“Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,
which means “God is with us.”
from today’s gospel reading.
No need to read further if you never experience stress!
Most mornings many of us wake with the sense that the things we have to do today simply won’t fit into the time available. At the end of the day we collapse into bed aware that much that we had hoped to achieve during the day remains undone.
In the minds of many stress has become fashionable and people who seem relaxed in the midst of daily demands are almost viewed with suspicion: they can’t really be pulling their weight if they remain so calm. Stress is widely seen as an inevitable consequence of a life lived fully. This is a tragic misunderstanding of the meaning of life.
There is a beautiful bedtime prayer which acknowledges this burden in the NZ Anglican prayer book:
“It is night after a long day.
What has been done has been done;
what has not been done has not been done;
let it be.”
St. (Pope) John XXIII was used by the Holy Spirit to guide the church in the turbulent years of change in the world and the church (1958-1963). With the problems he faced and the burdens he carried he once commented that often his bedtime prayer was “well Lord, it’s your church, I’m off to bed.”
STRESS: the cause
Have you ever noticed that there are some people who are forever complaining about busyness and stress but it’s hard to catch them doing much at all? And then there are others who never mention stress, who seem forever calm and always have time to chat, but when you realise what they have done in a day it is impossible to imagine how they did it all.
There is a reason for this. Stress is not caused by doing too much.
Instead, stress is the consequence and the symptom of a loss of perspective. When I think everything depends on us, and today’s activities are of the make or break kind, then I will feel stress.
When I place the people and projects of my life at the centre instead of Jesus, then I will feel stress.
If the exam that I might have this morning or the meeting has become my total occupation to the extent that it feels like a barrier to be overcome before I can enter the afternoon, then I am giving the exam or the meeting a lot of power to make or break my day or week. If the morning’s event goes well then I am happy. If it is a disaster then…well, we all know what that feels like.
Enough of this kind of pressure in a week and my health is at serious risk.
When I forget that in every moment I am held in the loving embrace of God everything becomes a burden. I have lost perspective and I will feel stress.
Our problem is that we forget the message at the heart of Christmas: “God is with us” and therefore we have nothing to fear.
STRESS: a solution
I once heard someone comment that to overcome negative stress in their own lives they used a technique they called “horizon shifting.” To take the pressure off the exam or the meeting they would keep in mind something good that was going to happen next week, then if the morning was a disaster they still had next week to look forward to. To give themselves an even greater space of grace they would make sure that they had a couple of positives on an even more distant horizon a few months down the track.
I have been practicing this for some years now and it works.
It works even better when I take full advantage of the gift of faith we have received and shift my horizon beyond the grave to an eternal life of love and joy in harmony with God.
- Try for the next 24 hours to practice horizon-shifting by lifting your gaze beyond the grave into the eternal fulness of life for which we have been created.
- Whenever you feel stress today take thirty seconds to find your pulse and to feel that beat, knowing that the God who created you and loves you is holding you in loving embrace. The beat you feel is the beat of God’s heart close to you.
Today’s “O Antiphon” – O Adonai (Lord).
and leader of the house of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush,
and who gave him the law on Sinai:
come to redeem us with outstretched arm.