Pastoral Notes - Sunday, September 17th

“I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides me there is no God.”—Isaiah 45:5             

There was a new psychological study conducted earlier this year that suggested Americans are more stressed, depressed, and anxiety-ridden than they’ve ever been. According to the study, the last 30 years have been tough on Americans as anxiety related disorders have risen by more than 1,200 percent. The study went on to suggest that the fast-paced, high demand culture we live in is the primary cause—while noting that other studies point to increases of technology use coinciding with the weakening of social bonds as other leading factors. There’s certainly much to be said for the cumulative effect of these realities on the health of our psyche.

If I’m honest with myself, I can see how these realities shape my own felt experience of life. When I’m discouraged, I often find it’s because I’ve shredded the normal God-created boundaries for healthy life. I’ve filled my schedule with far more than I can ever do, stretching the margins of my energies and capacities. Day after day, getting up hours before dawn and then not shutting down until hours after dusk. Often as a consequence, I don’t make good food decisions or get enough sleep. I neglect the gym and fail to make time for rest and recreation.       

Now, like most people, I can get away with living this way for a while, and let’s face it—sometimes life requires such sacrifices. Eventually, however, if I keep this up, it begins to catch up with me. The backaches and headaches show up. Lethargy begins to take over. Pervasive feelings of emptiness and numbness present themselves. Spiritually, nagging doubts creep in and intense temptations show up out of nowhere. If I see any mix of these things, I’ve learned (or am learning), it’s time to press pause and perform a self-audit.

A few years ago I went on a Jim Collins reading kick—starting with his mega bestseller, Good To Great, and finishing that run with How the Mighty Fall. One little phrase in that latter book, How the Mighty Fall, really stuck out to me. He said that companies often fail because of, “…the undisciplined pursuit of more.” That word undisciplined caught me. I started to reflect on it. For me, undisciplined looked like saying, “yes” to things that I really ought to say, “no” to.

David Murray in his excellent little book, Reset, cites the minimalist expert Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism where he says, “We need to learn the slow ‘yes’ and the quick ‘no.’” The slow yes is a yes that stops and ponders priorities, purpose, and capacities. The slow yes asks questions like: “Is this within my calling?” “Is this worthwhile?” “Do I have the time, energy, and resource to give this the attention it deserves?” I’m learning how to do this better than I’ve done before, and I can see, and even feel, the difference.

One of my biggest, besetting sin-tendencies is to think I’m God. It’s subconscious, of course, and I’d never say it that way in so many words. But, if you had an inside track on my life, you’d spot me all the time trying to live like I’m infinite, boundary-less, and self-sufficient. What a joke! By God’s grace, I’m continuing to learn (and re-learn) that first, fundamental, and always relevant principle of theology: “There is a God, and I am not him.” And that’s a very good thing.