Facing Life’s Challenges

Do We Experience Peace in our Lives?

Do you need to slow down and recharge from time to time? I sure know I often do. “They” always said that when the kids are grown and out of college, the pressures of life would ease up. It isn’t true! Thankfully, we never had a really difficult time with our kids and I am proud to say that they have matured into the very best of adults – that should be no surprise to us because they were always good children.

No, the anxieties many of us face go beyond the day-to-day pressures of marriage, career, children and preparing for retirement, as the world defines these challenges. Or maybe it is better stated that these anxieties arise from how we approach these pressures. Each of us can probably see that this is true just by looking back at the course and events of our lives.

Whether we are faced with a serious illness, a death of a loved one, or something less serious – do we experience peace in the midst of the difficulty or are our hearts troubled beyond measure?

I have to smile when I think back to one of the “less serious” events in my life years ago. We had decided to enroll our daughter in a new, private, Catholic high school when she graduated from middle school. My daughter was not particularly pleased with me – she had been looking forward to going to a different high school; the one to which all her friends were going – and I had my own qualms. How would she adapt to the new school? Would she make good friends? Would she do well? And the school was only beginning its first year – would it be a good school? And where in the world would I get all the money for tuition, books and other costs? The high school cost more than most state universities!

I am happy to say that everything worked out very well for her, but at the time of the decision, I did not have real peace and peace did not follow when everything went well. Why? Because life has a way of quickly presenting the next challenge and the day-to-day pressures of living do not often take a break. Although it is true that we often allow these daily pressures and challenges to wear us down, there is something more fundamental that truly robs us of the peace we seek.

Do We Trust God?

Too often we feel that events control us and so we seek to control the events. Now, I want to make clear that it is our responsibility to manage our earthly affairs with diligence and hard work. What I believe far too many of us lack as we go about living is an abiding trust and reliance on God.

When faced with difficulties, do we immediately ask God’s help or do we turn to Him only when all our efforts seem to have been spent? Do we see God as our first and constant help or only our last recourse? If the answer is the latter, then we are more than likely moving farther from His Divine care and protection each day without realizing it. And then peace never comes; only the next challenge to be confronted.

God’s Plan and Preparation for Us

In the first reading and Gospel from the Mass of the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A), we are presented with the image of the vineyard and those who work it. In the gospel (Matthew 21:33-46), Jesus tells the parable of the Vineyard and the Wicked Vinedressers. In the reading from the Old Testament (Isaiah 5:1-7), the prophet Isaiah tells of the Vineyard of the Lord (his friend). We are familiar with both these texts and know that the primary sense is directed to turning away from the Lord by Israel and the treatment of the prophets and the Son when God sent them to call the Chosen People to account. But there is rich meaning and application for us today in these words.

Read both texts and reflect on the reassuring truths they contain. God, Himself, prepared the vineyards – He chose a fertile ground, tilled it, cleared it of stones and planted the choicest of vines. He built a watchtower and provided a vine press. These are images rich in meaning, but I want to focus, not on the individual images, but rather on the big picture as it might apply to us. In one sense, we are the branches of that vine. Everything that we need that is of any importance has been provided for us by God. He is with us, yet he is “gone” from us in the sense that we are free to choose how we grow.

  • Free to work or choose to be lazy and irresponsible
  • Free to choose good or evil
  • Free to love one another or only self
  • Free to abide in Him or turn away
  • Free to offer Him the worship He is due or think only of self
  • Free to surrender to Him or ignore Him
  • Free to bear good grapes or only wild grapes
  • Free to live a life of anxiety or one of peace

God is good and wants only the good for us. He has left us to choose the good. And it is in choosing the good that we find purpose and peace.

St. Paul, writing in the second reading (Philippians 4:6-9) offers us the God’s perfect words for living in this stressful life:

“Brothers and sisters:
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

“Finally, brothers and sisters,
whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious,
if there is any excellence
and if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things.
Keep on doing what you have learned and received.”


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About the Author

Deacon Michael Bickerstaff is the Editor in chief and co-founder of the The Integrated Catholic Life.™ A Catholic Deacon of the Roman Rite for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Deacon Bickerstaff is assigned to St. Peter Chanel Catholic Church where he is the Director of Adult Education and Evangelization.

He is a co-founder of the successful annual Atlanta Catholic Business Conference; the Chaplain of the Atlanta Chapter of the Woodstock Theological Center’s Business Conference; and Chaplain of the St. Peter Chanel Faith at Work Business Association and co-founder and Chaplain of the Marriages Are Covenants Ministry, both of which serve as models for similar parish-based ministries.

He and his wife have two adult children, one daughter-in-law and three grandchildren.

NB: The views I express on this site are my own. I am not an official spokesman for either my parish or diocese.

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1 Comment

  1. How often do I come across people who’s lives are a mess, who’s families live in chaos and there no peace to speak of. I do not need to ask them if God is important to them or their familes, the answer lays in the chaos. They spend tremendous amounts of energy trying to control “the situation” only to have it blow up in their face. What I usually do is share my experience in how trusting God and His will for me has brought about the peace within me I was seeking my entire life, usually through the world, not through God. I remember well when I surrendered, it was no overwhelming moment, but over a course of several weeks I found myself at peace with issues that in the past I would not have had such peace. I believe it is my duty to Christ and my faith to share with anyone who has ears to hear what God will do for us, if we allow Him into our hearts. Thinking about God gets me nowhere, I must love God with my heart and leave my thoughts for Him be expressed through the words He has me speak. One will know instinctively when they see and hear Truth. So when I share my experiences with others, they hear and see Truth, the rest is up to them. When they get tired enough, beat down enough, or tragedy comes their way, they will turn to God in a way they have not before, and God will be there with His loving arms open to the afflicted one. He was for me and He will for you.
    God Bless
    Gary

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