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    Van Gogh painting of houses and mountains

    Honesty Is the High Price for Inner Peace


    March 30, 2022
    • Mandy Rachel Pyke

      This written word, has come to me at that precise moment that i needed it. Thankyou so much

    • Paula

      Thank you. This is a very thought provoking piece and I appreciate the questions that arose in me as I read through it.

    • Siri Prem Kaur

      Yes! What a beautiful analysis of how to maintain inner peace. I appreciated the examples you used from literature.

    From Seeking Peace: Notes and Conversations along the Way.

    You thought you were indifferent to praise for achievements which you would not yourself have counted to your credit, or that, if you should be tempted to feel flattered, you would always remember that the praise far exceeded what the events justified. You thought yourself indifferent – until you felt your jealousy flare up at someone else’s naïve attempts to “make himself important,” and your self-conceit stood exposed.

    Concerning the hardness of the heart and its littleness, let me read with open eyes the book my days are writing – and learn.

    —Dag Hammarskjöld

    If someone asked me to pick the most fundamental requirement for inner peace, I would probably take honesty. Whether taken to mean truthfulness in a general sense, or knowledge of one’s condition, or the ability to call a spade a spade, or the willingness to admit failure in front of others, honesty is a basic premise for peace. We may strive and struggle for peace until our dying breath, but we will never find it as long as we are unwilling to place ourselves under the clear light of truth. Dishonesty is one of the greatest impediments along the path to peace, because it prevents us from finding a square footing on which to base our search.

    As for conforming outwardly, and living your own life inwardly, I do not think much of that. When you get to God pulling one way, and the devil the other, each having his feet well braced – to say nothing of the conscience sawing transversely – almost any timber will give way.

    Henry David Thoreau

    The first step in turning to God, which is the same thing as turning toward peace, is recognizing our true condition. Before we can ever hope to find ourselves in God, we must admit that we are far from him. To do this, Thomas Merton says, we must “become conscious . . . that the person we think we are, here and now, is at best an impostor and a stranger. We must constantly question his motives and penetrate his disguises.” Otherwise our attempts at self-knowledge are bound to fail.

    Self-knowledge is only the first step. By itself it will not bring us peace, and may even lead us away from it by trapping us in a downward spiral of self-concern. My grand-father writes:

    Self-centeredness is a lying spirit. It is mortal disease. The self-centered person is deathly sick; he must be redeemed.

    Those who turn around themselves do not know that Christianity has an objective content, that it is actually a cause for which we can completely forget ourselves with our own little egos.

    Self-centeredness leads to a hypocritical attitude, to posing and to affected holiness. The people most endangered by it are the artificial saints who take such pains to be good. Their efforts are the root of their hypocrisy . . .

    To see God from your own point of view and make him relate to you is to view the world through a deceptive lens. I am not the truth, and because I am not the truth, I may not place my own person at the center of my thoughts. That would be making myself an idol. God must be in the center of my life.

    We must realize that God’s cause exists entirely outside of ourselves. It is not only that we are unimportant; we are dispensable. If we are honest we will admit that we are obstacles, adversaries of God. Not until we recognize this and see ourselves in this way can redemption begin.

    Orchard in blossom, a painting by Van Gogh

    Vincent van Gogh, Orchard in Blossom

    To realize who we are means to face issues we have previously avoided, and to let ourselves be confronted. But it also means turning to God. Unfortunately, most of us do neither the first nor the second, let alone the third, because we fear that changes may be demanded of us. We are reluctant to give up the comfort of self-satisfaction. If only we recognized how much deeper and greater the peace is that comes from living with a fully awakened conscience!

    Jeanette Warren, a member of our community, recently told me how, as a young woman, she looked for peace year after year – in labor movements and political organizations, campus groups and cooperatives and communities – but neglected the vital task of tending to the unpeace in herself first. Like countless others, she says her seeking bore fruit only once she was able to come to terms with the true state of her life by looking within, deeply and honestly.

    Genuineness is as significant as self-knowledge in finding peace of mind. Without it we become hypocrites and must constantly adjust our image so as to manipulate the way others see us. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus specifically warns us against this. He says we must not try to appear devout in other people’s eyes: “You hypocrites clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are filthy, full of greed and self-indulgence. First clean the inside, and then the outside also will be clean.” He goes even further: “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. You appear righteous, but you are really full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” Referring to these verses, my father writes:

    Let us never use religious words when we do not mean them. If we speak admiringly about discipleship, for instance, but resist its demands, it will harm our inner life. Let us be genuine and say what we think, even if we are off the mark, rather than use the right words without meaning them. Complete peace demands complete honesty. We cannot live in peace with our brothers unless we carry the truth in our hearts and are honest in our love.

    Ungenuineness can become a habit. Once we are used to it, we may soon become downright deceitful as well. When this happens, it will take a concerted effort to strip away the falsehoods we have been hiding behind and to become honest again, both with ourselves and with those we have been deceiving. Zoroaster, the ancient prophet-poet of Persia, compares the situation to a battle:

    At the sight of this world
    I want to cry out:
    Can truth be really the better,
    when there is so much lying;
    and must I not join
    in their devilish howls?

    My God, do not forsake me;
    make me strong in this trial,
    and give me strength.
    Down, rebellious thought:
    the sword’s at your throat!

    Only those who know
    the source at which life springs
    can draw from the eternal well.
    Only this refreshment
    is true comfort.

    If Zoroaster seems excessive in portraying the agony of this struggle, it may be only because he is so eloquent. The battle between truth and deceit is not simply fought between two abstract opposites; it is a war between God and Satan, whom the Bible calls the “father of lies.” Looking back at conversations I have had with people in times of crisis, I can say that this battle is always a hard one to fight, especially when someone has been deluded into believing that honesty is too high a price to pay for peace. Such a person may not even feel the need to fight things through at first, because he has blinded himself so completely to the fact that he has been living a lie.

    In The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky gives us just such a character: Fyodor Pavlovitch, an old man who mockingly asks Father Zossima what he must do to gain eternal life. The priest replies:

    You have known for a long time what you must do. Don’t give way to drunkenness and incontinence of speech; don’t give way to sensual lust and to the love of money. Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. Having no respect, he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continually lying to other men and to himself. The man who lies to himself can be more easily offended than anyone. You know that nobody has insulted him, but that he has invented the insult for himself, has lied and exaggerated to make it picturesque, has caught at a word and made a mountain out of a molehill. He knows that himself, yet he will be the first to take offense, and will revel in his resentment till he feels great pleasure in it, and so pass on to genuine vindictiveness.

    Shakespeare says much the same:

    This above all: To thine own self be true
    And it must follow, as the night the day,
    Thou canst not then be false to any man.

    Human nature being what it is, this oft-quoted advice is easier to pass on than to practice. Even the most self-righteous person will not deny that he has lied before, and many times at that. As a matter of fact, most people yield to dishonesty already when they are small, and unless they are consistently and firmly educated to tell the truth, lying may become a habit that grows harder and harder to break. We might dismiss the childish act of snitching a cookie as normal, and it may be, but the same five-year-old who learns to “get by” doing that may have no qualms shoplifting, committing tax fraud, or cheating on his wife when he is an adult. As members of any church or synagogue will attest, religious people are just as prone to lying as their fellow human beings in the “secular” world.

    Peach trees in blossom by Van Gogh

    Vincent van Gogh, Peach Trees in Blossom

    If we are determined to find peace of heart, though, there is always a solution: to admit our wrongdoings to another person. As a specific rite or practice, confession is too complex an issue to address here. Simply admitting one’s sins so as to find freedom and peace, however, need not be a complicated matter. Once we have recognized the disharmony between our true character, “warts and all,” and the side of ourselves we present to others, we will remain painfully aware of the tension until we can reconcile the two. Even if we mend our ways and turn away from past wrongs, we cannot experience full peace of mind until we are willing to share our secret burdens with another person. That is why the Psalmist says, “I have no peace; there is sin in my bones.”

    To bare one’s soul, even (or perhaps especially) to someone we love and trust, is always a painful exercise. But as we shall see later in this book, there is no way around it. If we want to find the peace of Christ, we must be ready to accept the anguish of his cross. We may never honestly desire this anguish, but if our yearning for God is deep enough, we will be willing to bear it and to let him renew us through it.

    Accept me, my Lord; accept me for this while.

    Let those orphaned days that passed without thee
    be forgotten.

    Only spread this little moment wide across thy lap,
    holding it under thy light.

    I have wandered in pursuit of voices that drew me
    yet led me nowhere.

    Now let me sit in peace
    and listen to thy words
    in the soul of my silence.

    Do not turn thy face from my heart’s dark secrets,
    but light them till they burn away
    with thy love’s fire.

    —Rabindranath Tagore

    Peace can be lost in a moment – through stubbornness or deceit, pride, self-will, or the false comfort of an easy way out. Yet it is never too late to start looking for it again, even if it has eluded us for years. Whenever we are able to take an honest look at ourselves – who am I, not in the eyes of others, but in the sight of God? – it should not be hard to refocus on our need for Jesus. In his truth there is always peace.

    Contributed By JohannChristophArnold Johann Christoph Arnold

    A noted speaker and writer on marriage, parenting, education, and end-of-life issues, Arnold was a senior pastor of the Bruderhof, a movement of Christian communities.

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