Have you ever just wanted to get away from it all in order to find peace? As in: go out into nature to find it? Escape into the mountains or travel to the seashore? Listen to the wind tease the pine tree needles, or hear the waves curl and hammer the shore in a heart-soothing rhythm? Hear the lake water lap against its confining perimeter? Or just hear...nothing?
That’s what my husband and I planned to do last week, and we did pack our bags and head to the mountains of Southern California to enjoy the fall colors, lapping water, and fluttering pine needles. But throughout the week, (and after a lot of meditating on it before the trip), I came to realize that “nature” isn’t really as peaceful as I once thought it was, and that it really is more about being at peace in my soul, wherever I am, than finding peace in some specific location. I also realized that what many of us define as peace is better translated “quiet,” and that experiencing both of them simultaneously isn’t always possible.
Our little get-away condo overlooked Big Bear Lake, once a resplendent manmade reservoir now seventeen feet below normal, suffering the effects of a prolonged drought. Gorgeous, window-loaded homes that boasted “lake front” property signs now overlook rustling prairie grass and cockeyed boat docks perched precariously on dry ground. Unused dock bridges lie on their sides. Nature certainly couldn’t be at sublime peace in this location, with habitats being displaced.
One morning the lake glistened like glass and reflected everything above and beyond it like a perfect mirror. The following day a forty-mile an hour wind kicked up the water into white caps that rustled the surface into chop.
Another day we ventured out to the sun deck to enjoy a barbecue with other condo dwellers, but some of their visibly grumpy attitudes and complaining didn’t allow for much quiet or peace. Then an attempt at enjoying a leisurely breakfast on the outdoor patio had to be curtailed when a couple of alert hornets zoomed in to share our breakfast sausages. (I was starting to think more and more about “survival of the fittest” while I gulped down the delicious scrambled eggs my beloved had labored to prepare for our pleasure, and then rushed inside to finish my breakfast.) On yet another patio sitting attempt, to enjoy steaming cups of freshly brewed coffee, we were treated to the raucous screeching of two blue jays that seemed to be having a territorial argument in the nearest tree. The fight may have been due to the raw, unshelled nuts we had lined up on the patio ledge for winter-preparing squirrels to snack on and sequester in their winter caches. The squirrels didn’t snag the nuts, but a jay did, and he selected the choicest ones for consumption and boldly hopped three feet into our condo through our opened patio door to search for more goodies when we neglected to line up more nuts for his dining pleasure.
We thought we’d find peace during a late evening soak in the hot tub, until several raccoons thunked onto the ground several feet away from us on their way to raid the nearby trash cans. They eyeballed us and checked out our threat level before making their quick, stealthy pad across the concrete. We crouched into a corner of the hot tub and breathed exaggerated sighs of relief that a high metal fence separated us from them—a fence they would have had no problem squeezing through or under if they thought we posed a threat to them. We carefully surveyed the area before we opened the gate and returned across the grounds to our room.
The following day we expected to find some sense of peace when we boarded a small paddlewheel boat for a lake tour. But ten minutes after launch, my husband was helping extract two people from their tiny, swamped fishing boat, and I was rendering aid to our injured skipper and one of the rescued people. The tour was promptly curtailed, and I rode back with one rescued person while my husband waved at me from the official lake rescue police boat carrying the other stunned fisherman. Later that afternoon, my husband, cousin, his wife, and I opted for a quiet dinner at a hilltop restaurant. Just before we walked out the door to go eat, though, the police department called for one final statement from my husband about how the skipper had handled the situation. Let’s just say, his response wasn’t peaceful.
In daylight, chipmunks stealthily scurried from one scrub brush or rock cover to another, stopping only briefly to stand up, flick their tails and chirp or sniff the air before flitting under another protective cover. Cottontail rabbits do the same, except for the chirping and tail flicking. Resident dogs warned us of walking too close to their fenced, or personal walking territory.
While it may be quiet, clearly life is not “peaceful” for these littlest mountain creatures. One false move and they may end up on a hawk’s dinner plate. The same goes for the ducks when they’ve ventured onto dry land from their safer, watery habitat. And nights—while “sounding” quiet—are not full of peace, either. While some animals sleep, the nocturnal types are busy hunting and feeding. Night strolls found us on fairly high alert, too. Not just for reckless, speeding mountain drivers but for cunning coyotes, scavenging bears, and stealthy, stalking cougars.
So while nature may seem peaceful to my untrained, human eye and senses, it–as scripture says—groans while awaiting its redemption upon Christ’s return. It fights for survival. Animals hunt other animals, and the ground thirsts for rehydration. Trees suffer the effects of drought, and pine needles turn brown and crisp as the trees stiffen and shrivel.
And I come to realize that it is really my soul that craves peace, and—if I focus like a laser beam on the Prince of Peace who resides within my soul—I should be able to find peace anywhere—in the noisiest city or atop the quietest mountain. It is when I focus less on my surroundings and agitating circumstances and more on His perfect love that drives out fear and quiets my pounding heart, that peace—in its soul-soothing perfection—prevails.
On the final day of our weeklong hiatus, God blessed us with a perfectly quiet, serene surrounding, (read: no one else but us), and a delicious, leisurely meal on the patio of a historic log home. (Okay, so we did have to ward off some persistent, opportunistic flies, but after the week we’d had, they seemed mundane.) We hated to leave and dragged out the lunch as long as we could before hitting the road for our return drive home. We reveled in the quiet and felt peace in our spirits, and at peace with our surroundings. It is rare that it all comes together so perfectly like that, but if I really look for it, I think it may come more often. No matter where I happen to be.
Until next Monday, may your week be full of blessings that you receive and give, your heart be full of joy and thankfulness, and your days be filled with laughter. Build a little heaven in your life right now, and watch your heavenly garden grow!
When the eyes of the soul looking out meet the eyes of God looking in, heaven has begun right here on earth. ~ A. W. Tozer
Images by Andrea Arthur Owan, and Google