I don’t know about you, but for me keeping my equilibrium can be a struggle.
We’re experiencing some of the tensest, most polarized political times I can remember. Everywhere I go, people seem angrier and more frightened than they used to be.
Besides that, the unavoidable, normal annoyances we’ve always faced remain.
A few days ago, I went outside to find a swimming pool in our yard — except we don’t have a swimming pool. Workers from the water company and a neighbor were already out there, staring. Turned out our water line had burst overnight.
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Before long, I had three plumbers and a backhoe ripping up big scoops of my front lawn, the meter ticking on my bank account.
Even after decades of spiritual contemplation, I’m still trying to master the discipline of taking life’s various difficulties in stride.
But here are 10 principles I try — with mixed success — to remind myself to follow when I feel my blood pressure rising:
▪ Live in this moment. The president may or may not turn out to be an agent of a hostile, nuclear-armed foreign power. You may or may not have made it to enough of your kids’ ballgames when they were growing up. But at this instant, you’re probably standing on two legs and breathing fine. Yesterday is irretrievable and tomorrow is unknowable. This moment is the only one that truly exists and thus the only moment that matters. Abide here.
▪ Remember that every experience, pleasant or unpleasant, is an opportunity to grow. Ask, “What can I learn from this? What am I seeing that I’ve never seen before?” Or, if you’re in a mess you’ve already seen too many times, ask, “What can I do differently this time so I don’t have to go through this again?”
▪ Be content where you are, as you are. There will always be somebody who has a bigger mansion, a shinier resume, a flatter abdomen, a more doting spouse, a —whatever. There are also people living in rusted out station wagons, jobless, flabbier than you are and utterly alone. You can’t measure your life by comparing it to others’ lives. Accept that you’re who God created you to be. Learn to accept yourself.
▪ Be kind, especially to “the least of these.” That you’re stressed doesn’t permit you to vent your frustrations on others. The frazzled single mother who takes your order at Waffle House may already be far more poleaxed than you are, and with better reasons. In the ultimate estimation — in God’s view — we’re all “the least of these.” The CEO is the least of these. Even the pastor is. Everyone needs kindness, mercy and compassion more than snark and judgment.
▪ Do the best you can with your problem — and then let it go. After all, the best you can do is, by definition, the best you can do. If you’ve given your all to resolve an issue, then whether it gets resolved or continues to fester, there’s nothing else you could have done, right? At that point, forgive yourself for your errors and move forward regardless.
▪ Assume God is present, even when you can’t feel his presence. When he doesn’t seem to be answering, keep talking to him anyway. If nothing else, praying helps you sort through a sticky situation in your own head. And often, with the benefit of time and distance, you’ll realize he really was there after all.
▪ Don’t obsess about other people’s reactions. Many people have expressed this idea in one form or another, probably because it happens to be true: You’re never as brilliant as your biggest fans think, but neither are you as rotten as your harshest critics claim. Generally, humans are fickle. Sometimes their judgments are asinine. It’s wise to take their acclaim and abuse alike with a grain of salt.
▪ Remind yourself that no one except God and you is responsible for your peace of mind. Don’t expect any pastor, church, Bible study group, shaman, guru or counselor to fulfill your spiritual needs, because they can’t, any more than you can fulfill theirs. Spend time alone with the Lord. Meditate. Read a volume of profound poetry. Take responsibility for your state of mind.
▪ Zero in on your immediate surroundings. It’s oddly helpful to look at the world through the smallest of frames. Touch the books in your bookcase, study their titles, recall the lazy afternoons when you read each one. Gaze at the fabric of your shirt — count the stitches at the seams. Watch ants in your yard marching off to their anthill. Becoming aware of the minute puts even the biggest problems in perspective.
▪ Try to help somebody else. Go out of your way to do something special for someone — preferably for a stranger; anonymously if possible. Turning your attention to the needs of others wondrously calms your inner turmoil.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.