by Father Mark Goldasich
Take deep breaths.
I scribbled those three words at the bottom of my to-do list on Christmas Eve. With the marathon of Masses facing me that Saturday, Sunday and Monday, I was starting to panic, just thinking about it. Taking deep breaths was a welcome stress reliever.
In fact, those breaths were so refreshing that I continued the practice after Christmas and now into the new year. It’s become my new normal to write “take deep breaths” on my daily to-do list.
I’m assisted in this effort by my Apple Watch with its Breathe app. Every few hours, it chimes. I simply tap “Breathe,” and it advises me: “Be still and concentrate on your breath.”
The app then leads me through seven deep breaths, after which it says, “Well done.” Finally, it shows my heart rate. I’m making this a habit to keep.
Always threatening the stillness, though, is my email inbox. Since the beginning of 2018, it’s been inundated with “Save the Date” emails.
These invitations to workshops, classes and social gatherings are all good and tempting, but I can’t — and shouldn’t — attend them all.
It’s overwhelming to try to do everything and be everywhere all the time. We wear ourselves to a frazzle attempting it and still feel discontent at the end of the day with all of the stuff left undone.
We’re like the person in this little story by Pastor Alan Wilson:
An extreme sports fanatic scaled the famous 120-foot “Christ the Redeemer” statue on Brazil’s Corcovado Mountain and jumped from its outstretched arms.
For the first-ever such leap, daredevil Felix Baumgartner, 30, an Austrian, smuggled his parachute on board the little train that takes dozens of tourists up the 2000-foot mountain to visit the statue. He scaled the gray stone figure, climbed onto one of its fingers and jumped. Fortunately, his parachute worked and he wasn’t injured.
Wilson wonders how many people live like Baumgartner. Rather than run toward Christ when we’re weary in order to find rest, we prefer to jump from the safety of his hands. And there’s no spiritual parachute to cushion our landing when we do this. (Adapted from “Spurning Christ,” found in “1001 Illustrations That Connect,” edited by Craig Brian Larson and Phyllis Ten Elshof.)
There’s a reason that people are called daredevils. Living in such a way dares the devil to rob us of a meaningful life. When we find ourselves becoming daredevils, running around like chickens with our heads cut off and never taking time to rest in the safety of Christ’s hands, we risk losing our souls — and ourselves.
One of my resolutions for 2018 is to be faithful to keeping a Sabbath. A Sabbath is a chance to step away from our usual activities to renew our relationship with God, others and ourselves. It’s a chance to pray, talk, read, reflect and rest.
Perhaps much of the tension in the world today is due to the fact that we’ve forgotten how to step back, relish silence and become human “beings” once again.
If you find yourself already stressed out in this brand-new year, maybe some of these suggestions by Henrik Edberg from “The Positivity Blog” will help:
- Set limits. It’s OK to check email, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, but not every few minutes. Set limits on how often you visit these sites.
- Don’t make mountains out of molehills. Get upset only at stuff that really matters in the long run.
- Slow down. Treat your life as a marathon, not a sprint. Leave earlier for appointments, for example, and enjoy the journey.
- Ask instead of guessing. Don’t try to read minds. Communicate with others instead of “intuiting” what they mean.
- Do one thing at a time. Your focus and work will improve by leaps and bounds.
- Remember: There’s a day tomorrow, too. You don’t need to do it all at once.
I’d add a couple of my own suggestions:
- Read something every day. And vary what you read. One day pick up a novel, another day do some spiritual reading, a third day devote yourself to something educational. Be sure, though, to include The Leaven in your weekly reading habit.
- Pray. This year explore something new: Attend a daily Mass, go on a retreat, take a class on meditation, take part in a Bible study or head out on a pilgrimage.
Above all, take to heart these wise words of St. Jeanne de Chantal as you walk through 2018: “No matter what happens, be gentle with yourself.”
Now start with a nice, deep breath.