Inner peace. It’s what everyone is looking for, isn’t it? It has to be: there are hundreds of self-help books flooding the marketplace, each of them claiming to give readers the path to inner contentment. DVDs walk us through mindfulness meditations, herbal “remedies” claim to calm our anxieties, yoga classes urge us to breathe deeply and discover our inner self.
And yet something isn’t working. Everyone is still waiting for the next book, the next video, the next class that promises that by lunchtime we’ll have found the path to peace.
Just as the country song talks about “looking for love in all the wrong places,” what’s happening is that we’re looking for peace in all the wrong places. Sure, it’s good to be healthy and to become more mindful, but those are strategies, not solutions. Inner peace, ironically enough, doesn’t come from within: it comes from trusting in God. Once there’s the understanding that God is in control, we can give up the anxieties and take a deep breath.
Around the turn of the 18th century, a French Jesuit named Jean-Pierre de Caussade was the spiritual director of a convent of Visitation nuns. He wrote them letters and gave them conferences, and years after his death they were compiled and put into a collection called Abandonment to Divine Providence, filled with advice on how to nurture your relationship with God. One thought stands out: God is working through every event, every situation, every thought. If we surrender ourselves to him with the trust of a child, we can find inner peace, we can breathe deeply, we can be whole.
It really is that simple.
Here’s what de Caussade tells us. What really matters is to love God and surrender ourselves to him completely, moment by moment. What this means, in practice, is that we don’t have to dwell on our past mistakes or worry about what the future holds. Think about it: if every moment when a negative thought comes into your head you surrender it to God, then you don’t have room in your head and your heart for fretting. You’re using that same energy to turn the matter over to God.
The past is over and the future is invisible to us: what we have, instead, is the sacrament of the present moment. It’s in that moment that in reveals himself to us. Not in the calm moments of contemplating, but right in the middle of our busyness, of our anxiety, of our fears. We don’t have to do anything else: just turn everything over to God, moment by moment, every day.
Various stress-reduction techniques teach us to breathe deeply. But how much deeper a breath can we take when we give up all the worry and daily trivial issues! When we pay attention to every small detail and understand that even the most trivial of situations is a sacrament of God’s revelation, then we really can find inner peace.
Pauline Books and Media has collected the thoughts of Father de Caussade in a small volume that’s part of our Classic Wisdom Series and that we call, appropriately enough, Inner Peace. It distills his thoughts simply so that you can, finally, take a deep breath.