A week after our beloved friend was killed in a car accident, her mom walked into our office. I hugged her and asked her how she was. She admitted how hard it was to leave her house. How much it took to get dressed and come to work, to face people. She did not try to hide her deep pain, how angry and sad and bewildered she was. But down at the bottom of it all, she said, she just wanted to keep trusting Jesus. She just wanted to keep him there with her, giving her peace. “Like a river,” she said, “Peaceful, constant, always flowing.”
I’ve always remembered that. I think of how often I have gone to the river to pray, to think, to cry, to write. I love the river for its constant presence, its soothing music of motion that is change and steadfastness all at once. It is always moving and always there, always dependable. It moves as it should move, not too fast and not too slow, unhurried, but purposeful.
I think the most often we use the word settle (or maybe it is just me) is when we tell our kids to “settle down,” like when they are running wild through the house while we are trying to make dinner. Or we talk about the settlement in a court dispute or an agreement between warring nations. We want what is agitated to be calm, what is in conflict to be at peace. But we can use the word in a negative context as well, like settling for less than the best. It’s interesting how all those uses of the word involve giving up something. My kids have to give up their desire to be loud and boisterous and choose quiet. The parties in a conflict must give up something they want to reach agreement with the other side.
To settle means to come to terms with something, to be at rest. It’s choosing the absence of agitation or conflict to find peace. Sometimes settling can be a good thing. Sometimes not. I want to be settled in contentment, in trust, in knowing who I am in Christ—no matter what is happening around me. But I don’t ever want to settle for less than knowing Him completely. I don’t ever want to settle for less than all he has for me, and all he has for me is his entire kingdom.
That’s why I love my friend’s image of the river of peace. I think it’s the perfect image of how to be settled, but never to settle. A river knows its boundaries. A river is settled in its place (unless it floods, in which case it is not settled at all, but dangerous). But a river does not settle. It does not stop pressing on toward its purpose, which is to be swallowed up by the sea.
I want to press on to be swallowed up by my Savior, never settling or stopping, never resting, but always at rest. So when the terrible things happen and the world is in chaos, I can go to the deep place where Jesus is, where he holds me even as I press on to knowing him. This is the paradox of the gospel, the place where peace and pressing on come together.
There is something to this idea of “peace like a river.” A constant presence of something beautiful, powerful, and refreshing, that is nevertheless constantly changing, constantly surging and moving on. Settled, but not settling.
Paul puts it well in Philippians 3:
“Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
We can be settled because Christ has laid hold of us. We are his.
We can press on because the call is upward and onward.
Maybe you need to give up the past, letting go of the things which are behind you. Maybe you need to give up your need to be right, or your need to have all the answers, or your need to control and to know what is coming. Maybe you need to be settled in Christ’s arms.
Maybe, too, you need to stop settling for less than knowing Him completely, and you need to start pressing into Him, onward and upward.
What would happen if we all did this together? What a force a river would be, and what a place of peace.