“The rush and pressures of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of contemporary violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence.” —Thomas Merton
Have you ever thought of busyness in terms of violence? I have. Many violent things happen both silently and insidiously.
Back in 1970, Random House released Alvin Toffler’s book, Future Shock. I remember it well though I was only fifteen. Toffler maintained that the pace of life was increasing exponentially, bringing “too much change in too short a period of time.” The psychological results of stress and anxiety would be profound. The book sold over 6 million copies. A documentary film followed in 1972 with Orson Welles as the on-screen narrator.
Does your To Do List feel overwhelming?
Do you have information overload every time you tune in the news?
Do emails and social media feel like a constant barrage?
Is multi-tasking the new normal?
Do you lay awake at night thinking too much?
How have we handled the stress of “future shock” over the last 44 years?
I recently watched a science show on the NTGEO channel called, The Numbers Game. The episode was called “Could You Be A Better Boss.” One experiment referenced Navy SEAL training and examined the ability to focus under stress. Participants were shown two similar pictures that differed in small details. At first, it seemed easy to differentiate.
Then stressful distractions were added. Contestants had to wear earphones that played loud music, stand in a bucket of ice water, and get repeatedly poked with a stick. With each added stress, visual discrimination became increasingly difficult.
Doesn’t this mirror what life feels like sometimes? You have to focus amid noise, pain, confusion, and pressure to get things done.
The French word for it is surmenage – over-attention, overwork, and overexertion. It’s life-killing. God spoke to me about it one day as I read a biography on Oswald Chambers, the author My Utmost For His Highest. At the time, I was a full-blown Martha.
Chambers, I learned, died at age 43 from complications following an appendectomy. The surgery went perfectly well, but he was so exhausted from work, his body did not recover in the aftermath. I remember laying the book down in shock. In two weeks I was turning 43. And not only that, Chambers died on my birthday. God suddenly had my attention.
Future shock, surmenage, exhaustion by any name are violent to our earthly lives.
So here are two thoughts:
“The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.” —Marcus Aurelius
In other words, give the stress to God, and then, honestly re-evaluate your life’s pace, schedule, and commitments.
Secondly, learn to be present. One of the best gifts of being around children is that they live in the here and now. They can teach us something, even though we carry a much larger world of concerns.
One of my favorite memories with my daughter Sarah was lying in the hammock on a lovely day in August. She was nine. We’d done a lot of fun things that summer and I reviewed the list with her: Swimming, sailing, berry-picking and campfires. S’mores, boat rides, beach-combing and playing games. Painting, reading, going for ice cream and riding bikes. We even went whale-watching off Cape Cod.
So I asked her, “What was the best thing we did all summer?”
And she replied, “Right here, right now, being in the hammock with you.”
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What if Sunday, as a day of rest, meant…
Unplugging from all media and electronic devices.
Putting away the To Do List until Monday.
Letting go of any shopping errands and all commercial activity.
And spend the day being present—practicing the presence of God and others.