After my most recent reading of one of my favorite novels, I was struck by what a sad and difficult journey the central family faces. Some of their circumstances are warranted, but others feel undeserved. Yet, through these challenges, the family receives blessings to sustain them. One phrase from the book, “peace like a river,” got me wondering. What does it mean to have peace like a river, especially when the circumstances of life are anything but peaceful?
In 1 Nephi 20:18, we read these words of the Lord: “O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments—then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea.”
I value this imagery of peace being compared to a river, continually running. The water surges over rocks, logs, falls, or any other kind of debris. The river simply finds a way to go around or over obstacles. It just keeps flowing. So when I think of peace like a river, I think of peace as something that can be continually flowing in our lives despite our circumstances or the obstacles that may get in our path.
So how can we feel peace continually flowing in the midst of turmoil and when life feels turbulent?
I had an experience a few years ago that helped me find peace during a troubling time. My husband, Jacob, participated in an ultramarathon. The course of this demanding 100-mile trail was steep. Days before the race, the weather forecast changed dramatically to rain, cold temperatures, and even snow. Race organizers decided to alter the race’s course to keep the runners lower and hopefully safer.
Jacob started running this race at 6:00 a.m., and, as his support crew, I was to meet him at certain aid stations to bring him extra clothes, food, shoes, and any other supplies he needed. It was important for me to keep track of Jacob’s pace so I could arrive at the aid stations at roughly the same time he did. Jacob maintained a steady, predictable pace throughout the day, and I was able to meet him smoothly.
When I met him around 8:00 p.m., the weather was bitter cold and the trails were full of mud. Jacob changed into dry clothes, put on his headlamp, and set off into the night. It was difficult to watch him leave, knowing that he had 20 miles to run to get to the aid station where I would be able to meet him next. Based on his pace throughout the day and accounting for the muddy conditions of the trail, I figured I would need to be there around 2:30 a.m.
Before I left my hotel, I viewed the race website to ensure that he had checked into the previous aid station where crew members weren’t allowed. He had not shown up at that station yet. That made me nervous. I hoped the race workers just hadn’t been able to update all the information on the website yet, and I set off to drive to the next aid station.
Once I reached the aid station, I hurriedly asked the workers to check to see if Jacob had been accounted for at the last station, but they were swamped and told me to ask again if he was hours late. The wait began, and hours passed with no sign of Jacob.
It was interesting how peace could come in this situation where I was so stressed not knowing what was happening to Jacob. I prayed and was very thankful for the calm feelings that came. Somehow, I knew it was going to be OK. Positive thoughts came into my mind through the Holy Ghost that helped me push out the fear and worry that weren’t doing me any good. I reminded myself of things I knew about Jacob: how experienced and smart he is in the wilderness, how physically prepared he was for this course, and that he wasn’t alone on the trail. I knew I was doing everything I could, and I knew others were praying for him too. I just needed to hold on.
Around 6:00 a.m., 24 hours after he started the race, he finally showed up safely. He had paused to help another runner in distress and then ended up spending a significant amount of time trying to warm his freezing body at a campfire until another runner motivated him to keep going.
This may seem a simple example of finding peace during turbulent times, but I think the principles I learned from it are sound. So much of what I felt while Jacob was running in those terrible conditions really depended on what I was focusing on. As I changed my perspective to focus on positive thoughts that I knew were true, instead of fearful ones, I was strengthened to be able to wait in faith. As we focus our lives on the truths we know about God’s plan of salvation and the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can echo the expression that everything will be all right in the end—and if it’s not all right, it’s not the end.
My testimony of Jesus Christ’s gospel helps me feel that I can be in the midst of turmoil and still feel peace in my heart. It brings such peace and gratitude to me to know that whatever life brings can be overcome through the enabling power and strength of Jesus Christ. By saying that, I don’t want to suggest that whatever happens to us will be easy, pain free, or without sorrow, but it does help me tremendously to know there is always hope and help through the Savior and that all things can eventually be healed.
Consider times when people came to Jesus in great distress and He responded with words such as “Peace, be still” or “Be not afraid, only believe” (Mark 4:39; Mark 5:36). These calm responses don’t mean Jesus never felt troubled, sorrowful, or anguished—or that we won’t either. With His understanding of the plan of salvation and complete trust in His Father’s will, He was able to endure all things and overcome so He might be able to succor us in all things. As He said: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
So how do we experience peace flowing in our lives like a river? We go to the source—to Jesus Christ. I gratefully recognize the peace that I can have in my life today and each day because of His Atonement. I am so thankful for all He suffered to be able to bring me that peace.