It is hard for me to imagine anyone seeing the three words that form the title of this reflection---peaceful, happy and strong---not wanting a share in all three. Can you believe anyone would say, “Nah, I prefer war to peace. I prefer conflict to peace!” Can you imagine anyone saying, “I much rather prefer sadness and despair to happiness!” And it is just as difficult to hear someone saying, “Heck, I’d much rather be weak and hurting than be strong.” Anyone in his or her right mind wants to be peaceful, happy and strong.
The real question is not whether I prefer these attributes, but how do I get them? Is there anything I or we can do to make them come true? Or do we simply have to wait, sit back and hope to become peaceful, happy and strong? The good news is, there are some things we can do to bring peace, happiness and strength to ourselves and to others.
I encountered these ideas recently when I was reading one of my favorite books which I use for a class. The book is by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk, and the book is entitled, Going Home. I also am fond of the subtitle of his book: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers. I have enjoyed reading this Buddhist monk for many years. He left Vietnam during the time of conflict in the 1960s and has lived in France since then. He has traveled to the United States many times and his message is wonderfully compatible with other major religious traditions. His ministry is designed to bring meaning into the lives of his followers and to enable them to be workers for peace.
I encountered the three words that are the title for this spiritual reflection as I began reading a paragraph in Hanh’s book. He stated, “We have to make steady progress in our spiritual life.” That struck a chord in me. Indeed, I thought, but how do you know what to do to make steady progress. I am for it, but I am not sure I can pull it off! And by the way, what does steady progress look like?
In some ways I think the three words in the title give us an answer. Let’s look at how Hanh frames it and, then, we can develop it further. I read deeper into the paragraph. Hanh tells us, “We have to let our faith grow. To help our faith grow, we have to let our love grow. And because our faith and our love continue to grow, our happiness will also grow. If you are not peaceful, and happy and strong, how can you expect to help other people be happy, and strong, and stable.”
That seems simple enough. However, it is still quite general. Let your faith grow. What does that mean? Believe more? I doubt it. The problem with this is assuming that faith means belief. Too many people say, “I have faith in God,” and mean “I believe in God.” This means they think God exists. In my understanding and, I think, for Hanh, faith means something like “trust.” To have faith in God means you trust that God exists and probably cares about you.
We let our faith grow by trust more and more deeply. We let our faith grow by putting our lives more and more fully in the hands of God. And perhaps having more faith means we trust God’s people more and more. We trust the community of God’s people. We give up our independence and choose to depend on God and to be interdependent with God’s people. In this process we come to have more peace. We become more peaceful.
Does this mean we don’t have problems any more? Of course, that is not the case. We will have problems; we will experience pitfalls. But in the deep faith in God, we will not be shaken. We will be made strong. And we will likely be happier.
The same goes for love. We help our faith grow more by letting our love grow. An interesting assumption pops up here. It assumes that love will grow. “Let your love grow,” says Hanh. I agree with his assumption. If we depend on God and are interdependent with God’s people, I do think we will love and we can let that love grow. The natural state for humans and their natural tendency is to love. And it is probably ok to be greedy about love! Some love is good; more love is even better.
I am sure where love exists, peace also is present. To be in love is to be in peace. To be full of love is to be full of peace---be peaceful. And I am just as sure that where love exists, there will be happiness. I don’t know anyone who is deeply loving who is also not happy. Love and happiness generally go together. And I am also sure this is true for strength.
To have faith and to be loving is to be a person of strength. We think of the martyrs. These men and women of faith and love were so strong, they would withstand anything the persecutors brought their way. I am not in their league, but I am in the program. If I can grow my faith and deepen my love, I will become more peaceful, stronger and happier. I am on the way!