A Little Bit of Stress
Apr 5, 2018
The headlines that day were the usual collection of unusual stories… a fourth bombing in Austin, Texas; a driverless car hits and kills a pedestrian; tuberculosis running rampant in Venezuela; various lies, cheating and incompetence in high places. That was March 20, 2018, the International Day of Happiness. I must admit that celebration totally passed by me without my taking any notice.
Fortunately, I am well aware of the importance of the month of April right as it begins. And since you may not be aware, I feel obliged to inform you that this month, April, is Stress Awareness Month. And appropriately enough, this Sunday, April 8, is Divine Mercy Sunday. (In the good old days we used to call it Low Sunday, which sounds just a little bit stressful.)
We have Sister Faustina Kowalska, Saint Faustina, to thank for Divine Mercy Sunday. It was she who had several visions of the Risen Jesus asking that the world be made aware of the infinite depth and breadth of God’s mercy. We do need to be reminded of that. It is a sad fact that, as of the 20th century, an amazingly large number of people are unaware or unimpressed by the fact that the omnipotent God became a powerless human being in order to show us how to live genuinely human lives and to demonstrate His boundless love and compassion by suffering and dying for us. Our Polish Pope, Saint John Paul II (who canonized Sister Faustina) made the world aware of Saint Faustina and Divine Mercy.
It was another Polish nun, Sister Stephania… my 8th-grade teacher… who would insistently invoke the mantra “Work under pressure is diamond.” That always stuck with me, although I didn’t always agree. Many years later, the president of the hotel company I worked for liked to philosophize on the difference between stress and distress. I didn’t always agree with him either. Philosophy aside, I’m not sure he knew the difference; he was a master at inducing both in equal measure.
It is, however, a fact that the muscles in our bodies need to be stressed; otherwise, they atrophy. Without stress, our bones lose mass. Our minds, our bodies, our lives need challenges for us to rise to be our best selves. Sister Stephania was on to something. (It is a shortcoming of mantras like hers that they do not allow for footnotes.)
So it is somewhat useful to note that this month is Stress Awareness Month and not Stress Reduction or Elimination Month. It is worthwhile keeping tabs on just how much stress we are experiencing. Too much stress can cause both physical and mental breakdown. And too little stress causes laziness and the loss of skills. A modicum of stress keeps us in good shape. So we have to know when it’s time to de-stress and time to ramp up the stress. That is our task this month, thanks to the Health Resource Network.
There is an analogy here to God’s mercy. God is indeed merciful. But just like God does not force His love upon us, He does not force his mercy. If we choose to ignore or be indifferent to God’s love, we have the ability, the free will, to do so. And if we reject God’s mercy and in effect say just give me what I deserve… give me what I deserve and have coming to me, well God will let you have it your way in a cozy corner of that condition of existence called hell.
God does not expect perfection from us… yet. To avail ourselves of God’s mercy we need to ask for it, be thankful for it and be making some honest efforts to improve. By the grace of God’s mercy, we will arrive at our home, custom built to our measurements, in that condition of existence called heaven, the Kingdom of God. There we will be perfect, thanks to Divine Mercy.
It is amazing how these pieces of existence fit together so harmoniously. Far be it from God’s mercy that April should be a month for just one thing… Stress Awareness. It is also, in a masterpiece of symmetry, an official month for the Awareness of Mathematics and Statistics, those great stress inducers. And on the side of stress reducers, it is also National Pet Month.
If Saint Thomas Aquinas were alive and working today, he would surely add this as one more proof of the existence of God. By all means, make the most of the month of April.