March 8, 2015 – Balancing Life – Family, Stress, Time (Week 3 of What Weighs You Down?)

Matthew 6:25-34


How busy are we?  How do we measure our value as human beings? Is it by noting whether or not we have full calendars?  Is it whether or not our children are involved in activities every night of the week?  Where does the church ‘fit in’ to our schedules?  How can God expect anything more from us?  How can we find any balance at all when we are faced with all this stress?

This idea of balancing life has become a hot topic and clearly one that is at the forefront of our minds. As a society, we have succumbed to the ‘helps’ of the internet – Facebook, email, Twitter, Instagram, all meant to make life easier for us.  All the while our days fill up with interruptions, to-do lists and endless chores.  Listen to this story of a typical weekday and see if you can relate:

It makes me feel stressed just writing it down. This is the story of my day, yesterday, a typical weekday: two loads of laundry done pre-8am. Thirteen hours of work at my computer. Toast at my desk for lunch (too busy to assemble the planned salad), 244 emails received and 53 sent. A dash to the post office to dispatch my brother’s embarrassingly late birthday present. A jog to pick up my two small children from different ends of town, before feeding them, bathing them, wrestling them into bed and shamefully praying they’ll choose short bedtime stories rather than long ones. A meeting with the carpenter who is currently remodeling my kitchen (the spiraling cost of which means I now need to take on more work to pay for it). A romantic late night chat with my husband about whether he’d renewed the car insurance (he hadn’t. I’ll un-delegate that one, then). At midnight, I’m painting my nails in bed, ahead of tomorrow’s work event, hoping I won’t smudge them in my sleep. And just before I finally pass out: the thought that I still haven’t organized my birthday party. Or replied to that text from my oldest friend. Or opened the Kindle that my dad gave me for Christmas five months ago and asks me about every week. Or … Zzzzz. [Source: Marie Claire – “The Busyness Epidemic.]

What appears to be happening to us is this incessant need to fill every minute of every day. It is as if activity falls along a spectrum. At one end is out-of-control lives with schedules and activities that are completely unmanageable.  On the other end of the spectrum is boredom – having all kinds of time and nothing to fill it.  It seems we are caught up in the notion that if we don’t jam-pack our schedules, we are somehow failing as human beings.  We are afraid that we won’t matter if we are not busy. Our literal worth is rated in blocks of time.

Where does this mindset come from?  We live in an age of instant communication which seems to require us to always be available. There is no such thing as down time.  There is no such thing as leisure time because that indicates decadence or laziness.  I have heard from many a retired person that they are busier now than ever before!

Then we read scripture and we are confused.  Jesus tells us not to worry about everyday things – food, clothing, shelter. Jesus tells us that God knows what we need and will provide for us just as God provides for the birds of the air or the flowers of the field.  But what does God know about being busy?  What can Jesus tell us about how to live in the modern world?

We started this sermon series with the topic of putting God first in our lives.  Clearly we get caught up in an out-of-balanced world when we only seem to have enough time in our days for work and chores.  Our overall health is suffering. Yet God calls us away from the chaos to a time of peace and communion with our Maker.  Now where are we supposed to fit THAT into our schedules?

Perhaps we need to take a hard look at our daily functions. How much time do we spend trying to manage the overload of data that comes at us each and every day?  I found an interesting twist with my friendly companion known as my IPad. While it has this wonderful feature to check my email, it will not sync with my account. Hence it takes me twice as long to delete junk emails as I often end up doing it twice.  Data overload is a reality in our world, and we need to come to terms with how to best manage this constant stream of information.

Studies indicate that when we succumb to numerous interruptions to whatever tasks on which we are working, it takes roughly 10 times longer to complete these tasks then if we performed them without interruption.  In a perfect world we would never be interrupted and would be able to focus fully on one task at a time.  Anyone experiencing that perfect world?

Multitasking has become a necessary way of life.  We pride ourselves on being able to do multiple tasks at the same time with the same efficiency, but the truth of the matter is that when we fail to focus on one thing at a time, our overall productivity decreases.  “Consider the lilies of the field. They neither toil nor spin, yet even Solomon in all his glory was not more beautiful than these.”

That all sounds well and good, but we have reality to live with. We have to live in the fast-paced, relentless world of constant activity.  How can we begin to realize a more manageable pace for our lives and our families?  Understand that we need rest. We need downtime – this is not a luxury but a necessity. Without it, we are setting ourselves up for stressed out existences that cannot be cured with a week at the beach. I think our first step together is to recognize rest as a need. We are simply not built to go at full tilt 24 hours/day.

Exercise experts recommend we make regular exercise a priority by giving our workout times a blocked-out spot on our calendars.  We deserve the time spent to better our physical health.  And during that time of physical activity, perhaps we can try to set our to-do lists aside.  This will support our mental health. What about our spiritual health?  Perhaps we can experiment with what our lives would look like if we felt less driven to fill every minute of every day with activities, and realized our need for rest and rejuvenation.

In your bulletin is a handout from a group known as ASAP. It includes some tips on how to manage our busy everyday lives.  I have found a lot of my clergy friends have decided to give up social media for Lent. It is clear that keeping tabs on data through social media takes a lot of time.  When we let go of that string, we are able to give that time to God through reading scripture and prayer.  What we gain back is far greater than what we give up.  God blesses us with relaxation, comfort and strength through God’s word.  “Consider the lilies of the field….”

I would like us to pause for a moment and experience a bit of meditation together. This technique is called Lectio Divina – a way to experience scripture and make it more a part of us, while sitting quietly in the presence of God.  I will read a scripture passage three times. For the first I encourage you to close your eyes and just listen.  The second time, I will ask you to focus on a word or words that stand out to you.  Finally, I will ask you to focus on the phrases that jump out for you during this time – perhaps it is God speaking to you today in a special way.

I Kings 19: 9b-13:  And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

We may actually begin to see some differences in our outlook the more we are able to step back a little, allow for a bit of downtime inn our schedules that are not filled to the brim, and focus on God first and foremost.  If we are truly looking for balance because we feel our lives are out of control, let us look to the one who cares for the lilies of the field and the birds of the air.  Amen.

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