Our never-ending quest for balance
By Brenda Nettles Riojas
Sitting in a hospital waiting room, we worry, we pray, we try to find distractions; we have time to think, and ultimately our own health and the state of balance in our lives is called into question.
It is unfortunate a health scare or crisis jolts us into a personal check up on the state of our own lives, and this never-ending quest for balance especially given our tendency to rush from one appointment or task to the next.
In my case, I see it as a quest for the grace to be present in the moment before us with the peace of mind trusting Christ is always at our side. When a loved one is in the hospital, it reminds us life is a gift we must honor.
While my brother and I waited for my father, I observed other families waiting. Everyone put work and other responsibilities aside and were present for each other, present in the moment. Not the best of times, when a loved one is undergoing surgery, but a testament to the power of family coming together to support one another. I can see how these moments contribute to strengthening the bond within a family and I think too, to the healing process of a loved one.
Pope Francis continually reminds us, “The Gospel, radiant with the glory of Christ’s cross, constantly reminds us to rejoice.” But how can we find joy if we are busy with our task-oriented days, caught up in anticipating what comes next? Bishop Daniel E. Flores said, “Sometimes we miss Lent because we’re waiting for Easter.” “Los concentramos en lo que anticipamos (We concentrate on what we anticipate).”
He said, “The Lord wants to teach us that we have to appreciate every moment for what it means. Sometimes we miss the meaning of the moment we’re living, because we’re waiting for the moment that’s going to happen.”
Not only do we miss the moment, we get dizzy in the whirlpool of overwork. Thomas Merton wrote about what he referred to as a modern violence – “activism and overwork.” The word violence startled me. It made me stop to consider the implications.
Merton said, “There is a pervasive form of modern violence to which the idealist…most easily succumbs: activism and over-work. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate 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.
The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his (or her) work… It destroys the fruitfulness of his (or her)…work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”
How many of us are guilty of multitasking? Research studies indicate multitasking is not healthy or productive, and can even lower IQ.
Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation, “Evengelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), writes, “The problem is not always an excess of activity, but rather activity undertaken badly, without adequate motivation, without a spirituality which would permeate it and make it pleasurable. As a result, work becomes more tiring than necessary, even leading at times to illness. Far from a content and happy tiredness, this is a tense, burdensome, dissatisfying and, in the end, unbearable fatigue.”
So in this never-ending quest to find balance and celebrate the joys in our lives, what steps can we take? The answers are not a mystery – Mass, the Eucharist, prayer, solitude. The challenge is making time for each. As we refocus our energy, we learn to value the moment before us, we value each encounter with one another.
I find St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Daily Examen helpful to this end. The exercise helps us find God in all things. We can’t do this if we are rushing from project to project, event to event, from phone calls to emails and texts. We don’t even enjoy a sit-down meal sometimes, opting instead to rush through the nearest drive-through restaurant for a fast-food selection.
As we examine the desolations and consolations in our day, we can determine where we need to make adjustments. Hopefully we can do this before a crisis strikes and forces us to make such adjustments.
Pope Francis notes, “What is needed is the ability to cultivate an interior space which can give a Christian meaning to commitment and activity. Without prolonged moments of adoration, of prayerful encounter with the word, of sincere conversation with the Lord, our work easily becomes meaningless; we lose energy as a result of weariness and difficulties, and our fervor dies out. The Church urgently needs the deep breath of prayer…” (262, Evengelii Gaudium)
Just as fasting and detoxification helps remove toxins from our body, we need to find ways to detox ourselves from our overburdened schedules. We need to find time for prayer. Sometimes letting go of the excesses in our day, makes room for what’s important. Less is better than more. As Henry David Thoreau wrote, “I make myself rich, by making my wants few.” I add to this, I make myself rich by slowing the pace and letting God take the lead.
If we don’t take the necessary steps, we will likely find ourselves forced to take them. As I write this, my father remains in a long-term acute care hospital in ICU, unaware of the complications that transpired after his tumor was removed on April 9. Our family is coming to terms with the shock, and learning just how precious life is.
(Originally published in June 2015 edition of The Valley Catholic newspaper)