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Ann Spangler's sensitivity to the ever-changing spiritual and cultural climate in which we live has enabled her to address themes of profound interest to many readers.
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Thistles and Thorns

Thistles and Thorns

close-up of a spiny thistle with two bees on it

The other day I made a list of things that bug me—little things I can’t seem to eradicate from my life. Here they are:

  • a cluttered house
  • children who argue
  • slow cars in the fast lane
  • long grocery-store lines
  • clerks who are rude
  • telemarketers
  • plugged toilets
  • computer malfunctions
  • spam
  • pop-up windows
  • calling a helpline and getting none
  • misplacing my keys or phone
  • people who don’t clean up after their dogs

Admittedly, none of this is big stuff. But it’s often the little stuff that threatens to steal my peace. Listen to what a seventeenth-century spiritual writer by the name of Claude de la Colombière says about the annoyances that plague us:

“All our life is sown with tiny thorns that produce in our hearts a thousand involuntary movements of hatred, envy, fear, impatience, a thousand little fleeting disappointments, a thousand slight worries, a thousand disturbances that momentarily alter our peace of soul. For example, a word escapes that should not have been spoken. Or someone says something that offends us. A child inconveniences you. A bore stops you. You don’t like the weather. Your work is not going according to plan. A piece of furniture is broken. A dress is torn. I know that these are not occasions for practicing very heroic virtue. But they would definitely be enough to acquire it if we really wished to do so.”1

So what should I do with my list of annoyances? Tear it up? Wish it away? Or let it remind me that God has a tried and true strategy for building up his life in me? Come to think of it, maybe I should take that list and draw lots of thistles and thorns around it, reminding myself that far from stealing my peace, little stuff can increase it.


  1. George Guitton, Perfect Friend: The Life of Blessed Claude la Colombière, trans. William J. Young (St. Louis: B. Herder Book Company, 1956), 326, quoted and paraphrased in Bert Ghezzi, Adventures in Daily Prayer (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2010), 59.

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The Peace of Nature

a mountain and blue sky are reflected in a lake

I remember visiting the home of author Elisabeth Elliot, just north of Boston, right at the edge of the sea. Commenting on the stunning view from her office window, I mentioned that it must be a great place to write. Elisabeth’s answer: “Yes, if you can’t write here, you can’t write anywhere.”

Years earlier I had taken a trip west, into the mountains of Colorado. I was in the midst of making a difficult decision. While toiling away at the most stressful job of my life, I received an offer from another company, one that would mean a complete shift of career. My first instinct was to grab it.

But I didn’t trust myself. I wanted time to think and pray, to see what God had in mind. In the midst of a sixty-hour work week, I had found it difficult to hear anything but my own anxious thoughts buzzing around in my head.

But then I went on vacation, camping in Colorado. I remember hiking out one clear, September morning, in search of a mountain lake. What I found was spectacular—a great mountain, framed by blue skies, reflected on the serene surface of the lake below. As I took in the scene, I sensed the pressure and stress that had characterized my life for months seeping away. It felt as though I were exhaling after a prolonged period of time in which I had been holding my breath. I don’t remember how long I looked at that peaceful scene, but I was in no hurry to get away. As time passed, it occurred to me that the world was a far bigger place than I had lately made it. I had been obsessing over my tiny slice of it, forgetting that the world God made is expansive, full of possibilities. I felt a new freedom to step into an unexpected possibility that had recently presented itself. When I returned home, I handed in my notice, eager to begin the next phase of my career.

Visiting that author, sitting by that mountain lake—these are two experiences of many that convince me it is possible to sense God’s presence simply by experiencing the wonder of his creation. When was the last time you were able to sense God’s presence in the midst of his creation? I encourage you to make time this week to take in the beauty of the world that he has made.

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a man is holding an umbrella over his head while he plays the trumpet

Squeeze an orange and you get juice. Squeeze a horn and you get noise. Squeeze a finger and you get an “ouch!” That’s what happened to me the other day when one of my daughters grabbed hold of my ring finger, right where it had been badly bruised beneath the nail. “What’s that black mark?” she asked, pressing down.

“Ouch, ouch, ouch! That really hurt!” I squealed.

The look on my face sent her spiraling into fits of laughter. Then she apologized.

“Sorry, Mom. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I wasn’t thinking.”

Sometimes trouble is like that. It squeezes us way too hard. That’s when we find out what we’re made of, what’s really inside. Ken Sande, president of Peacemaker Ministries, helps all kinds of people resolve conflicts so they can avoid going to court. Over the years he has come to believe that conflict inevitably shows what we really think about God:

“By your actions, you will show either that you have a big God or that you have a big self and big problems. To put it another way, if you do not focus on God, you will inevitably focus on yourself and your will, or on other people and the threat of their wills.”1

Ken advises people to focus not on the conflict but on how God wants them to act in the midst of it. To my mind, that means we don’t play games, we don’t call names, we don’t vilify. We don’t try to win by whatever means necessary. We do trust God, imitate him, and treat others with respect.

Ken’s advice is sound. When the dust settles, and it’s time to move on, we will leave the situation with a sense of peace, not because things turned out the way we think they should have, but because we acted the way we know we should.

  1. Ken Sande, The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflicts (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004), 34.

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“Our Father . . .”

a stream of light shines down from heavy clouds

Over the years, I have engaged in various methods of prayer—Scripture meditation, silent contemplation, thanksgiving, intercessory prayer, and liturgical prayer—and while I’ve been enriched by each, my favorite way of praying continues to be praying the Lord’s Prayer. Far from becoming rote, praying the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples has become deeper with each repetition.

In his book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, Kenneth Bailey tells of meeting a young Latvian woman after the fall of the Soviet Union. Knowing she had grown up under communism, he asked how she had come to faith. Had Christians in her family, perhaps an elderly grandmother, or members of an underground church, influenced her? The answer was an unqualified no. Everyone in her family had been atheists. How then had she come to know Christ? Here’s what she told him:

“At funerals we were allowed to recite the Lord’s Prayer. As a young child I heard those strange words and had no idea who we were talking to, what the words meant, where they came from or why we were reciting them. When freedom came at last, I had the opportunity to search for their meaning. When you are in total darkness, the tiniest point of light is very bright. For me the Lord’s Prayer was that point of light. By the time I found its meaning I was a Christian.”1

Perhaps you have prayed this prayer for many years or only rarely. Whatever your experience, I would encourage you to. From this small act of prayer, a tiny point of light will shine and spread, and the Father, who knows all secrets, will bless you with the peace that comes from belonging completely to him.

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil. Amen.


1. Kenneth E. Bailey, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels (Downers
Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2008), 91.

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The Troubles You Can See Right Now

a vibrant orange sky

What if you knew you were going to win the lottery, not right now but just in time for retirement? How would that knowledge affect your response to stock market declines, a tough economy, job loss? I’m guessing you would have financial concerns, but not many of the kind that keep you up all night.

Or what if you knew that a child suffering from a debilitating disease was sooner or later going to be completely healed? How would that affect your thinking about his or her future?

Paint the bleakest scenario you like, but then add a happily-ever-after ending and you will begin to see what Christ has promised for us. The apostle Paul believed in happy endings. How else could he have characterized his own prodigious afflictions as small, calling them “light and momentary troubles” (2 Corinthians 4:17, NIV)?

We know the Bible paints a vivid picture of what heaven will be like. Let’s try to imagine it with the help of Sally Lloyd-Jones and The Jesus Storybook Bible:

Where is the sun? Where is the moon? They aren’t needed anymore.

God is all the Light people need. No more darkness! No more night!

And the King says, “Look! God and his children are together again. No more running away. Or hiding. No more crying or being lonely or afraid. No more being sick or dying. Because all those things are gone. Yes, they’re gone forever. Everything sad will come untrue.1

Today I challenge you to start living your life by this remarkable truth—that one day soon “everything sad will come untrue.” There will be a happy ending.

1. Sally Lloyd Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 347.

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two signs on a signpost, one leading the truth, the other to lie

In the spring of 1943, the body of a British soldier washed up on the shores of Spain. A briefcase containing secret documents spelling out a planned invasion of southern Europe was still attached to the man’s wrist. Snagging the documents before the British could retrieve them, the head of German intelligence in Spain delivered them to Berlin. As soon as the Nazis discovered that the Allies had been planning a simultaneous invasion in the Balkans and Sardinia, they deployed their troops accordingly. When Allied forces landed in Sicily on July 9, the Germans were taken by surprise. It took them two weeks to realize the dead soldier had been a ruse.

The body, it turns out, had not been that of a soldier, but of a Welsh vagrant who had died from swallowing rat poison and whose corpse had been carefully packed in ice until the secret plan was ready to unfold. The plot itself was cooked up by the British spy agency MI5.1 Clever deceptions like this one helped the Allies defeat a terrible enemy.

Though we can be glad for the Allies’ decisive victory, the story holds a lesson for us because we, too, are engaged in a battle with a powerful enemy. Only this time, the bad guy is the one who is the master of deceit. His name, of course, is Satan. If he cannot succeed in demoralizing us to the point that we forsake our faith, he will try to neutralize us by making us miserable. He does so by feeding us a constant stream of plausible lies about ourselves, others, and God.

One way to guard against such lies is to make obedience a cherished habit. Disobedience makes us vulnerable to all manner of evil. Another way is to pray and read Scripture so that when you hear a lie that contradicts God’s Word, you will recognize it for what it is. A third way is to stay in touch with other Christians. Voicing our doubts and fears to such friends can expose lies that might otherwise flourish inside our minds.

Today, ask yourself what is making you fearful, angry, anxious, or doubtful. If you find you have unknowingly been harboring a lie, reject it, asking God to help you embrace the truth with faith and peace.

1. For more on this strange plot, read Ben Macintyre, Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory (New York: Harmony Books, 2010).

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Why Forgive?

a hand clutching a cross rises out of the water

Imagine that your head is an inch below the water line. You can see the sky, but you can’t break through the surface. Your foot has become entangled in an old log that has settled to the bottom of the river, and you are struggling to free yourself. Your lungs feel like they’re ready to give out. Finally, with one last wrenching attempt, you get your leg loose and break through the surface, gasping for air. That’s a rather dramatic picture of what it can feel like when we are finally able to forgive someone who has wronged us deeply.

Donald Miller points out that there are several practical reasons why we need to forgive.

“The first,” he says, “is because, believe it or not, forgiveness is a pleasurable experience. No kidding, it feels much better than anger or hate. . . .

“The second reason for you to forgive is that it removes you from being entangled in the rather dark thing that hurt you in the first place. . . . Forgiveness gives you a taste of what it feels like to be God, and it’s a terrific feeling. God forgave us because it gave Him pleasure to do so. He was happy to do so. Love forgives, and so does God, and so can you.

“The third reason to forgive is that you open yourself up to amazing possibilities for a happy life. When you don’t forgive, you draw the curtains in your soul and your life gets dark. When you forgive you let the light in again, and you go on about your life in peace. And don’t you want some peace? Isn’t it time for some peace?”1

Feeling entangled, embittered, defeated? Isn’t it time you came up for air? Isn’t it time for some peace?

1. Donald Miller, “Want to Be Happy? Forgive Your Enemies,” Donald Miller’s blog, accessed September 19, 2016, http://storylineblog.com/2015/12/04/want-to-be-happy-forgive-your-enemies/.


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Live What You Believe

a long road heading into the mountains

Peace Pilgrim embraced a life of voluntary simplicity, gradually paring down her possessions and attachments over a period of fifteen years. Looking back on her life, she referred to a mountaintop experience in which she experienced what she called “the first glimpse of what the life of inner peace was like.” That experience set the course for the rest of her journey.

She came to realize that peace was impossible for people whose lives are not in harmony with the laws that govern the universe. “Insofar as we disobey these laws,” she remarked, “we create difficulties for ourselves by our disobedience. We are our own worst enemies. If we are out of harmony through ignorance, we suffer somewhat; but if we know better and are still out of harmony, then we suffer a great deal.

“So,” she explained, “I got busy on a very interesting project. This was to live all the good things I believed in. I did not confuse myself by trying to take them all at once, but rather, if I was doing something that I knew I should not be doing, I stopped doing it, and I always made a quick relinquishment. You see, that’s the easy way. Tapering off is long and hard. And if I was not doing something that I knew I should be doing, I got busy on that. It took the living quite a while to catch up with the believing, but of course it can, and now if I believe something, I live it.”1

Wish you could say the same? I know I do. Why take the long, hard way to peace when we have it in our power to do the things we should and not do the things we shouldn’t? Let’s ask God right now for the grace to embrace a very interesting project—to start living what we believe.

  1. Peace Pilgrim, “My Spiritual Growing Up: My Steps toward Inner Peace,” chap. 2 in Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words, Peace Pilgrim website, http://www.peacepilgrim.com/book/chapt2.htm

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Extreme Peace

A photo of the Peace Pilgrim walking

Mildred Lisette Norman was seventy-two when she started walking across the country for the seventh time. Possessing nothing but the clothes on her back, she wore her trademark blue tunic emblazoned with the words “Peace Pilgrim,” the name she had come to be known by. This silver-haired woman began walking when the Korean War was underway and kept walking right on through the conflict in Vietnam. Remarkably, she managed to live on the road without money, never once asking for food and shelter but receiving what she needed. Wherever she went, she spoke to people not only about the need for peace among nations and peoples but of the need we all have for inner peace. The following are among her many memorable quotes:

This is the way of peace: Overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love. There is nothing new about this message, except the practice of it.

You have much more power when you are working for the right thing than when you are working against the wrong thing.

Only outer peace can be had through law. The way to inner peace is through love.

Since steps toward spiritual advancement are taken in such varied order, most of us can teach one another.1

Peace Pilgrim lived what many of us would consider an extreme life. She was forty-four when she undertook her first pilgrimage and seventy-two when she died in an accident while being driven to a speaking engagement. She lived prayerfully and with faith, desiring to tell others the vital truths she had learned about peace. Whether she was a Christian or merely a Deist I am uncertain, but I am sure she knew something important about peace.

  1. See Peace Pilgrim, “Steps toward Inner Peace,” Wikisource, http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Steps_Toward_Inner_Peace.

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What If?

a person walking on a city street casts a very tall shadow

Besides adding joy to one’s life, children can add plenty of anxiety. When you love a person, especially someone as vulnerable as a child, you can begin to feel a lot more fear.

I was voicing my own fears recently when a good friend opened his heart, telling me not to waste my energy. He went on to say that he had spent years worrying about one of his two sons.

“Max,” he said, “was always my greatest concern. When he was five, he tested positive for a rare disorder that could eventually debilitate him. The doctors told my wife and me he would probably start showing symptoms by the time he was a teenager, maybe sooner. I was so afraid for him that I couldn’t sleep at night, worrying about what to do.

“But I never thought twice about Josh. He had always been so healthy. He was smart, well-liked, funny. I knew he was going to be successful in whatever he did. Then, suddenly, his life went into a tailspin during his senior year in high school. We found out that he suffers from bipolar disorder. Sadly my fun-loving, capable kid has vanished. Josh’s case is so severe that he has been in and out of psych wards for the last several years and he can’t hold down a job.

“The odd thing is that all those sleepless nights spent worrying about Max were completely off track. It’s been twenty years since we heard about the likelihood of his developing that disorder, but he hasn’t exhibited a single symptom, and the doctors now say he probably won’t.”

My friend’s point, of course, is that worrying about what might happen is a waste of precious energy because it means we are preparing for eventualities that will probably never materialize. As Mark Twain once quipped, “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” Or as a Swedish proverb puts it: “Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.” If your life is overshadowed right now by anxiety, ask God to bring you out of that shadow and into the light of his presence, enabling you to trust him for whatever is troubling you.

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