3 Holiday Stress Busters

Don’t allow the season to steal your soul…

I have a love-hate relationship with the holidays. This can cause some tension due to the fact that my job finds it epicenter in spiritual holidays. As a pastor for over 32 years, my holidays have been designing, creating and leading experiences that reveal and usher in a sense of divine “otherness.” This is no small enterprise in the midst of a culture that has the ability to wrap the holy with glittering consumerism that appears noble but is a whitewashed disguise.

My main motivation for creating spaces of the sacred is because I know that people are longing for it, need it desperately, yet get caught up in the busyness of life. They are doing the best they can and need all the help they can get.

Advertisers are convincing our kids that they NEED the latest, greatest and flashiest tech toys. They believe the lie that they are nothing, and no one will like them if that newest thing isn’t theirs. We are promised a better life, better sex, better relationships, and better health if we would just buy their product. Then, oh yes then you will become one of the beautiful people using their products.

So….we spend money we don’t have going into debt for things that cannot deliver their promise in order to impress people we don’t even like. Before you know it, the holiday is over and you are simply left with the credit card debt, right?

Stress comes at you like a scud missile from multiple angles.

  • family stress…
  • work stress…
  • financial stress…
  • health stress…
  • time stress…
  • kid stress…
  • work stress…
  • school stress…
  • political stress…
  • legal stress…

The American Institute of Stress (yes it’s a real thing!) recently published and article detailing 42 key workplace stressors. You can read the article here. In the article, author Milja Milenkovic stated a number of eye opening stats. For example:

* 83% of US workers suffer from work-related stress.
* US businesses lose up to $300 billion yearly as a result of workplace stress.
* Depression leads to $51 billion in costs due to absenteeism and $26 billion in treatment costs.
* Work-related stress causes 120,000 deaths and results in $190 billion in healthcare costs yearly.

Gallup also note that “Americans are among the most stressed out populations in the world. Drawing from Gallup’s 2019 data on emotional states, over half of the American population experience stress during the day. This is 20% higher than the world average of 35%. According to these stress stats, the US is getting closer and closer to Greece, whose population has been the most stressed out in the world since 2012, with 59% of Greeks experiencing stress daily.”

No wonder we don’t see, feel or enter into the spaces of the sacred during the holidays.

We are too stuck in the muck of this kingdom instead of God’s kingdom.

That is why I love creating spaces and experiences that take you out of the kingdom of commodity, productivity, and empire and portal you to the kingdom you were created to live in, but the stresses of the world keep you from finding the doorway.

While stress is inevitable, it doesn’t have to win the battle for your soul.
While stress in inevitable, it doesn’t have to choke out the holy.
While stress is inevitable, it doesn’t have to be your way of life.

Instead…

Here are three practices I use to stay centered in the midst of cultural chaos in order to stay connected to Trinity.

Meditation.
In the story about Jesus that was written by Luke, we learn that meditation was a regular practice in Jesus’ life. It was a discipline that kept him centered and able to hear the voice of the Father.
“News about Jesus spread even more.  Crowds came to hear him and to be healed . . . but Jesus often slipped away to be alone so he could pray.”  Luke 5:15‑16 (NCV)

Prayer and meditation are great stress relievers. Prayer is talking to God with your mind, and meditation is talking to God with your heart. I see prayer and meditation like pressure relief valves or decompression chambers. When your brain runs out of words as you release the burden, meditation picks up the conversation with groans that are too deep for words.

I think it was Pascal, the famous philosopher who once said, “Most of man’s problems come from his inability to sit still.”  The Bible says, “Be still and know that I am God.” 

The busier you are, the more you need to practice the stillness of meditation. If you are thinking right now, “Hey Monty, I am way too busy to slow down and meditate, that would be nice, but I just don’t have the time!” I get it, I really do, but you are choosing the kingdom of chaos and stress when you could be finding the peace of God amid all your craziness.

The busier I get, the more I meditate. When I stop, pause, and meditate, the stillness and silence allow my body to catch up with my brain. It is here that the assailing thoughts that jump around in my mind like rabid monkeys on vacation slow down enough to pray and listen to God. I have found that this alone is the most significant stress reducer in my life. Prayer and Meditation remind me that I am not God, I am not in control of the world, and God is far more capable than I am of running things…what a relief.

As a person with busy-brain-syndrome, I have found that the best way to move into a time of stillness is through reading. I will start with a compelling devotional book. The words help me focus and eliminate brain chatter. Books become a powerful tool to slow my thoughts, heart-rate, and breathing, so my prayer time is thick with God’s presence. His presence slowly reduces the stress I carry as I trust Him with all my stuff & things.

Concentration is the second principle that helps reduce stress. Concentration is the choice to focus on what is essential. A-billion-and-one options encamp us every minute of the day. If you are not purposeful in your choices, someone else will be choosing for you.

What are your priorities this season?
What are you trying to accomplish during the holidays?
What good thing do you need to say no to?

The holiday season comes with options, events, opportunities, etc. The buffet of choices are all pretty much good, but serve as distractions from what is best!

Jesus models a life of meditation and concentration. He slowed down to tend his soul, but he was also focused on his ultimate goal. Luke reveals this character trait: “As the time drew near for his return to heaven, he moved steadily onward toward Jerusalem with an iron will.” (9:51)

If you don’t determine what your priorities are, the overwhelming nature of the season will determine and control you. Other people’s wants and needs and plans for your life will overtake what your soul desires. You know it’s true that when we allow everyone else to determine what we do, resentment pitches a tent, moves in, and has a heyday!

Determine to choose what you will focus on and then create a plan to navigate the season according to those priorities. Some people may get their knickers in a twist when they realize they can’t control you, but you will sleep with a smile.

The third practice is to Delegate. This one might be the hardest for many of us. We have believed the lie that “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself!” I think that mantra is the enemy’s greatest lie and instigator of unnecessary stress.

When we believe that we have to do it all ourselves, stress smiles and is poised to pounce. We think, “I am Atlas, I hold up the world!” or we take the martyrs route and sigh, “I’m the only one who does what needs to get done.”

We are in for a rude awakening when we realize that the world goes on its merry way with or without us. We lose a job, and no one calls. We say “no” to leading a project, and they fill the role quickly without blinking an eye. Honestly, we think we are indispensable but, truth-be-told, we are not.

Sometimes this is precisely why we fill our schedule with so many events that are robbing us of what we honestly want. The fear of not been needed, seen, or relevant is the real reason we stack our days with tasks that we end up resenting. The sad truth is that we create our reality.

So instead of being Wonder Woman or Superman this season, choose to ask for help and delegate some things to your friends and family. When you entrust other people with things that need to be accomplished, you are empowering them with one of the most powerful, healing, and life-giving gifts of all, to be needed.

This is your year to beat Holiday stress, so make the decision today to meditate, concentrate and delegate.

May this Christmas season respark joy as you find the space to breathe in her beauty.

NEXT

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Here we are again…

Another inciting incident.
Opinions flow like a river at flood stage.

“You don’t know the facts?” “You missed the point” “You’re ignorant”

As our nation labors under the weight of serious systemic issues  we choose to herald our cyber-bullhorns, which are more about shouting than listening and resolving.

Broad-brushed soundbites of polarized rhetoric.

And then…

NEXT

We saunter off to the next thing showing that we really don’t care at a deep level about the current thing, it’s just the popular outrage. Sure, it seems important enough to flame and shout out loudly what we think (as if we have perfect-objective reality firmly in our grasp), but not important enough to get off the couch and actually DO Something…DO justice.

It amazes me that so many of us think a perfectly worded tweet is the final word on an incident that results in lost lives, lost income, lost values and even lost humanity.

“Surely my Facebook rebuttal is enough to end generations of racism”

“Surely my #hashtag is enough to end corporate greed”

“Surely my instagram picture will be enough to prove a 911 conspiracy”

and then…NEXT…

Have we become the NEXT generation? Have we become a NEXT culture?

In other words, is our current outrage more about entertainment and consumerism than it is about the actual tragedy or incident?

I think they way we respond and then quickly disengage moving onto the NEXT thing reveals an apathy and a narcissism that perpetuates systemic issues.

We live at the surface, and the problems we face are much deeper than the “facts.” And I know someone will more than likely cry out against that last statement.

Courts have to deal with facts, we as a society must deal with truths that lead to justice acknowledging the facts.

Today, consider how fast you move onto the NEXT thing.

Today consider how fast you move on from the LAST thing.

Today consider whether or not an incident will incite you to use your bullhorn only, or actually get off the couch and enter into the pain and brokeness as a healer and helper.

A closing thought to ponder from Martin Luther King Jr.:

“The Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice.”

In light of the current #ferguson battlefield, consider the deeper conversation that is needed before you go NEXT.

 

 

Reformers and Fences

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In many ways, it would seem that we are a world of reformers now. Thanks in large part to the power of social media, everybody has a platform to say whatever they like regardless of how accurate, intelligent or worthy their thoughts may be. Some people like to troll and cause conflict while others simply like to demolish the ideas and people that they disagree with.

One of the problems with this platform in our current context is that most people who are posting status update after status update, using their agenda as a polemic, seem to have forgotten the basic laws of logic and reason. What has taken their place, you ask? Emotions, opinions, and half thought through arguments.

In order to be a true reformer one must understand the scope of the thing that they wish to reform before they destroy it. Many go about reform the way history tells us Cortés burnt his ships in the harbor. While there was no going back for Cortés, sometimes we burn the ships before we have reasoned through such actions.

Today we are in the midst of cultural reform. Facebook has proven to be the new “speakers corner” as people pontificate, throw in a meme or two that agrees with their viewpoint, erroneously thinking that the picture and soundbite alone should end all other disagreement.

People are unfriended when they disagree, or perhaps more to the point, when they become belligerent concerning their topic.

The problem with the new reformers is that too often they have not thought through fully the reasons that something existed before. They have not entered into the “whys” of the thing they wish to eliminate or change. Some areas of reform seem easy such as ending human trafficking or eliminating global poverty. Some areas of current reform seem less clear to the populace such as gun rights and same-sex marriage. While boats are being burned, and status updates are flying, the conversations that are needed are being ignored in lieu of trying to determine who is right…who is wrong.

When emotions rule the day, we don’t ask the deeper questions, we simply want everyone to agree with our position. These are not easy issues, and before we tear down the things that have been in place for a while, we need to understand why they existed in the first place. Maybe they do need to be changed, maybe they don’t. Until we can clearly understand why something has existed, we don’t have the clarity yet to remove it.

G.K Chesterton spoke profoundly to this:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.

Dialog is needed today on so many issues from global economics to civil rights. It would be my hope that we could engage the issues with honest reflection, being compassionate about the other person, even if we disagree on some issue.

But before we keep tearing down fences, lets make sure we know why the fence was put there in the first place.

Closed Cathedrals & Tarot Cards

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I stood transfixed. The humidity was about 100% and the temperatures were in the 90’s. We had just walked down Bourbon street and shot up a side street towards Jackson Square. It seemed that every step was a new experience of smells, sights, sounds, you name it.

From a bar that could have occupied any small town in America, and then suddenly a romantic wrought iron balcony encased with a brilliant array of flowers the sight of which caused you to stop and simply stare. Music was pouring out from most every business doorway: The Blues; Zydeco; Rock n Roll; Classic, every musical pallet was represented in full.File0042

It probably shouldn’t have stunned me so much, but it did. My mind we rolling, configuring, wondering, pondering at what my eyes were absorbing.

On the far end of the square, looking out over Jackson Park with is luscious greenery and otherworldly feel that rolls towards the Mighty Mississippi River, standing defiantly and majestically is St. Louis Cathedral. This gal has been watching over the square since 1720, and is the oldest cathedral in North America.

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Her position is grand, and she is buffeted on either side by two long buildings that extend the length of the square and were in their genesis the first apartment style buildings of their kind in the U.S.  I stood taking in the beauty as my neck craned heavenward towards the top of the spire, but that isn’t what really arrested my attention.

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All around the Jackson Square, and more specifically right at the front doors of the cathedral, numerous little tables had been meticulously set up. Some were grand with umbrellas for shade, and plenty of seats for clients to sit down. Others were basic and plain, a card table and two folding chairs. Most all had various paraphernalia scattered indicative of the persons trade.

You see, what had stopped me was the business that they were all performing. Table after table full of people getting their palms read; Tarot cards cast; bones thrown to reveal a preferred future, psychic mind readers; tea leave readers, voo doo practitioners; you name it, every type of spiritualist was in full force, and for the most part they kept pretty busy.

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Now this still wasn’t what really grabbed me…it was really two things:

1. Their proximity to the cathedral. You could practically reach out and touch the front door from the little tables strewn about. I wondered how many more people would be out there in front of the cathedral on Sunday as people went in and out of church, hoping to snag a few and make some extra money.

2. The second thing which really stunned me was that while all the palm readers and psychics were busy talking to men and women about their future….the church was CLOSED. I thought to myself, "Man this is the problem. While people are struggling through life trying to find answers and get a human touch from anyone, even a huckster or worse, an occult diviner, the church is closed.

The one organism on this planet that has the hope, reality and truth of the future has closed its doors to the people seeking. And then the people seeking became prey.

In John 13:34-35 Jesus said…"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

Isn’t that amazing. Of all the things and traits that Jesus could have pulled out to be the most compelling reason people would know that we were followers of His was the incredible, undescribeable, otherworldly and beyond logical way we love.

He could have said:

* They will know you are mine if you have memorized the Bible or at least some key parts.
* They will know you are mine by your clothing style. Not to sloppy, not to fine…just right.
* They will know you are mine by the cathedrals you build in my name.
* They will know you are mine by your unbelievable grasp of doctrine.
* They will know you are mine by your ability to discern heretics.
* They will know you are mine by all the things you stand against.
* They will know you are mine by the perfect behavior of your kids.
* They will know you are mine by the signs and wonders you perform.
* They will know you are mine by your hyper-spiritual language that only a select few understand.

…and the list could go on! I think you get my point. All the things that the church fights over, argues about, even dis-fellowships one another over are not what Jesus said is the defining mark of those who follow Him. In fact I would go as far as to say if we actually practice His one defining trait of love, we would have the maturity to work through differences of thought and practice, and instead of branding each other as wrong based on our finite understanding of God, we might actually come together under the one truth of Jesus Christ and reveal to the planet that love is possible even when there is a difference in thought.

You see, we are so busy trying to be right that people have lost interest, and they are going to those places where someone might say, "Oh come here honey, sit down, let me hold your hand and tell you what I see…hhmmm, oh you know what, it’s going to be all right."

Humans are created to love and to be loved. Most of our life journey centers around the fulfillment of this basic need in each one of us. God made us that way so that it could be filled by His indwelling presence…and He loves His people so that His love would flow from Him into us in order to flow out to a world that needs it…but the question is, "Are our cathedral doors closed?"

I watched as people listened…my neck stretching hard to hear the words that they had paid to hear from the street peddler of connection and future hope. Many acted as counselors, some simply read the traditional story from the lines in the palm…others seemed to have a much darker menacing aura about them. But the people came and the church was closed.

I then wondered if people would actually stop by the tables as they exited church on Sunday. If there was an abundance of love being delivered and shared inside, then they would have no need, except to offer it to those at the tables as they passed by.

This picture will reside in my mind for a long tme to come I can tell…Oh that we fully would reflect Jesus command to love people as He does. Oh that we would understand it is a command and not an option or something to do if we have time. Oh that we would grasp this in such a way that we would slowly morph into people who embody love as a natural expression of who we are, and not as something we do.

When we try to "do" love it will be shallow, empty and religious. But,but when we allow Christ to flood us with His life we become love even as God is love. This kind of love is undefinable…This kind of love doesn’t struggle to show affection because it’s root is giving…This kind of love is like the wetness of water…water is wet because it is. It doesn’t try to be wet, it is an inescapable conclusion and reality that water is wet. When we give our lives fully to Jesus, love is the trait that needs to be the base reality…we love not because we must, but because we can’t do otherwise.

A love like this will eliminate the categories and labels that mercilessly get affixed to people who are not like us…A love like this could literally end wars…what’s the secret? Jesus.

I loved New Orleans…I enjoyed the people…and I am still wondering what one man was thinking as he slowly got up from Miss. Lena’s table and walked away from my vantage point and her table down the stone street. Did he find what he was looking for? Did he hear what he hoped to hear?…or will he be back there tomorrow with a new question to ask, but really all he truly longs for is to know beyond knowing that he is loved.

May our doors never be closed as followers of Christ even when the church  building is.

What are your thoughts eh?

Monty