Perhaps the most common daily ailment in citizens of the western world is stress, and the gospel gives us a way forward.
It is clear in today’s gospel reading that the mother of James and John is a woman of faith. She asks Jesus for two good places in his Kingdom for her sons. Jesus reminds her that the pathway to this goal is one of suffering, but this journey leads to the promise of resurrection and the abundant life of the eternal paradise she seeks for her family.
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 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). He once said that his bedtime prayer was “well Lord, it’s your church, I’m off to bed.”
STRESS: the cause
Have you ever noticed though 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 we 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.
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.
NOW & NOT YET
I have written before about the two dimensions of the kingdom of God: the “not yet” dimension (the life we are invited to live with God for eternity after our death), and the “now” dimension (the way we are offered the life of God in the midst of our limited earthly existence). Perhaps in the past we focussed too much (perhaps exclusively) on the “not yet” reality of life with God. We might endure today’s difficulties by simply holding on in the hope that heaven will be great. However an exclusive focus on this future reality ignores Jesus’ reminder that the Kingdom of God is also among us – perhaps as imperceptible as the insignificant mustard seed, but a present reality for those who open themselves to this dimension of God’s life.
I suspect the pendulum has swung from a future preoccupation to (for many people) a sole focus on earthly existence. It is relatively rare, even at a Catholic funeral, to hear people speak in a eulogy with hope for their deceased relative or friend’s eternal life. Eulogies tend to focus solely on the person’s earthly life, and mention a future possibility only as a light-hearted fantasy. While it is important to share the stories of a person’s life on earth at a funeral, the focus must shift to our hope and prayer for their eternal future. A funeral will include some looking back, but it is only when a funeral looks forward that we can experience hope for the one who has died.
- Today I invite you to practice horison-shifting by lifting your gaze, like the mother of James and John, beyond the grave into the eternal fulness of life for which we have been created. It is this future horizon that enables us to endure and even thrive through the daily burdens of earthly life.
- A prayer for bedtime:
it is night.
The night is for stillness.
Let us be still in the presence of God.
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.
The night is dark.
Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives
rest in you.
The night is quiet.
Let the quietness of your peace enfold us,
all dear to us,
and all who have no peace.
The night heralds the dawn.
Let us look expectantly to a new day,
In your name we pray.
- If you have not yet tried the twenty minute audio prayer reflection based on the gospel you might like to try the podcast below. Set twenty minutes, find a comfortable place, and press play.