Is there a message in life’s mess?

Father Mark Goldasich is the pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Tonganoxie. He has been editor of the Leaven since 1989.

by Father Mark Goldasich

I just noticed something missing from my Leaven office. It was one of the most useful things I possessed: an anti-stress kit.

It was a minimalist’s dream. The entire kit consisted of one sheet of paper on which was a large circle at the top enclosing the words: Bang Head Here. Its instructions were simple:

  1. Place sheet on a firm surface.
  2. Follow directions on front of kit — namely, bang head here.
  3. Repeat until you are anti-stressed or unconscious. 

Sadly, the kit is gone. I’m not sure if I moved (read: buried) it somewhere, gave it away, if someone “borrowed” it or if it just disintegrated from too frequent use. (Unfortunately, the kit itself always induced distress in my editor’s soul because the word “unconscious” was misspelled “unconcious.”)

In any event, I’ve figured out that I’m stressed because I feel overwhelmed. I’m like the kid in a cartoon who said, “The more I do, the behinder I get!” Suffice it to say that banging my head on a firm surface has sometimes seemed like a pretty good idea.

I feel a kinship with the woman in the following story, told by David Slagle of Atlanta:

A few years ago, I got a call from a girl in my department who said her car had broken down and left her stranded about two miles form the office. So, I drove over there and found her leaning against her car, looking flustered.

I asked what happened.

“Well, I was just driving down the road,” she said, “and the car quit running.”

“Could it be out of gas?” I asked.

“No, I just filled it up.”

Well, that question pretty much exhausted my automotive diagnostic abilities. But I persisted, “What happened? Did it make any noise?”

“Oh, yeah,” she replied. “As I was driving down the hill, it went brumpbrumpbrump, POW!”

I asked, “When was the last time you changed the oil?”

“Oil?” she asked, puzzled.

As it turned out, she’d owned the car for a year and a half and had never changed the oil!

Slagle commented that he gets that same look when he asks frazzled friends, “When was the last time you took a Sabbath rest?” (Found in “1001 Illustrations That Connect,” edited by Craig Brian Larson and Phyllis Ten Elshof)  

This past weekend, I changed my spiritual oil and took a Sabbath rest. I stepped away from all of my various screens and settled comfortably in the corner of a couch.

I began with a prayer written by Sister Pat Bergen, CSJ, which I have on a well-worn holy card. It reads, in part: “When it (life) grows difficult, surprise me, God, with new possibilities. When life is overwhelming, call me to Sabbath Moments to restore Your Peace and Harmony.”

A pen and paper were part of that peace and harmony. I did what’s called a “brain dump,” letting my mind go crazy with all of the tasks, projects and worries filling up my head.

As each one popped into my brain, I quickly wrote it down on the paper. I wasn’t concerned with any order or prioritizing — or even the validity of the concern. All I wanted to do was get it out of my head onto a concrete list.

Honestly, that list seemed to go on forever. Eventually, though, I’d pretty much exhausted what was weighing me down.

Next, I simply asked the Holy Spirit to help me deal with the whole mess. What I’m doing is simple: I pick seven tasks each week from my list, write each on its own index card and then do one a day.

I shred the card or tear it up when the task is done, giving me a fuller sense of accomplishment.

Naturally, it’s not been all smooth sailing. I experienced a day recently when I just didn’t feel like doing anything. Taking my ennui to God, the Spirit seemed to be saying that the solution could be found by simply turning “stressed” around.

I did as the Spirit directed and — wow — it’s worked like a charm, because nothing motivates me more than “desserts”! 

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