The Problem with "Peace of Mind"
Not long ago, at age 27, I faced a momentous decision. It involved a change in careers. Security and predictability, at least of a certain kind, would become secondary considerations, and I would assume a role I had not planned for or willed.
I had arrived at that point because, after months of discernment, I believed God might be calling me to make a move.
I fought it. Though given flashes of consolation when contemplating the change, worldly concerns -- money, reputation, the desire to be seen as having it all figured out -- urged me to protect the status quo. Moreover, I had spent three years and many anxious exam hours preparing for what I was doing.
I was set to be a lawyer. Now, I was supposed teach?
It made no sense, and I grew frustrated when my speculations about the future couldn't guarantee returns. I wanted assurance the risk was worth it. I remember speaking with close friends, hoping to hear an insight that would cut off my wavering. When that didn't happen, I told a friend, "I just don't have any peace of mind. Maybe next year, but not now."
His words in response were revolutionary.
"Matt," he said, "I'm not sure we get to have peace of mind. Maybe peace, but not peace of mind . . . I don't think Abraham had any peace of mind when he was called to sacrifice Isaac."
That brief exchange in a long, agonizing, and ultimately life-giving discernment came to mind recently when I read additional bleak news about the economy. "Pessimism deepens," declared one Reuters headline. The story joined a queue of others announcing more layoffs, a weak currency, the threat of a second recession, the threat of default, the threat of inflation . . . enough to cause, as George F. Will aptly phrased it, "apocalypse fatigue."
As I delighted in the language, I lamented its truth, especially for Catholics. We know this condition well. The mortgage crisis came quickly upon, and overlapped with, the awful and seemingly endless disclosures about pedophile priests. But while the Vatican has taken measures to stop the abuse, the economic woes have received no such correction. When it comes to the stock market or any other gauge of financial health, it takes exertion to be cheerful.
Of late, however, I've been unsettled less by the headlines and more by the trepidation of friends and family. I've sensed a growing unease and a strident wish to know when and by what means the economy gets fixed.
At root, I sense a desire for peace of mind.
But the cure we seek may never come. Gas prices may continue to rise, housing prices may continue to drop, and a second recession might soon be fact.
Which means it's time to stop clinging. It's time to stop anticipating saving legislation and despairing when it refuses to arrive. It's time to stop searching, on the terms of this world, for peace of mind.
We don't need it.
Let us not forget: Catholics know chaos. We know instability and unpredictability, not simply because of scandal or personal strife, but because of the spiritual heroes of our Tradition.
Matt Emerson writes from California, where he teaches at Xavier Prep.