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.”

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