The Price of Peace

I’m talking about shalom, which is qualitatively much more than the absence of overt conflict.

People often comment on the atmosphere of peace they feel at St. Peter’s. It is a gift from God, but like all gifts, it makes us into stewards. Will we guard and nurture and even multiply the gift?

The price of peace is margin. Is it any wonder it is so rare?

Margin is just too high a price to pay for most Americans. Actually, its not margin itself, but what it takes to create margin. Margin requires discipline, budgeting our time the way we budget money.

Old Testament scholar, Victor Hamilton told us freshmen this story from his college days. After completing a grueling exam, his professor called him into the office and said, “Vic, you did very well on this exam, but let me ask you a question. Did you alter your normal study routine in any way in preparation?” Of course, he had been up into the wee hours preparing. His professor said, “It is more important for you to maintain your schedule than to ace exams.” It was a lesson he never forgot and he passed it on to us.

In “The Seven Habits,” Covey talked about the “P/PC Balance.” P stands for Production. PC stands for Production Capacity. If you achieve a lot of P but diminish your PC in the process you are on the path to bankruptcy. And, as we know, bankruptcy comes “very slowly, then all at once.” An overworked or undermaintained machine will keep running just fine with only minimal warning signs, until it quits — often for good.

Runners know that pace is crucial, even in races as short as 800 meters. Certainly so for anything longer. You can’t expect to catch up at the end what you mismanaged at the beginning.

But there is more than one way to mismanage pace. I learned this hard way.

To break 40 minutes for a 10K race I knew I had to average 6:24 per mile. I had done it in training and was eager to do it officially. I intended to do my first couple of miles at 6:15 to allow for fatigue later on.

There were time-callers at each mile. I misheard the call at mile one. Only getting the last two digits, I heard “… :45”. I panicked. I thought I was at 6:45 — 30 seconds slow. So, I poured on the steam. In fact, it had been 5:45, and my second mile was even faster. And I was in big trouble. Running anaerobically for that long, I had built up a oxygen deficit that I could not recover. I slowed down. I even walked. My fellows gave words of encouragement. It wasn’t coming back. I retired from the race in shame.

Mid-career breakdowns can be crippling. But they don’t have to be.

My great-uncle, a captain of industry in his day and philanthropist, was known to ask (himself mostly): “How much is your peace worth?” When he found himself getting anxious or exercised about something, and his peace draining away, this question pulled him back.

Always a man for efficiency and getting the most bang for the buck, he knew that there were few things more valuable than peace.

By brute force you can sometimes win, but the cost in lost peace makes it a Pyrrhic victory at best.

It would help if we could measure peace the way we measure money. “That opportunity will cost me X units of peace. Is it worth it?” “I don’t think I have enough peace to pay for that.”

Everything in our culture seems to be a conspiracy against peace. Peaceful people make lousy consumers — of almost everything. Anxiety and stress make this world go round. But it’s a death spiral. We are circling the drain.

As we consider any opportunity, even genuine needs, let us ask, “Can we do this in peace?” “Do we have the margin?”

Perhaps for a season we should say, instead of “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord”, “Go, love and serve the Lord, in peace.”

Sadly, I’ve known a lot of tireless Kingdom workers who accomplished a lot, but without peace. Worse, they sucked all the available peace from their environment. Often it was their staff, their families, and especially their children who paid the “peace price”. Someone always does. Who is paying it in your world?

Beware of becoming a “peace banker” for habitual borrowers. They will take all you have to give and ask for more, one small crisis at a time. Consider saying, “I’m sorry, I don’t think I have enough peace to cover that.”

And as we celebrate victories and accomplishments let us not forget the question of the wise old professor: “Well, done. But did you alter your regular routine to achieve it?” And my great uncle: “How much peace did it cost you, and was it worth it?”

I propose a slight alteration to Covey’s model: “P/PPC Balance,” where PPC stands for Peaceful Production Capacity.

Time-management is only one way to increase our PPC. Can you think of others?

Being at peace with God is the “first and greatest” PPC multiplier. Peace with each other is “second and like unto it.”

So are:

  • peace with the past, especially your regrets,
  • peace with the future,
  • peace with yourself,
  • peace with your body,
  • peace with what (and who) you can’t control,
  • peace with your mortality and the inevitability of pain,
  • peace with the fact of consequences,
  • peace with those who hate you, misjudge or just misunderstand you,
  • peace with those who have done you wrong,
  • peace with those who got what you wanted, and don’t deserve it,
  • peace with those who won’t learn from their mistakes,
  • peace with the hypocrites and the freeloaders and the holier-than-thous,
  • peace with the injustice, imperfection and general fallenness of this world,
  • peace with the provisions and promises of our Risen Lord.

These “peaces” will cost us something. Mostly pride and illusions about who we are and what we deserve. We’ll have to lay down some rights and resentments and critiques and blaming. Which is harder, that or time-management? Why not try both?

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peace-makers.”


The first two Amendments to the Constitution are getting a lot of attention these days. For most of my life the 2nd has been controversial. Only recently has the 1st come under serious challenge.

Lately I’ve been thinking that the 5th may be more important than we thought, especially the part about not being compelled to testify against oneself. We may find that the right to “plead the fifth” is not just for mafiosos and corrupt politicians.

But will it stand up under pressure?

Increasingly people are being condemned not only for their words but for their thoughts. The police in England recently demanded that a man tell them what he was thinking as he prayed silently in the vicinity of an abortion clinic.

They don’t have a Fifth Amendment in England, nor a Constitution for that matter. We have one, but will it protect us in the moment of truth?

In the show trials of Soviet era and in Communist China, prisoners were compelled to make lengthy, earnest and impassioned public confessions often weeping for their “offenses.” These did not lighten their sentences, but they did end the torture.

I’ve been thinking about potential conversations, not in a law court, but just informally, when I might be grilled about my opinions. People often want to know where the pastor stands on this or that issue. Sometimes the query is sincere; sometimes it is a trap. In many cases the wisest thing would be to follow the example of Jesus at His trial and just remain silent (as a lamb before his shearers was dumb).

How much longer will it be possible to smile and say, “I’d rather not talk about that. Let’s respect and enjoy each other even if we don’t agree on this”? I know of life-long friendships terminated because someone would not vehemently agree with (confess to) the other’s position.

Here we are. Not what most of us expected. Remember the old saying: “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” It stood me in good stead on the elementary school playground. Nowadays words have become nuclear in their potential to destroy, not the hearer, but the speaker.

If any of us ever run afoul of the State or an “activated” citizen, I’m pretty sure it will not be for any physical offense, but for our words and thoughts. “Whatever you say, and even what you don’t say, can and will be used against you.”

I hope this is just a phase. Human history records discernible cycles that include hyper-puritan moments, when we seek uniformity in lock step, we go witch-hunting, -burning, and -gassing. People who watch these things say they come around about every 80-90 years. They might be on to something.

How tragic that we have reduced the nearly infinite wonder and complexity of being human to a few opinions, usually about a few flawed fellow mortals. Think of all the ways humans can enjoy being with each other; we are made for each other. It can be a lot of fun– cooking, eating, playing, laughing, joking, singing, praying, putting on plays, practicing our toastmaster skills, watching our kids play together, cleaning up a stretch of the creek or the highway — even bowling!

Have we become so insecure that any difference of perspective feels like a physical threat? Have we run out of real problems to solve, real needs to meet? Are we not spending enough time outdoors? Is it time to unplug? Happy, confident people do not try to enforce conformity or crush dissent.