Where Can I Turn For Peace?

“He answers privately,

Reaches my reaching

In my Gethsemane, Savior and Friend.

Gentle the peace he finds for my beseeching.

Constant he is and kind,

Love without end.”

Where Can I Turn for Peace? (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)

One December, not long after my husband and I got married, we found out my husband was scheduled to work on Christmas Eve. We’d hoped he could get it off by some miracle so we could go home for Christmas and see the family that lived all lived out of state. Well, he didn’t get that day off, so we couldn’t go home. It was my very first Christmas away from my family, and I felt isolated, depressed, and homesick.

My husband could tell I wasn’t taking it well, so he arranged for three friends (all also stuck in town for the holidays) to spend the whole day celebrating with us.

Since all of us were still in school, none of us had much money to our name. Still, everyone made arrangements to give gifts that were generous for their price range, and all of us brought what food we had to share in a little potluck. It was a humble and nontraditional Christmas, but we were in good company.

We made waffles, eggs, and bacon for breakfast, then ate around 200 pizza rolls between the five of us throughout the day. We played Mario Cart, Smash Bros, and a tabletop role playing game or two. We spent an hour Skyping far away family. At one point, there was a conflict and hurt feelings, quickly followed by sincere apologies and new perspectives. The day was filled with many hugs, endless laughter, and genuine joy.

Image of Christmas decorations in a college dorm
Photo by Dmitry Zvolskiy on Pexels.com

In my life, I’ve witnessed four temple dedications, two tender temple marriages, and countless moving sermons from the pulpit. The only way I can adequately describe how this day felt is by comparing it to the very best of these spiritual experiences. These moments are the closest I’ve ever been to God, but that Christmas, the connection I felt with my Heavenly Parents was clearer than ever before. Their love surrounded us with warmth and acceptance.

The thing is, we weren’t looking for any kind of spiritual experience that day. We didn’t read scriptures together or sing hymns or carols, and I’m not even sure if we prayed over breakfast. At the time, the five of us were all unsure of our place in the church, unsure if we were even meant to be in it at all.

We had bonded over being misfits, in a way.

Mine and my husband’s church attendance was low due to illnesses, and I’d been considering leaving the Church all together due to some struggles in my past. Two of the friends present were in a homosexual relationship with one another and weren’t sure how to continue going to church when their relationship wasn’t accepted by so many. The other friend had a colored past and serious doubts about the Church, and he chose to take on the persona of a “Jack Mormon.” We weren’t living with strict exactness to what the Church taught—our lives were as complicated as our relationships with God.

Why, then, did the Spirit feel so close that Christmas? I hadn’t sought comfort for my homesickness from God, yet it came through my friends, each of us wildly imperfect. Because I hadn’t done anything “right” to earn such strong feelings of love, it didn’t feel like I deserved it. Why should a day void of worship end with the warmth akin to that earned by spending hours in a holy space, doing serious contemplation and soul-searching?

After looking for some sort of explanation, I remembered an old scripture mastery from the New Testament:

“And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

Matthew 25:40

The lesson I learned from this is what saved my relationship with God and the Church: God isn’t just in the pages of scriptures, the ward buildings, and the temples. God lives in us. When we cultivate healthy, wholesome relationships with God’s children, we can find pieces of His love in them, and we can provide the same bits of His love to them in return.

When we show love to God’s children, we show love to and from God.

A concerned parent who loses touch with a child might send the child’s sibling to check in on them and make sure they’re okay. In the same way, our purpose in church is to check in with our spirit siblings and minister love in the way that God would if He could physically be here to do so Himself.

I realized that, while burying myself in my studies at school, I had fallen into a vicious cycle. When I isolated myself from others, I would isolate myself from God. When I isolated myself from God, I would isolate myself from others. By reaching out to my friends and trusting them to help me, I had found God’s love again through their compassion and encouragement.

Not only was my mental health improved by their companionship, but my spiritual health was reheated in the microwave of sincere connection. The gifts and traits that God had given them—the little pieces of His good nature—helped me rediscover Him.

Perhaps my favorite quote from Les Misérables can serve as a frame for my thoughts:

“To love another person is to see the face of God.”

Les Misérables (Victor Hugo)

I’ve seen the face of God when my husband talks me down from difficult mental health episodes; I’ve seen the face of God when we found our friend, safely sleeping at home, after searching for him in hospitals, parking lots, and empty roads when he sent a worrying text; I’ve seen the face of God when a family member and I finally reconciled and forgave each other after a lengthy and emotional dispute; I’ve seen the face of God in my eyes as I was finally able to meet them in the mirror after years of self-loathing.

That Christmas, I wasn’t ready to reforge my relationship with God. But I desperately needed to feel His love for me. At the time, I was at a loss for where to turn for peace. I turned to the people around me, and they showed me, through their love, where I could find Him. I found His love by loving freely.

Where can you turn for peace? If you can’t find it on your knees, look for it in your neighbor. Open your heart to your brother, your bishop, or your friend. Openly love, and you will find love wherever love can be found, even if the only source available right now is within yourself.

Be kind.

Do good.

Spread love.

Eventually, Christmas will come.

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