During an interview Pearl Buck, winner of the 1938 Nobel Prize for literature, was once asked the secret of her extraordinarily productive life. The author responded saying she learned an important lesson from her fatheme her far when the family lived in China. At that tither was a missionary and received a sizable amount of money from supporters in the United States. They made it clear that the money was to be used to build a new chapel.
However, Buck’s father decided that the need for a riverboat to transport food to the poor was more pressing than a church. That decision raised an intense furor from his superiors and supporters. Pearl Buck was aware of the great criticism directed at him for redirecting the funds. “But that didn’t bother my father at all,” she told the interviewer. “He just went calmly on his way. And that’s what I have done all my life. I’ve just gone calmly on my way.”
Many people would envy Pearl Buck’s father for his ability to remain calm and serene. It seems that life is filled with ample opportunities to become stressed out but is nearly devoid of peaceful, serene moments. A deadline is missed; appointments are running late; traffic is horrendous; the boss is on edge; the phones won’t stop ringing; a child is sick. Yet there are ways to build resources and develop strategies for cultivating peace in your daily life. Try these eight serenity suggestions.
1. Begin by remembering a promise.
Jesus promised Christians the gift of peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. . . . Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).* Claim that gift through prayer by daily affirming that Christ’s peace and serenity is in your life. When trials and traumas emerge, be encouraged by this observation from New Testament scholar William Barclay, who says that being in Christ’s peace does not mean the absence of trouble. “The peace which the world offers us is the peace of escape, the refusing to face things,” he writes. “The peace which Jesus offers us is the peace of conquest. No experience of life can ever take it from us and no sorrow, no danger, no suffering can ever make it less. It is independent of outward circumstances.”
2. Review your thoughts.
Carefully consider your mental and spiritual attitudes. The mind is like a garden. Good thoughts produce good fruit; bad thoughts produce bad fruit. Review your thinking to be certain that the focus is upon hope and triumph, not despair and defeat.
Often a shift in thinking and perception opens the door to serenity. A good example is Jacqueline, a California woman. She was 14 when doctors discovered she had scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. In her case it could lead to paralysis and even death if not corrected. She underwent a major operation that reduced three curves in her spine and fused together most of her vertebrae. Two rods running the length of her back were inserted to hold her repositioned spine in place. She had to wear a body cast for four months and a brace for another three months. Although the brace was removed in the spring, her depression did not relinquish its hold as easily because Jacqueline was told she could no longer participate in diving, gymnastics, and skateboarding-some of her favorite activities.
However, she cautiously began to exercise. Joining a health club with her mother, Jacqueline took aerobics and lifted weights. That gave her a sense of freedom, control and power over her life. I realized that I should be thankful for what I could do rather than dwell on what I couldn’t do. Because her thinking was transformed, Jacqueline has created new possibilities for her life that no one could ever have imagined for her. She went to university, where she studied fitness and exercise. Today she holds three fitness certifications, teaches step aerobics, does personal training, and lectures before fitness instructors.
3. Use music to soothe.
Back in the eighteenth century German author Johann Paul Friedrich Richter noted the power of music upon the human spirit. “Music is the moonlight in the gloomy night of life,” he wrote. Today there is scientific evidence that music can soothe frayed nerves.
At Baltimore’s St. Agnes Hospital, classical music was provided in the intensive-care units. “Half an hour of music produced the same effect as 10 milligrams of Valium,” says Dr. Raymond Bahr, head of the coronary-care unit. “Some patients who had been awake for three or four straight days were able to go into a deep sleep.”
Other studies show that music can lower blood pressure, basal metabolism, and respiration rates, thereby lessening physiological responses to stress. To increase serenity, think about music that you truly enjoy and find calming. Then make a point of listening to that music during times of high stress.
4. Employ the therapy of laughter.
“A cheerful heart is good medicine,” declares the writer of Proverbs (17:22). That biblical wisdom is now confirmed by science. According to W. F. Fry, M.D., a psychiatrist and emeritus associate clinical professor at Stanford University Medical School, humor is a “direct antagonist to the three major negative emotions-anger, fear, and depression.” There are times when we should just laugh at problems. Another way to use the therapy of laughter is to watch amusing television programs and videos.
5. Don’t expect perfection from yourself.
Some people are their own worst enemy. They simply cannot forgive themselves if they miss an opportunity, commit an error of judgment, lose a job, damage a relationship. Remind yourself that being human means making mistakes. Don’t expect perfection from yourself, but if you make a mistake forgive yourself and take the necessary steps to reclaim your life. Tone down negative and harsh thoughts of yourself by recalling how God views you: “You are precious and honored in my sight, and … I love you” (Isaiah 43:4).
6. Live one day at a time.
Many people are deprived of their peace of mind because they live with anxiety over the past and fear of the future. The way to eliminate such anxiety and fear is to take one step after another and live one day at a time.
This is what television personality Deborah Norville learned to do after she left the Today show. When she first replaced the Today show co-host Jane Pauley in January 1990, Pauley fans were outraged. Even though Norville had nothing to do with the network decision to drop Pauley, she was skewered by TV critics. One even coined the word “Norvilled,” meaning to be rudely pushed aside.
Initially devastated by the barrage of criticism, Norville withdrew from media work. Only recently has she reemerged and begun working on a national television program again. In order to bounce back from her Today ordeal Norville learned to live one day at a time. Looking back, she says: “There are days (depression is a part of it) when if all you do is take a shower, get dressed, and put on your makeup, then it’s a good day. Your goals have to be much lower. But if you take one tiny little step, then you can take another and another. Then you have walked that city block.”
7. Take care of your spiritual life.
Ultimately serenity and peace are gifts from God. “The Lord blesses his people with peace,” declares the psalmist (Psalm 29:11). Today an increasing number of psychologists are noting the positive correlation between a person’s faith and his or her serenity. Tapping into faith produces spiritual and emotional benefits. While faith does not prevent suffering and trauma, it does give meaning and purpose to life by providing a focus beyond oneself.
“Spiritual beliefs can be a powerful resource during times of duress,” say psychologists Lyle Miller, Alma Smith, and Larry Rothstein in their book The Stress Solution. “Having trust in a higher power decreases feelings of isolation and abandonment and gives life a sense of meaning and purpose. Developing a source of guidance in your life will help put stressful events in perspective.”
8. Practice the art of taking a minibreak.
Life must never be reduced to movement from one appointment to another and from task to task. Jesus offers a good example. After a busy day full of ministry He instructed His disciples: “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31). The daily grind of life should be broken by doing something different and pleasant periodically. Some suggestions include: going for a bike ride on a quiet road, playing a favored childhood game, visiting a local tourist site, spending a few hours on a beach.
One woman in her mid-50s finds respite and inspiration in the children’s section of her public library. “Whenever I feel stressed out I go to the children’s reading room of the library where I curl up on a small chair at a small table and for an hour or so I become a child again.”
Finally, try to look at life philosophically. Realize that some parts of life can be managed, controlled, and shaped, while there are others over which we have no control. Serenity is always found in the lives of people who know the difference between what can be controlled and what cannot be.
*Scripture references in this article are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.