I have become convinced that one of the most important indicators of someone’s spiritual maturity is how they deal with stress. Even good people with great intentions fail to maximize their spiritual life precisely because they deal with their stress in ways that actively work against their sanctification.
With that in mind, I propose a three part structure that will help you to identify how you deal with stress and how to develop better habits:
1)The Junk Food of Stress Management
These habits are pretty strait forward, and you can probably guess them. Things like movies, television, and other forms of mindless entertainment may stir the emotions and provide us with pleasure, but in the long run they are simply empty calories. A little television is not necessary a bad thing, but we should compare it to other forms of pleasure and enjoyment such as candy, desert, and alcohol. In small amounts, they can be soothing and enjoyable. When used as our go-to way of dealing with our problems, they become highly problematic.
2) Virtuous Forms of Stress Management
These involve activities which can be described as meditative but not necessarily spiritual. Things such as long walks, exercise, golf, just about anything that engages the mind and body in a meaningful way can be an incredible way of cultivating interior stillness and working out our stress. Everyone needs such activities, and virtuous people of all faith traditions have this wisdom worked into their spirituality. However, in Catholic thought, natural goods can be abused. Like junk food, they can become a subtle way that we avoid dealing with our problems and try to bury them under things that gratify our egos. The key is moderation, but also realizing that relaxation is meant to rejuvenate us for the sake of service (i.e. communion with God and neighbor).
People who maximize these forms of stress management may possess a high level of natural virtue, but we have to be careful labeling them as holy. Holiness is about a relationship with the Father, in the Son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. While virtue is an integral preparation for such a relationship, it is not the same thing.
3)Spiritual Forms of Stress Management
These are the sweet spot of stress management. Simply put, the person who learns how to surrender and process their stress with Jesus has found the pearl of great price. While this does not necessarily mean that one completely abandon other forms of stress management, what takes place is that Christ becomes the center which secretly nourishes everything else. If the saint watches a movie, this leads them to conversation with Jesus. If a saint takes a walk, the beauty of nature inspires the believer to consider the God who created all things. The saint doesn’t just take refuge in prayer; rather, prayer starts to overflow into everything else. However, before this transformation takes place, the saint was first a sinner who made time for Jesus. It really is that simple. You have to make time for Jesus.
Be a saint! Make time to manage your stress with Jesus!