Holy One, Shock and save me with the terrible goodness of this Friday, And drive me deep into my longing for your kingdom Until I seek it first- Yet not first for myself, But for the hungry And the sick And the poor of your children, For prisoners of conscience around the world, For those I have wasted With my racism And sexism And ageism And nationalism And religionism, For those around this mother earth and in this city Who, this Friday, know far more of terror than of goodness; That, in my seeking first the kingdom, For them as well as for myself, All these things may be mine as well: Things like a coat and courage And something like comfort, A few lilies in the field, The sight of birds soaring on the wind, A song in the night, And gladness of heart, The sense of your presence And the realization of your promise That nothing in life or death Will be able to separate me or those I love, From you love In the crucified one who is our Lord, And in whose name and Spirit I pray.
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.
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.
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.
Last week I was doing some work at my Planet Changer Uganda office located in Seeta, just outside the capital of Kampala. I knew it was going to be a busy week as I was picking up supplies with our Uganda director Moses and his wife Bena.
We needed bunk beds, mattresses, sheets, chairs and a handful of other supplies to get the rooms at the office ready for a team from SVA Church. They will be coming in January to help with water testing, GPS tagging of completed water systems and conduct community health and sanitation surveys.
As there was not a bed for me yet, I stayed at a nearby hotel, this would be my basecamp for accomplishing the long to-do list. While I was looking forward to some alone time with God while savoring some amazing Ugandan tea in the mornings, my experience ran on the twin rails of beauty and struggle.
Behind the door of room 712 I passed into a divine portal where I was about to wrestle everyday for a week.
While no place is truly holier than another, as God is found everywhere and within you, during my prayer, meditation and sleep time I entered into a thin space. A thin space is the Celtic way of expressing that you have experienced the presence of God in such a real and intimate way that the veil between the here-and-now and the presence of God is as thin as translucent paper. Room 712 became for me a Jabbok river of sorts confronting my greater and lesser angels.
In the morning, while I read, prayed and meditated, God’s presence was so tangible my entire body was humming with the energy of creation.
It was amazing… A place I didn’t want to leave… Like Peter, I said, “Let’s build three shelters and stay here!” when he experienced the transfiguration of Jesus right before his eyes.
I felt as if I might float away, I even checked once or twice to make sure I was still sitting in my chair! I wondered if I might float right into His throne room on the waves of His love and light.
However, while I slept, we wrestled for control of things I felt I might lose, things I might gain. My mind wouldn’t settle, I felt the weight of my thoughts on my chest like a cement blanket.
Was I jacob at the Jabbok river wrestling with the man who was really God? Would I cling until He blessed me? Who was I, and why did the night spaces become an MMA ring? Was I jacob or Monty or pastor or activist or or or. If I follow His lead and surrender all, who will I become? Will I like me? Will others like me?
While my mind worked to control scenario after scenario crashing through my mind, in the tumultuous silence I finally heard what my soul needed most: “I love you, You are mine.”
This morning my prayerful reflection was written by Karl Rahner SJ. It is a beautiful invitation into love, which is the presence and form of God.
God of My Life
Only in love can I find you,my God. In love the gates of my soul spring open, …..allowing me to breathe a new air of freedom. …..and forget my own petty self. In love my whole being streams forth …..out of the rigid confines of narrowness and anxious self-assertion, …..which makes me a prisoner of my own poverty and emptiness. In love all the powers of my soul flow out toward you, wanting never more to return, but to lose themselves completely in you, since by your love you are the inmost center of my heart, closer to me than I am to myself.
But when I love you, when I manage to break out of the narrow circle of self and leave behind the restless agony of unanswered questions, when my blinded eyes no longer look merely from afar and from the outside upon your unapproachable brightness, and much more when you yourself, O Incomprehensible One, have become through love the inmost center of my life, then I can bury myself entirely in you, O mysterious God, and with myself all my questions.