I’d hazard a guess that if you asked my friends and family to describe me, “Peaceful” is probably not the first adjective they would come up with. Perhaps a poll might prove interesting, although I suspect it may be a case of “be careful what you ask for, you might just get it…”
I’d embrace the descriptors of: bubbly, lively, passionate, loving, loyal, protective, compassionate, determined, confident, creative…but some would most likely include the not-so-flattering: difficult, strong-willed, argumentative, emotional, perfectionist, procrastinator, high-strung, crazy, unbending….
Sometimes I wonder if I’m simply the quintessential “Problem Child”. As a youngster I loved Dorothy Edwards’ “My Naughty Little Sister” series, family tales told from the perspective of the “Big Sister”. Sometimes the “Naughty little sister” was indeed mischievous. But often times – in the books, and also in life – it’s a matter of viewpoint.
I remember once receiving a stern talking-to by my parents who wanted me to understand that “When you sit down the back of Training Orchestra with your friends and giggle, it reflects badly on your sister”.
Now, so many years later, I can understand this admonishment from multiple viewpoints.
Firstly: Yes, my sister was the more serious musician and had some kudos as a more responsible member of said Training Orchestra, and my presence was possibly embarrassing and even cringe-worthy.
Secondly, I was SEVEN years old. Don’t 7-year-olds mess about and giggle?
Thirdly, as a Strings teacher now of multiple lively children, many with short concentration spans, I have been known sometimes to just give in and laugh along with them. OK, frequently…
From being the “Naughty Little Sister” I progressed, shortly after the arrival of my younger sister I guess, to having a fairly classic case of “Middle Child Syndrome”. This is actually a scientifically recognized “thing”, and indeed your birth order in a family can be quite significant as to how you deal with life, possibly owing to the fact that parents (possibly even more so these days?) balance Baby Number 1 in one hand with a copy of “Baby Love”/”What to Expect in the First Year” in the other, but loosen their grip on the book – and the stress on themselves – with subsequent children. In addition, younger children grow up in the constant presence of the older ones; so have always had to share and compromise and so forth. But I digress.
My other childhood and teenage hang-ups included: wearing glasses from the age of 11, being seen in High School as a Music Snob, not having a boyfriend until after I finished school (this wasn’t a big concern to me at the time but probably suggested to my peers that I was somewhat of a wall-flower). Then at Uni and beyond: not being much of a party person, not being much of a drinker (in fact I have never in my life been properly “Drunk”), being a bit of a homebody (partly due to losing my Dad) and various other Issues.
[“Issues, what Issues?” is incidentally the title of a very amusing, autobiographical book by two Brisbane women Alli & Genine. Well worth a read (and a forty-something giggle) in recognition that we all have flaws, none of us is perfect, and, if we were, the world would be a very boring place…]
And then, of course, as an Adult, I have some what would be seen as Defining Issues. I am definitely Blonde. I am still a Classical Musician (although my musical experience and tastes have broadened somewhat). I am a Church Organist. I’m still not much of a drinker. I don’t understand Sport (although the males in my family have been working on this one for years). With the death of my Mum, I am now an Orphan. Oh, and I’m a Pastor’s Wife.
So to what extent do we allow our issues to define us?
Last year I was part of a dozen odd people (scattered over multiple continents) who were the pilot group for a personal-development program known as “Compass for Life”. This I found a most enriching experience for a number of reasons. One, simply to connect with largely new friends thorough twice-weekly “webinars”. Secondly, the course content – partly based on finding your passions and not losing sight of your dreams – was excellent. Thirdly the honest, sage guidance I received from the course leader and writer, whom I had actually known in a former life many years ago.
His summation of my various struggles was: “Kylie, you need to be more comfortable in your own skin”.
To some extent the establishment of this very Blog, “Serendipity” has helped me to do this. To assist me to see parts of life through a different filter – what has made me who I am today, and how it all contributes to the rich pattern of life. And I guess in sharing both my autobiographical bits and pieces, and current musings on life, I hope that I might in some ways provide a little thought and insight, perhaps to those who read these ponderings.
And, paradoxically, one of the things which I have resented about the stereotyped “Pastor’s Wife” persona is that people have sought my insight or advice, which I have felt unqualified to give, yet I often find myself writing here with a somewhat Christian slant. One of life’s little ironies.
So what of being “Peaceful”?
As it happens, today is the traditional feast of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals. Christian or not, animal-lover or not, the “Prayer of St. Francis” contains wonderful words to attempt to live by. The beautiful hymn written in 1967 (the year I was born) by Sebastian Temple: “Make me a channel of your peace” has led to the prayer being commonly known by its first line.
The first section is a reflection on the very concept of “Peace”. It has similarities to biblical Isaiah Chapter 61, where negatives become positives through a transformative work of God. Here the writer declares that the Lord is about to turn despair into praise and mourning will be turned into joy:
“to bestow on them (those in Zion) a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair”. (Isaiah 61: 1-3)
In the 21st century, we often associate the word “peace” with a personal sense of calm and restfulness. Indeed, as the years go by and technology intrudes more and more into our (and our children’s) lives, I feel we are in severe danger of losing this altogether, in the fast pace, noise and “busy-ness” of every minute of every day.
However, the word actually derives from the Latin “pax”, and is a translation of the Jewish word “Shalom” which has to do with wholeness – both at a personal and social level.
This prayer is about transformation – the movement away from darkness to light, from despair to hope and so on, and hence summarises the meaning of “Shalom” in that it is about a direction of travel, rather than being about something that has already been arrived at.
The prayer is also a declaration of intent for the person who prays it.
The first lines of the last stanza have three requests to God (to seek to console, understand and love others first). The second three lines are statements of faith.
- grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console
The first request is to ask how one might console somebody else first, rather than seeking to be comforted in his or her grief or trouble. The idea that in caring and comforting others we ourselves will find comfort resonates with Christ’s words in the Beatitudes: – Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Matthew 5:7)
- to be understood, as to understand
Stephen Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” observes that “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Covey encourages people to begin interactions by seeking to understand somebody else first, before wanting to make yourself heard or understood. This act of understanding will involve deep listening. This goes against the natural instinct within oneself of wanting to impress or tell ones story first, before thinking about anyone else and their life and story.
- to love, than to be loved
Jesus says that to love God and “Love your neighbour as yourself” are the greatest commandments. Rather than waiting around to receive love from others, we are encouraged to be pro-active in giving it.
The Peace Prayer of St Francis underscores the principle of going first. Often in situations of deadlock, where relationships have broken down, the route for resolution is to be humble and ask for forgiveness (even when we feel like we are the ones who are owed an apology). In going first, the other party is more likely to be open and responsive. They may even “say sorry” as well.
Ironically, I have at various times been not only the “Middle child” but the “Middle Man” and somewhat of a Peacemaker in situations involving family, friends, or work colleagues. I would hope to have had a hand in resolution of some situations, even if I know I have, at other times been divisive as well.
Because I do also believe that there is a time for overlooking differences, avoiding conflict and “keeping the peace”, but other times true resolution is only possible when the root causes of problems are examined, parties take responsibility for their actions and issues are properly resolved at a grassroots level, rather than “Papering over the cracks”.
Sometimes, only then is true peace achieved. (And what a difference that makes).
Times I feel truly at Peace are indeed when no apparent trouble is brewing in my various spheres, but especially in the calm and beauty of the natural world, away from the computer, the phone, the television, and all that calls to work – cooking, washing, cleaning, the minutiae of daily life.
Today is a public holiday in Australia, and in Queensland this marks also the end of two weeks of School Holidays. For many parents of school-aged children, I suspect large swathes of peace (and relief) will ensue after school drop-off in the morning when returning to an empty house for a few hours. For us teacher types the reverse is true, as we summon energy and look for the impetus to work through the final term for the year, which always seems to be somewhat a race to the finish, with countdowns to Speech Nights, Graduations and Christmas, while still attempting to plan for next year.
So, as I take a deep breath tomorrow morning, as I “crank it up” for another school term’s work (and play, and achievement, and joy), I will attempt to be an “Instrument of Peace”.
And, much as I am no more qualified to offer it than the next person, I wish you, too, Peace. And Joy.
Some information on the “Prayer of St. Francis” sourced from http://www.lords-prayer-words.com/