Some memories stay with you forever. I distinctly remember one winter break during my youth. I was fifteen years old, and a blizzard was unleashing its fury over our small Minnesotan suburb, bringing in three feet of snow, and covering everything outside in a layer of white. It was negative ten outside, and I could feel the chill seeping through the edges of the windows. It was a few days before Christmas and I found myself huddled in a corner of my family’s living room, knees to my chest, watching the snow fall. I looked up at the cloudy sky and began to pray, “God, I need your peace.”
My prayer was born of loneliness. I was a tall, gangly Indian American girl living in a non-Indian community, and I had a hard time making friends. When the holidays came around, I wasn’t invited to my classmates’ Christmas parties or skiing outings or just the occasional hangouts with sledding and hot chocolate. Granted, I look back now as an adult woman and think, “No big deal. I didn’t need to go to those parties.” But as a teenage girl, I felt that isolation and social rejection keenly. I hated being a misfit and feeling unwanted.
The more I think about that moment – huddled in the corner of my living room, praying – the more I realize, what I was really asking God for was His protection. Protection from the unkindness of cliques and the unwanted mental battles that come when you feel no one wants to be your friend. Protection from lashing out, from believing lies, or even from returning meanness in kind.
I didn’t think I was really doing anything deeply theological at the time; it was just a cry for help. But what I’ve learned over the years is that God’s true peace, the shalom that He promises us, has a distinctly protective nature to it. When we ask God for His shalom, we are asking for His mighty hand of protection.
Philippians 4:7 tells us, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I love the word “guard” in this verse. God’s peace guards us. The Apostle Paul, who wrote the book of Philippians, pictures God’s shalom as a garrison keeping guard over our hearts and minds, protecting us from emotional, mental, and spiritual assaults. God’s peace can protect our inner well-being.
We are all living in the midst of so much heartache and loss. The effects of the pandemic certainly. But I’m also thinking about the everyday mundane pains that tax our hearts and minds and wills. Like the betrayal of a friend, losing a job, broken family relationships, unanswered prayers, a child with a terminal illness, a cruel boss, a cancer diagnosis, an unhappy work environment, the inability to pay the bills, or the death of a spouse.
In our darkest moments, God’s shalom offers us protection. God might not take away the infertility or the sting of betrayal or the grief of losing a family member or financial troubles, but He promises that those of us who trust in Him will have an inner calm in the face of life’s storms.
God is shalom. It is one of His attributes. Deep, true peace is who He is by nature. When we seek Him out, when we come to God on our knees in our living room, in prayer while driving our car, in the whispers of our thoughts as we enter our places of worship on Sundays, or in deep, heaving sobs by someone’s death bed, what we receive is the peace of God’s presence. We receive the peace of who He is, and that peace places a hedge of protection over our hearts, our minds, and our will.
In the midst of difficult seasons, we can pray, “God, protect me with your shalom.” God’s shalom is the promise of wholeness, of being able to flourish – emotionally, mentally, spiritually – even when life doesn’t feel worth living anymore.
God wants to carry you through whatever difficulty you’re facing today. You might not be able to see it now as you wade through the trenches, but someday you’ll be able to look back on this dark time and see the ways He protected you, the ways He opened new doors, and brought you into a place of joy that you couldn’t have ever imagined before.
Someday you’ll be able to look back and see the ways in which you’ve become a different person, for the better; the ways you’re stronger now, more courageous, perhaps even kinder — because you sought out God’s shalom as protection over your life and sat in the refuge of His arms.
May each of us know and rest in the protection of God’s shalom.