BY KATIE PAINTER
This piece is part of syndicated series in collaboration with Yale Logos for Lent 2021. You can read the original piece at https://www.yalelogos.com/home/in-pursuit-of-peace.
Squeezing my eyes shut, I crouched at the bottom of the staircase and placed my hands over my ears. My stomach clenched as warm, salty tears began to drop from my eyes. I drew my knees up to my chest and waited for silence to overtake the clamor of voices hurling acerbic words overhead. Despair washed over me as I waited, powerless against the torrent of anger that I could neither understand nor claim for my own.
I found myself in this position periodically throughout my childhood years. The choppy sea of human relationships bore me along in its tide, spawning the inevitable ebb and flow of conflict. Unwilling sailor that I was, I fled to the stairs after my two best friends broke out in an argument during my tenth birthday party. I took shelter in the same place when we received a stormy phone call from my Nana one night, and again whenever my family members weathered their latest tumult.
During this time, I knew little of the Catholic faith to which my family loosely belonged. But as if by instinct, I had always been drawn to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Listening to the stories in my children’s Bible, I had heard Him called the “Prince of Peace.”  This gift He promised—–soft, gentle, exquisite peace—appealed to an intense longing in me that I could not yet find the language to articulate. Filing Christ’s image away in the back of my mind, however, I rarely ventured to contemplate the fullness of His message. I only vowed to turn away from the ugliness of the world and to cloak myself in the protective garment of silence. Squaring my shoulders, I aimed to transcend and reject the flights of bickering, gossip, venom, and malice that could consume those around me.
But my idea of peace was not enough to keep me from despair. As I retreated further and further into the safety of my own head, I went about my days with a pale face, downcast eyes, and bloodless lips. I jumped at the first sign of confrontation. I hid in my books. I spoke in a hushed voice and avoided sensitive topics. I sidestepped difficult relationships. Holding the world at a distance, I perceived myself drifting away, always searching for an object I couldn’t place. At my lowest, I walked my lonely desert shrunken and shaking, embittered by my quest for an elusive ideal.
Even in this errant state, however, I could not escape my urge to discover the true Prince of Peace. When I moved away to college, I began attending Mass every Sunday and listening carefully to the words spoken there. Week after week, I joined in the intercessions for peace, wondering if these prayers would ever receive an answer. As the weeks went on, though, one subtlety in language attracted my attention.
“Peace I leave you, my peace I give you,” Jesus said to His disciples at the last supper. 
“May the peace of the Lord be with you always,” our priest blessed us, his smile bright and arms outstretched.
“Make me a channel of your peace,” St. Francis whispered from somewhere beyond the leaves of my hymnbook, his serene countenance shining down upon me like the sun. 
These words led me to question whether “God’s peace” might be distinct from the kind of peace I had been seeking. Perhaps, I pondered, the Lord offers us a peace composed neither of leisure nor silence, stasis nor solitude, but something much, much greater. Though hesitant at first, my observations sparked an ongoing inquiry into the depth and mystery of a faith I had only just begun to grasp.
From those first months in college up to our current time of isolation and uncertainty, I have continued to investigate the true meaning of “God’s peace.” I know now it is not a cloak with which to shield ourselves from the world. It is not a blanket to pull over our eyes as we lie down to sleep through the sorrows of human life. The peace of the Lord comes when the Holy Spirit descends upon us “like the dewfall,” activating our minds, bodies and souls with new life. God’s peace blossoms alongside the knowledge that each of us is entrusted with a unique, divinely-willed mission to perform in this life. God’s peace proceeds from experiencing His joy for ourselves and sharing the fullness of that joy with all those around us. It emanates from a radical, unyielding love for those who see the world through different eyes. It fills us with a constant readiness to embrace whatever (and whomever) God casts into our path with open and eager hearts. It carries us through, not around or above, the most difficult moments of the human experience.
Even as I reflect on these things, I know I still have much to learn about bringing God’s peace into my own life. And to a degree I am still the same person inside, soft-spoken and reserved by nature, prone to long stretches of silence and solitude. My pulse still quickens when I hear harsh words. I still fight the urge to flee when tensions rise. But I no longer shrink from the imperfections I see embedded in myself and in those I love. Instead, I walk with a new purpose. I have unearthed a desire to engage with the human traits that once terrified me. I promise not to hide at the bottom of the stairs anymore, shielding myself from the full scope of my one precious life. I promise to reach out, to stand strong in spite of my discomfort, to receive anyone who crosses my path with open arms. I want to be a light for others and a witness to the gospel in every action I undertake. Although I know I will stumble back into my old avoidant ways from the time to time, the right path awaits me nonetheless—eternal, unchanging, divine and true.
These and other thoughts swirl within me as I kneel by my bedside each night. I bow my head, reckoning with the humble stature of my created self. But I also press my feet into the floor and draw strength from the generations of believers who have come before me, lifting their voices to the heavens from my same position. I echo their voices with my own and pray for God’s peace, asking not only to know, but to become, what I believe; to be small in my strength and strong in my smallness; to let my whole being transform, like Christ Himself, into a radiant vessel of love incarnate. I ask this for me and for you, dear reader, through Christ our Lord.
Katie is a sophomore studying Classics at Yale.
 Isaiah 9:6.
 John 14:27.
 Prayer of St. Francis.