This is what you get when you ask 4-8 years old what the definition of love is. Some answers are funny, some are profound, but all of them will make you smile.
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.
Here are three practices I use to stay centered in the midst of cultural chaos in order to stay connected to Trinity.
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.
Here’s your invitation to check out my latest podcast!
In this episode, I walk us into a space where the secular and the sacred distinction dissolves allowing us to embrace and experience the sacred moment that is present. When we falsely believe that the components of our lives ( body-soul-spirit) are compartmentalized & separate from each other, we tend to label and make divisions everywhere.
This disconnects us from fully living the into the moment that we have. Sometimes we finally have a breakthrough moment on retreats, seminars or places like monasteries where the veil between us and God is so thin, and we find ourselves free of the divisions. The beauty though is when you are able to live fully present wherever you are, you are taking the monastery with you.
Likes are loved 🙂
More books and less binge-watching will transform your life!
The following books are in no particular order and speak to various areas of thought. From fiction to faith, I would encourage you to read widely and discerningly. Most people today read within a small circle of authors that they like and agree with. If you are only reading authors who think like you, there is limited growth happening in your soul. Read authors who come at things differently, think differently and even believe differently. Release your fear, you are stronger and more discerning than you think, and who knows, you just might gain some new insights or see things from a different perspective.
- The Go-Giver
- Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
- Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible
- Sabbath As Resistance
- Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked
- The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness: A True Story
- Why You Think The Way You Do: The Story of Western Worldviews From Rome to Home
- Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin’s Path to God
- Man’s Search For Meaning
- Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
- A Prayer For Owen Meany: A Novel
- The Sparrow
- How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels
- As A Man Thinketh
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
- Pilgrims Progress
- Eager To Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi
- Disunity In Christ
- The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Volumes 1 & 2
- Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver
I’d love to hear what books have and are impacting you!
Please leave your recommendations in the comments.