I remember being so overwhelmed with anxiety and so desperate for peace in my circumstances, that I looked up every verse I could find about peace. There is a plethora of verses. Peace is definitely something God wants us to have in our life. But no matter how many verses I read about peace, I just wasn't experiencing it.
I stumbled across Calm My Anxious Heart by Linda Dillow, a book I HIGHLY recommend. Every chapter had tidbits that I underlined and treasured, but there was one chapter that transformed my view of peace. It was an entire chapter about being content in your circumstances, and that contentment brings about peace. In this chapter, she describes a woman named Ella, a missionary in Africa for 52 years, who raised her family in Africa despite the extreme heat and no modern conveniences we enjoy, such as electricity and indoor plumbing and of course, air conditioning. Here's what Linda Dillow says,
"Ella's daughter, Mimi is my friend. Mimi wondered how her mother had done it–how she lived a life of contentment when her circumstances would have caused the hardiest to complain. Recently, Mimi unearthed a treasure, a much more significant find than gold or silver. In an old diary of her mother's she discovered Ella's prescription for contentment:
Never allow yourself to complain about anything–not even the weather.
Never picture yourself in any other circumstances or someplace else.
Never compare your lot with another's.
Never allow yourself to wish this or that had been otherwise.
Never dwell on tomorrow–remember that tomorrow is God's, not ours."
Wow. I was so convicted when I read this. I am guilty of every single one of these, pretty much every single day. And I can see how being rooted in the present moment and in your present circumstances, being content with them can bring a lot of contentment and peace to your mind and soul.
Linda Dillow then adds "Her eyes were fixed on eternity. Her tomorrows belonged to God. She had given them to Him. And because all her tomorrows were nestled in God's strong arms, she was free to live today. One day at a time she could make the right choices and grow to possess the holy habit of contentment. Ella's focus was eternal, and her focus led to an eternal contentment."
In a nutshell, she was at peace, because she was content. What does it mean to be content? The dictionary defines it as "a state of peaceful happiness and satisfaction."
Even Paul talks about being content. And he admits he's found the secret to it.
"I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength." Philippians 4:11-13
This is a man who had been shipwrecked, beaten, persecuted, whipped, and was currently in prison while writing this. He decided to not focus on the circumstances, and instead focus on God, who gave him the strength to do all things.
It seems overwhelming, to just be content with everything that is going on in our lives. How does Paul do it? He tells us twice "I have learned" to be content. It was a process for him. It doesn't come naturally. It was something he had to be intentional about, to make a priority in his life. I'm sure not complaining about the heat didn't come naturally to Ella. That's why she had to write down her prescription for contentment. She had to remind herself whenever she felt the urge to complain, or to wish that she had a washing machine or dishwasher or air conditioning. It's a process, and one that we are fully capable of making in our own lives.
Ultimately, peace and contentment comes more from how we think about things, rather than about how our circumstances change. We may want our circumstances to change, but dwelling on that will not lead to peace. If we decide to think positively, that will impact our outlook and our heart state. If we focus on the things we have to be grateful for, our blessings, that will lead to peace and joy.