Stress is one of the epidemics spreading across western civilisation.
It seems that the pace and pressure of modern life is taking its toll on people. “You snooze – you lose” is a dictum that so many people live by and in the 24/7 environment, we are apt to identify busyness and success with feverish haste, and we seem to admire above others the person who is always dashing off to keep an appointment or to close another deal.
The old Forth Road Bridge is being replaced because it is suffering from stress. It’s not that it has been overtaken by one single traumatic incident that has rendered it in need of repair. It is that day after day, month after month and year after year, it has been placed under repetitive strain and the accumulation has been more than it can take. The old rail bridge was made so robust that it hasn’t been depleted in the same way.
It seems to me that people living under the demands of the 21st century are like the Forth Road Bridge rather than the Old Rail Bridge and the stress that they suffer, just creeps up on them until they can take no more. One observer of the human scene suggests that we could coin another beatitude that would say: “Blessed are those that goeth around in circles, for they shall be known as big wheels”.
If it’s like that for you, then perhaps it is time to slow down. Jesus, whose time was not his own; who was under demand from early morning till late in the evening, knew the wisdom of taking “time out”. So he built into his busy life times for rest and renewal. Early in the morning, late in the evening, on retreat at his friends’ house in Bethany, Jesus found time to rest and meditate and pray. These were the times when he found the strength he needed to meet the challenges of his public ministry.
There is prayer that I go back to time and again, which helps me to remember the importance of balancing the demands of life: “Slow me down, Lord! Ease the pounding of my heart by the quieting of my mind. Steady my hurried pace with a vision of the eternal reach of time. Give me, amidst the confusion of my day, the calmness of the ever-lasting hills. Break the tension of my nerves and muscles with the soothing music of the singing streams that live in my memory. Help me to know the magical, restoring power of sleep.
“Teach me the art of taking minute vacations – of slowing down to look at a flower, to pat a dog, or to read a few lines from a good book.
Let me look up into the branches of the towering oak, and know that it grew great and strong, because it grew slowly and well.”
I wish this new column in the Southern Reporter well and I hope it helps readers to balance the equation of their lives.
Rt Rev John Chalmers
Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland