54 minutes ago
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Gaining Inner Peace
Many of us experience life filled with turmoil. Our inner thoughts rage from one issue to another. It may seem like there is never time to stop and reflect. Peace is something desired but rarely experienced. But peace is the message of Christ. Jesus said to his disciples before His crucifixion, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you" (John 14:7). The Apostle Paul preached, "The peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ" (Phil 4:7). Our Christian faith is supposed to bring us peace, but yet even though we believe in Christ many seldom experience this peace. What is lacking?
The main issue is that our minds are too busy and we lack the ability to control our thoughts. This is a discipline we can learn through a combination of our own effort and God's grace. First, we should pray for inner peace. Second, we should examine our daily prayer rule and modify it. Prayer combined with repentance can bring peace and help us develop the discipline to control our minds. With a mind under control we make better decisions that lead us to a more peaceful life.
From my own experience, the practice of the Jesus Prayer is the most important practice for those seeking inner peace. For this to be effective a considerable amount of time needs to be committed to its practice. It requires at least one-half hour each day in the beginning and more later.
The most difficult part of this practice is committing the time to do it each and every day, without exception. It must become a habit just like brushing your teeth. Each day you miss you will fall back at least three days. It is easiest to make this time available in the morning by deciding to get up one-half hour earlier. It is also the quietest time for your body as well as your surroundings. This of course means you will have to go to bed one-half hour earlier as well. That is the hard part. Most likely you have a habit in the evening of relaxing, escaping the issues of the day, by watching a television program. This you will have to give up to make time for prayer.
Once you have made these decisions the rest is easy, as long as you have the inner desire for peace that comes from your faith in Christ. This is a practice of love of God. It is motivated not just for relief from anxiety, but for a desire to walk your life in union with Christ and to experience the peace He had in all kinds of situations.
The prayer is simple, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." You simply repeat it over and over. You begin your prayer time in a special quiet place where you have your icons and a candle which you can light before you begin. Take a few moment to quite your body and repeat the Trisagion prayer, then begin the repletion of the Jesus Prayer. Focus on the words. Say it aloud in the beginning. Don't try and rush. You have committed the time (You can set a timer so you know when the time is up) so there is no time pressure. Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica tells us, "We should say the words of the prayer knowing that the Lord sees us and He is listening to us."
Once you begin this discipline you will find that your mind is distracted by many thoughts. You will notice that you can observe yourself thinking. This is called the place of the silent witness, treasure it. When you encounter thoughts, you want to immediately and gently reject them and focus on the words of the Prayer. This is normal. You may discover some repeating thoughts related to an issue that requires forgiveness and repentance. If so, note it and seek forgiveness and arrange for the sacrament of Confession and determine actions to change this aspect of your behavior. But, while in your prayer time, do not focus on any issues. This is not a time for problem solving. Try and focus only on the prayer with sincerity, love for God, and a contrite heart seeking His mercy.
You will find this is difficult. Do not be discouraged as it is through difficulty that we progress and learn to control this wild activity of our mind. As they say, "No pain, no gain." You need to have persistence, endurance and faith that the Lord will help you. Remind yourself why you are engaging in this prayer life, you are seeking inner peace that comes from God for a life that is no longer filled with anxiety and turmoil but is lived with peace.
You also want to keep your focus on your heart and not on your head or brain. It is in the heart, the center of our soul, where Christ resides within us. Elder Sophrony tells us, "Keep your mind firmly focused on God, and the moment will come when the immortal Spirit touches the heart." We are not to seek any experience in this effort other than silence and peace. We should also not try to create any images in our mind and should reject those that do come. Over time, you will begin to find silence in the space between the words as the mind becomes more controlled.
Also this prayer will become part of you and during the day you can seek out ways to repeat it often. Use it when you are feeling stressed, when you are bored or feel impatient. Fill you mind with God whenever you have a chance. Eventually this prayer will be with you throughout your day and will bring comfort and a recentering of your life on Christ. This will bring peace.
There are many articles on how to pray, but the most difficult aspect is to just do it. Make the time! Make the commitment! Be consistent! After you begin and have made some effort for several months you will notice a change in your life. Thank God for this blessing. At this time you may want to seek out some articles to give you encouragement. These articles and more on the Jesus prayer can be found at OrthodoxPrayer.org.
Everyone can benefit from this practice. Its a part of our Orthodox Tradition. All it takes is your commitment to make time for it.
Let's all pray that the Lord will bring us all a quiet mind filled with peace. When this happens we will have peace in the world.