Learning to Live Shalom

by Denise McKinney, Connections Pastor at Redeemer Covenant Church, Tulsa, OK

I am on a journey of learning to live shalom. I have always thought of myself as a fairly peaceful person in how I live life. Internally, not much rattles me and I can navigate stress fairly well without losing my cool. Externally, I have been ever the diplomat in disagreements, trying to find a good middle way in the presence of extremes. Those things are mostly still true about me, but something has changed. I have discovered that keeping the peace in my soul and in my life is not really shalom. At most, it’s a shallow, low-impact kind of peace that does not do the Hebrew word justice.

Shalom is not a warm fuzzy kind of peace to request when we want things to get better, or when we want to feel better in a bad situation. Shalom is about all created life flourishing in the fullest expression of God’s love for us. It is helping everyone and everything live into the purpose and identity given by God the Creator. Shalom is an active, holistic, and intentional movement of God in our lives and in our world to set things right. Paul describes it vividly in his letter to the church at Colossae:

…all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross. Colossians 1:19-20 (MSG)

What is taking deep root in my own heart is that if God’s shalom is at work to put all the broken pieces of our lives and our world back together the way they were always meant to be, then praying for peace, or trying to be a peaceful person cannot be lived in the first person. Shalom falls short when it is about just me, or my immediate experience. And when I do allow it to be about just me, there isn’t room for another to flourish. If my time is all about me, I will feel inconvenienced when I encounter a time-sensitive need. If my resources are all about being comfortable now and saving for the future, I won’t give as much as I really can. If my political and cultural perspectives are rooted in a mostly white, suburban experience, I am at risk of perpetuating racial and cultural divisions, and missing the beauty and flourishing of diversity.

I think that truth convicts me most. When I recognize that my life has been lived in a fairly insulated environment without a lot of diversity, I can see some conscious and unconscious lessons of “me, me, and more me.” I did grow up in a home where my parents fostered dozens of children over two decades, and that left an indelible mark on my soul, led me into ministry and has been the part of my story I have revisited much lately to understand what it means to truly live shalom. But, regrettably, one of my dear foster sisters recently reminded me that as a teenager, I took advantage of my relationship with my own parents by requesting the best shower times, even though there were 4 other foster girls sharing the same bathroom with me. It may seem small, but even in the midst of an environment where shalom could have flourished in abundance, (and often it did!) in that instance, I did not pursue the peace that brings healing and unity.

So what does learning to live shalom look like today? There are a few realities God is putting in front of me quite often:

  • Daily recognize the places I have more power for no other reason than my ethnicity or socio-economic situation and figure out if I can share or give it away.
  • Resist living a busy, high octane existence, but rather make my days full of missional living—both can be exhausting, but only one makes a difference in God’s economy.
  • Peace isn’t just the absence of conflict or differences, or even war, but the intentional movement toward reconciling and restoring people to God and to each other. Am I working to bring a reconciling, restorative peace to my community?
  • Sometimes living and giving shalom means speaking up. Am I speaking honestly that bringing shalom should be making a tangible difference for the orphan, refugee, prisoner, and spiritual skeptic in our community?

Those personal reflections are all well and good, but I still must pursue shalom as a way of living so that all the broken and dislocated pieces of my universe move towards the kind of abundant life God wants for creation. Here’s a snapshot of how I am learning to live shalom:

Building friendships across race and culture. I recently had coffee with a Muslim woman whose son is friends with my son. She is a writer with two master’s degrees in creative writing and literature! We are meeting again this summer to share our writing with each other. It’s a first step, but different cultures and religions don’t really interact much in my city, so we will keep moving towards flourishing friendships.

Mentoring and encouraging teenage girls aging out of foster care. There are literally thousands of children in my state who age out of foster care each year with only a few hundred dollars and limited support system to launch their lives. I am a part of a ministry called Manna House, so that 10 young women won’t be at risk for becoming a single mom or falling into drugs and crime, but will instead go to college, get jobs, life skills, and experience spiritual community…#flourishing!

Navigate authentic spiritual community across economic differences. It’s sad to admit, but we tend to only hang out with people of similar financial situations. Maybe it’s because thinking about having more than someone else is uncomfortable. But, through a grocery ministry, I have been able to give and receive shalom with a friend whose life, though not financially easy, has taught me more about perseverance, hope and miracles than any other person. Hers is a life filled with miracles that she has experienced and that she has been to others.

Learn from people who are tearing down walls that divide us.
Several former students who I had the privilege to pastor are now missionaries in Beirut, Lebanon. Two of them teach in a Christian school that is half Christian students and half Muslim. That is something I don’t see happening anywhere in my immediate world, or even in our nation for that matter. Yet, in the place where we’d assume the most hostility would be active and present, there is shalom happening for young people whose beliefs often teach them to oppose and even hate one another. If they can do it there, we must be able to do it here!

This journey has been and continues to be beautiful, gut-wrenching, cathartic, priority-shifting, wonderful and full of laying down my own wants. If I could encourage another in similar circumstances, I would say that we must stop taking the love of the Father for granted in a way that only allows the best for one. God’s shalom wants the best for all, and we must figure out a way to live that more fully and honestly, so that people and creation around us can flourish.


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