Inner peace always begins with one question
Troubles rob us of our peace. How we respond determines whether we resolve matters or make things worse. For most of us, our instinctive response to things that upset is, how do I get this problem to go away? This is the wrong question. We need to ask a different question and when we do, we virtually guarantee our path to peace AND the problem often goes away too (but not always). This is the question:
- Why does this bother me?
This is a hard question to ask because we tend to think the answer is obvious.
“The man lied to me! Of course it bothers me!”
“She says I promised but I never promised. Now she won’t talk to me. It’s not fair and she won’t listen to reason.”
We make our case. We see the good and right thing we have done. We also see the wrong and unfair thing they have done. We think that’s the whole story! This is the proof that we have a “plank in our eye,” as Jesus described it. We have a biased view that the other person is falsely accusing us or unjustly punishing us for crimes we didn’t do or at the very least don’t deserve a cold shoulder or even all-out firing or divorce. We want them to stop hurting us.
Jesus describes this as our desire to “remove the speck from their eye.” They have a fault and it upsets us. Our instinct is to get them to change. We mistakenly ask, how do I get them to stop (or start)? This is the wrong question.
When we ask, why does their hurtful behaviour bother me, we open the door to receiving a precious spiritual blessing. We begin to grow our capacity to love someone even when they are unlovable. In so doing, we open the wellspring of vulnerability that is the key to feeling loved from within – filled by God’s love which comes to us in spirit. Furthermore, and this is the real miracle, we increase our chances of helping them make positive changes – but not on our own strength.
How does this one question result in such a blessing? This question forces us to see our own faults and our own role in creating the trouble. This is the plank in our eye that we fail to see. We had a role. But there is more. We also begin to see that we too have done or are capable of doing the very fault exhibited by the other person for which we feel so aggrieved. Now we feel compassion and empathy. We see that we too might well have done what they did if we had been in their shoes, feeling what they felt and carrying the baggage they carry.
The blessing doesn’t stop there. Once we see our own role and have compassion for their weaknesses, we become capable of forgiving them, even if they don’t think there is anything to forgive! This is frequently the case as people defend themselves and deny their own role. It is hard to forgive a person who shows no remorse. But when we are no longer upset by what they did because we no longer take it personally, we become capable of this forgiveness.
The blessing doesn’t stop there. One more awaits. With compassion and forgiveness, we become capable of repentance. We become capable of acknowledging our role and asking the other person to forgive us for how we hurt them. Without compassion and forgiveness, we are unable to see how the well-intentioned “good” we did is often received by others as pain, rejection and criticism.
When the plank is out of our eye, we see clearly and we know what we need to do. We become led by the Spirit, free from ego-based, flesh-centered, woe-is-me, self-absorbed responses that fuel the problem. Rather, we become able to go to the cross ourselves just as Jesus did for us. We become able to take the hit for our role when we free ourselves from why their behaviour bothered us in the first place.
When we have compassion for their pain and our role, we don’t become a doormat who tolerates or endorses bad behaviour. Rather, we become a mirror that shines God’s light into the heart of another. We tickle their conscience. Often, but not always, they see the error of their ways. Our humility brings forth their humility. We remove the speck from their eye by no longer being upset by what they’ve done. Their behaviour no longer defines our inner experience. We become spiritually powerful.
To receive this blessing, we must “first become neutral about outcomes.” This is what it means to remove the plank from our own eye. We must accept that the very thing that bothers us will never change. In so doing, we experience inner healing. We are safe and loved by God even when bad things happen to us. With each trial, we become more aware and convicted of how true this is. God can be trusted. When we come to peace about why a situation bothers us, we are saying to God, “Thy will be done.” Furthermore, we are saying, “I seek your will and I obey.” Jesus said, “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and my sister and my mother.” (Matt 12:50)
Write the question down on a piece of paper. Paste it onto your computer screen or bedside table. “Why does this bother me?” It will lead you to first becoming neutral before you respond or react in a troubling situation. Then you will see that God’s ways are wiser than your ways. Then you will lean on Him and not on your own strength. Whatever happens, you will be at peace that you did your best and the resulting outcomes were meant to happen. When we can trust the future to Him in this way, we can live in peace now, in this present moment. Now is the only time we can experience inner peace.