Houston Graduate School of Theology

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A Better Way

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By Dr. Jerry L. Terrill, Director of the Counseling Program and Professor of Counseling at Houston Graduate School of Theology Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855) writes about the anxiety and despondency of life in the modern world. How does one make peace with trauma and be true to oneself? In 21st-century America, we live in a world that allows us the freedom to make choices, even in the midst of trauma. As individuals, we can make choices. Viktor Frankl, a survivor of the World War II concentration camps, writes that we can reframe our traumatic experiences and look at them differently. We have the opportunity to be creative.

This was true in the case of Brother Lawrence (1614–1691). He would make peace with a life that was drastically different from his former life. He became a French soldier to escape his life as a peasant on a farm. Early in his career in the French army, while experiencing a bleak winter, he observed a barren fruit tree, silent, and waiting patiently for spring and for the abundance of summer fruit. Like the tree, Brother Lawrence felt dead, but God had a life waiting for him. The turning of the seasons would bring fullness to his life. In a battle, Brother Lawrence was severely wounded in his leg, and he would live out his life as a cripple. As no one would hire a crippled ex-soldier, he was forced to become a lay brother in a Carmelite monastery in Paris. With no education, he was assigned to the kitchen to spend the rest of his days as a dishwasher and, finally, a shoe cobbler, mending shoes. Brother Lawrence felt depressed, put down, and demeaned to be doing such trivial work as a veteran of the King of France’s army. Over time, he remembered the barren tree, and he gradually became content and began to experience peace. He became famous for his sayings reflecting his newfound joy and inner peace. The Prior had these written down in what has become known as “The Sayings of Brother Lawrence.” Acceptance comes about when the individual can see his or her circumstances in a new light without inner judgmental thoughts or the judgmental thoughts of others.

The Apostle Paul wrote that “the mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom 8: 6). Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn 16: 33).

Our encouragement in living in an anxious and troubled world is that our precursor, Jesus Christ, came down to this earth to walk among us and to show us a better way, a better way of living, providing insight and encouragement for weary bodies and troubled souls. Before his death on a barren tree, Jesus said to those following him, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Mt 11:28-29).