be poison.
This is not something that makes me proud. In fact, when my wife asked me about it later, I tactfully changed the subject to avoid discussing it. Nobody likes dealing with or admitting their own shadow side. I certainly don’t. I will simply say that I meditate, not because I am always at peace, but because I always need peace.
Spirituality When You Don’t Feel Spiritual
I know many people who avoid spiritual practice because they don’t feel spiritual. They say once they get their lives straight, they say they’ll start going to church. They don’t initiate prayer with their spouse because they aren’t feeling particularly prayerful. They don’t meditate because they don’t feel like a yogi or guru.
We don’t need these things because we’re feeling spiritual. We need them especially when we aren’t. It’s in these moments when the powder keg is about to blow that I need to step aside, breathe, and pray. Spirituality is the remedy for angst. Inner turbidity, or a feeling of disconnectedness from God, need never be a reason to neglect the spirit. In fact, if I hadn’t been neglecting meditation lately, my spiritual pump would have been primed for peacemaking. Instead, all it took was a spark to light my short fuse.
It would have been better to practice prayer even when I wasn’t feeling prayerful. From that position of peace, I would have had the resources to draw from, to become a peacemaker. Think of it this way. To make war, a soldier must first load their weapon with bullets. To make peace, a peacemaker must first load their spirit with tranquility. If you go into a volatile situation with an unloaded spirit, it’s going to be difficult to make peace. Instead, you’re likely to be pulled into their storm.
Everyone is a hypocrite. I’m not alone in saying I’m spiritual but behaving as if I’m disconnected from my source of peace. It’s in recognizing my hypocrisy that I can return again to the spirit. It’s in realizing our need for the spirit that we return to our own inner stillness. Viktor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” I pray for myself and for you—that we will find our own breathing space, and that we’ll be instruments of peace.