If you’re having a bad day, join the crowd!
Apparently, we all have lots of them. According to CBS local news, a poll sponsored by Freeletics reveals that the average American is “stressed out, upset, or just cranky” about 60 days a year! Not surprisingly, that sport and lifestyle company’s solution is more exercise, premised on the idea that a gym is where you can get your life in shape.
Very surprisingly, that idea doesn’t seem to jibe with a different study reported on the same news channel just the day before. In that one, “Scientists at the University of California found two glasses of wine or beer a day reduced your risk of premature death by 18 percent, compared to just 11 percent for daily exercise.” Go figure!
But neither barbells or beer can relieve us of our human propensity for stress or change our mortal nature. To counteract those existential realities, only a higher power can prevail.
Lent began with a jolt: “remember, o man, that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.” To impress that truth on our consciousness, black ashes are pressed onto our foreheads. But not everyone is stressed by that. For some, like these smiling Catholic school students, the recognition of mortality appears to make for a good day.
That seeming contradiction is predicated not on a denial of reality but on a fuller grasp of it. Nor does relief from what winds us up or brings us down come about simply by “leaning into an unpleasant feeling” so that we can allow it to go away.
Leaning on the Lord is the comprehensive solution that Lent invites us to re-consider. It works because faith forms the mind, informs the heart, and transforms the will.
The choice to believe in divine Providence is just that – a choice. When we decide to have faith, we adopt a reasoned and reasonable perspective on life in this world, namely, that all is fundamentally good, because it was made so and is intended to be so.
Christians recognize by faith that the source of that first and final goodness is a benevolent God, one whose cruciform sign of unlimited mercy stands sturdily all around us. When we contemplate that Cross, we can keep our daily stresses in their proper perspective.
St. Francis de Sales counsels this supernatural perspective with a charmingly natural image: “Soon we shall be in eternity and then we shall see how insignificant our worldly preoccupations were and how little it mattered whether some things got done or not; however, right now we rush about as if they were all-important. When we were little children how eagerly we used to gather pieces of broken tile, little sticks, and mud with which to build houses and other tiny buildings, and if someone knocked them over, how heartbroken we were and how we cried! But now we understand that these things really didn’t amount to much. One day it will be like this for us in heaven when we shall see that some of the things we clung to on earth were only childish attachments” (Letters of Spiritual Direction, p. 159).
Of course, not all bad days are about childish matters. Sickness still happens, plans still fail, families still feud, and the home team still loses. Even our otherwise productive cellphone capability contributes to our stress. Faith does not make all of this magically disappear.
Religion recognizes that as long as we still walk in this world, we have to face reality. That’s why, in the Gospel for the second Sunday of Lent, Peter doesn’t get to build his three tents on the mountaintop. The sight of God’s glory in the transfigured Jesus is not (yet) a permanent vision. They have to get back to their journey … and the stress that comes with it. But at least they now know what awaits them in their faithfulness.
So, keep working out, if you like. Have another drink, if you prefer (but only two!). Then, if you want to get in the lasting shape of your life, turn back to God, as this holy season bids us all to do.
featured logo image from www.freeletics.com/en