My desire for Inner Peace
The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. (Nm 6:24–26).
Have I ever felt a deep yearning for an inner peace that sets me searching for it? Have I looked for it in a vacation or quietness or financial security, yet sensed the peace I am after is a lot deeper than these? Have I been seeking meaning in the big picture, one that not only makes sense of the universe and humanity but also gives me the energy and inner peace to live graciously within it? When such movements tug at my soul, it is likely I am looking for the inner peace given to those who walk in the way of God.
This inner peace sings in harmony with who I am before my Creator; it delights in what makes me unique. It is a song of profound tranquility flowing beneath my daily life, which is good, for life itself can bring me to times of great need. At such times I may feel the radical need for love, the ache for forgiveness, the attraction of greater service, the want of healing, the desire for freedom, or the longing for divine friendship.
Once I truly desire any one of these needs, the lack of it will gradually carve a hole, an emptiness, in my soul. Life is more agitated, driven, or fragmented. I feel an inner disquiet. Yet, these needs can also set my feet on the path to a generous God and a certain, wonderful peace of soul.
The First Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola were created to help a person ask for and receive this inner peace. In them, six great gifts from God are sought in four retreats.
The first great gift is the gift of unconditional love. The inner peace that comes with this is utterly unmistakable for any other experience. I feel the love of God as so overwhelmingly unconditional, so gently intimate, that I am left with a deep-seated peace—a serenity that will survive all sorts of trials, selfishness, and loss. I become aware of the many extraordinary gifts that the Creator has given me through love, and I have the inner peace that tells me I need not turn anywhere else for what I need. Profound gratitude comes with this peace.
The second great gift is the gift of service. The interior peace of service abides in the heart of Christian and social action. I have ceased finding happiness in serving me and mine and feel drawn to serve a greater good. I sense a boundless generosity dwelling in me but realize how little I use it. When I do use it, I feel the inner peace that reveals that ser- vice of others is deeply right to who I am—one made in the image of a giving God and called to be a disciple of Jesus. Great energy comes with this peace.
The third great gift is the gift of forgiveness. The inner peace received with forgiveness comes when I realize how totally powerless I am to be free of the disorder and sin in my life. Yet, I find God has not abandoned me. Indeed, I am entangled by this disorder and living in a darkness until my God forgives and embraces me as I am. And God gives me more— unexpected feasts in lean times, consolations, and even the company of his only Son. Pure wonder comes with this peace.
The fourth great gift is the gift of healing. The inner peace of healing is given in times of long illness or suffering. Mysteriously, I may or may not be physically healed, but I feel a serenity and strength regardless. Akin to a night-light, this very personal peace shines within the dark- ness of illness or suffering. In this light Jesus reveals his own vulnerability, my dignity is not extinguished, anxieties fade, and personal whole- ness takes new shapes. Divine intimacy comes with this peace.
The fifth great gift is the gift of freedom. The inner peace of freedom is like a spring of living water bubbling up in the center of my life. Ev- erything looks fresh and is seen in a new light. Suddenly free, I become truly aware of the prison of my attachments, of the disorder in my life. Or, slowly free, I feel myself awaken and inner peace grow as I shed the things that I no longer need. In this retreat, I connect rightly with cre- ation, Creator, and myself. Deep reverence comes with this peace.
The sixth great gift is friendship with Jesus. It is the inner peace one feels with a best friend. My friend accepts me totally. I feel whole, more complete, and I walk with bounce and life. We are there for each other— my friend shapes my identity and calls me out of myself. All else seems right with the world, even with the whole universe. Though trials may come or hard service be chosen, Jesus as a friend for life gives me a cer- tain serenity. Quiet joy comes with this peace.
These six gifts were given to St. Ignatius, though initially his faith journey was rough going. He became lost in dead ends, snared in ex- hausting and pointless activities, felt the enticements of both the good and bad spirit, and was tugged in opposite directions by each. His life plans were changed again and again by circumstances. But God delighted in him, patiently teaching him, giving him many graces, and gently calling him forward.
Over time the holy desires of Ignatius grew within God’s desires for him. His service to God matured and his choices ripened until he felt the full measure of God’s inner peace in his life. This makes him an experienced guide, one who knows the terrain, and he has given us a map—his book of retreats, The Spiritual Exercises.