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Out of ControlFinding Peace for the Physically Exhausted and Spiritually Strung Out
By Ben Young Samuel Adams
Nelson BooksCopyright © 2006 Ben Young and Dr. Samuel Adams
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA Culture Spinning Out of Control
Deep-blue Pacific waters sparkle beyond the balcony of your tropical villa. The sun embraces you with its gentle warmth as you sip a frozen strawberry concoction. You have not a care in the world: no nagging pressures, no demands, and no commitments. This is too good to be true, you think-and it is. Out of nowhere come the short, insistent blasts of your alarm. It's 6:00 AM! Your blissful dream sinks like a rock. Heart racing and adrenaline surging, you jump to your feet. It's showtime! Go, go, go!
Another hectic day of back-to-back meetings looms, and you're feeling the weight of the day press in. You dress in record time and scarf down a breakfast bar while checking your e-mail, only to be bombarded by thirty-four new messages! In the background, FOX News reporters announce the current homeland terrorist alert level: orange, no less. An update on the latest Middle East bombing follows news of a hijacking in Uzbekistan. It is not yet 7:00 AM, and too much information is flying at you already. When does it stop?
At 7:15 you grab your briefcase andlaptop, leap into your SUV, ignoring the running board, and race to the office. The drive downtown is no less hurried and frantic as you zoom down the freeway with a cell phone in one hand and a venti Starbucks double-shot, no-foam, extra-hot latte in the other. (Don't all drivers steer with their knees?) Dodging several angry drivers and one near-fatal collision, you exit the urban autobahn and screech to a complete halt at a stoplight.
Aaaah. It's here: the first break of the morning, offering just enough time to download a new message to your Blackberry or glance in the mirror and see to some last-minute grooming issues. Three lights later you're pulling into the parking garage and realizing you've missed yet another unscheduled but hoped-for oasis of morning prayer.
Once upon a time, you vowed to start each day with some quiet reflection and solitude because deep down you really do desire a simpler life. But as much as you yearn for peace and tranquility, they always elude you. The pressure from every side that comes from trying to hold it all together is unbearably intense. Eventually something's gotta give. Your greatest fear is that if you did slow down or let go of even one thing, everything would spin completely out of control. Then what? Nervous breakdown? Funny farm? Not this week. You don't have time!
Your alarm is always the first to go off-because you're the mommy, that's why. You're up before the sun rises, fumbling around to get yourself together so that you can help your family begin their day well. Multiple wake-up calls rouse the kids, and you assemble and serve some sort of breakfast. Before 8:00 AM you've located several missing socks, made lunches, matched clothes, switched car seats from one car to another, and capped the same tube of toothpaste three times.
Between dropping children off at school and picking them up again, you've executed enough errands to qualify for a spot on The Amazing Race. And your day is only half-done! Shuttling to and from ballet class, tutoring, soccer, softball, and play dates requires the logistical savvy of an air traffic controller. You peer over the dashboard of the car with a deer-in-the-headlights gaze as you slowly make your way back home. Then more fun begins: Supper. Baths. Homework. Bedtime rituals. Laundry. Then, across a room crowded with toys, your husband winks at you. Romance? You've got to be kidding. "Not tonight, honey."
How do we know what it's like? Because we're married to women who practically do it all-and we've seen what superhuman effort keeping the home ship afloat requires. So whether you work outside or inside the home, whether you have one child or many, if you're a mom, you've experienced your fair share of "mommy madness."
No Pace, No Peace
Question: When was the last time you felt personal peace? Not a kick-back-in-your-chair-with-a-tub-of-ice-cream-and-watch-Oprah kind of mind-numbing nirvana. We're aiming at something much deeper than that: the kind of peace that emanates from the very depths of your soul-a peace that provides substance and satisfaction, as well as a distinct calm in spite of one's circumstances. What price would you be willing to pay for that kind of inner peace?
The truth is, you cannot put a price tag on the kind of peace that most of us long for. And it's hard to find physical and spiritual refreshment in a culture that worships activity and discounts the value of rest-especially soul rest.
God created this world. He created you and me. He is the Mastermind-the Grand Architect, if you will-and only He knows how we are meant to flourish. It doesn't take a genius to see that God has designed rhythm and pace into the very fabric of His creation. Just look at the cosmos and see the rotation and movement of heavenly bodies, the phases of the moon, the rising and setting of the sun. Here on Earth, observe the distinct cycles and seasons of creation: times of planting and harvest, hibernation and gestation, high tides and low tides. All God's creation moves with the undeniable rhythm of stop and go, ebb and flow, fast and slow.
As humans we are the very apex of God's created order, and our bodies themselves are alive with rhythm. Our hearts beat and our blood flows; even our breathing reflects this inner reality of constant fluctuation. We were designed for times of action and times of rest, but it's tough to keep them balanced in a culture that applauds-even demands-perpetual hustle and bustle. In Keeping in Step with the Spirit, J. I. Packer wrote:
The pace and preoccupations of urbanized, mechanized, collectivized, secularized modern life are such that any sort of inner life is very hard to maintain ... [and] is difficult in a world that runs you off your feet and will not let you slow down.
And if you attempt it, you will certainly seem eccentric to your peers, for nowadays, involvement in a stream of programmed activities is decidedly "in" and the older ideal of a contemplative life is just as decidedly "out."
The So-Called Rewards of an Out-of-Control Life
Unless you've been living in the outer regions of Siberia, you will certainly relate to the concept of information and choice overload. You know all too well the overwhelming feeling that a list of growing responsibilities and 24/7 connectivity can produce. Sadly, we've come to the point where this kind of busy, out-of-control lifestyle is normal. But why is that?
Society applauds the fast-trackers. Being busy is a cultural status symbol of sorts-even our friends encourage it! Let's face it: to be busy, or at least to appear this way, is to be important. Awards (real and imagined) are bestowed based upon our willingness to overextend ourselves with volunteer activities, extra time at work, and meaningful involvement in the community. We receive bonuses, praise from peers, and the self-satisfaction of being dubbed Selfless Man/Woman of the Year (a bit ironic, isn't it?). Implicit (or sometimes explicit) affirmation often comes to those consumed by their responsibilities.
I recently overheard a group of businessmen at my local coffeehouse affirming their buddy, who was boasting that he put in over seventy hours at work each week, leaving every morning at 5:30 AM, then staggering home at 7:00 PM just in time to tuck his kids in bed. "How do you do it? Where do you get the drive? Way to go-you're the man!" they exclaimed. These men reserved their enthusiastic words of affirmation for a guy who was burning the candle at both ends and who almost certainly was on the way to a domestic or career flameout. Maybe he ain't the man!
The pressure to overextend also comes from within. Our own personal drives and expectations can keep us on the move. Deep needs for self-worth and approval may fuel our crazy compulsion to do more and more, promising a feeling of fulfillment and accomplishment. After all, to be busy is to be important, right? This belief is based on the false assumption that more is always better and that external productivity takes precedence over everything, even internal growth. Of course, we don't often realize that this assumption is false, and we just keep plugging away, telling ourselves that to be busy is to have purpose.
The drive for approval or self-worth provides enough pressure, but some of us get slapped with the ultimate guilt trip: "You've just gotta do more for God!" The church offers great programs, important classes, and enlightening seminars as well as numerous worthy ministries to support, but how much more can one person do? I can remember, early on in my spiritual journey, buying into the notion that religious involvement automatically provided spiritual nourishment and personal growth. I wish I could go back in time and spend an hour in prayer for every hour I spent listening to a boring tape on the "seven steps to effective prayer" or what have you. I would love the chance to go back and get my hands dirty helping out my neighbor in need rather than attending that "life-changing" seminar on the good Samaritan! And I would give practically anything to revisit my first year of marriage and build a stronger relationship with my new bride instead of volunteering hours upon hours of premarital counseling at the church. Being overinvolved is dangerously close to being hypocritical.
When churches place too much emphasis on rules and responsibilities, not near enough time remains for relationship and rest. How can the church be truly countercultural if it is as consumed as the world is with activities? Playing the same game of busyness under the guise of "spirituality" offers little refuge from the inevitable storms and chaos of life. Remember, the church should offer hope and renewal, not contribute to exhaustion and fatigue.
The so-called rewards of an out-of-control life are easy to buy in to, but no matter what, the end result is the same: you and I end up feeling defeated, physically exhausted, spiritually unfulfilled, and disillusioned.
On the Verge of Insanity
Our society seems obsessed with productivity and consumption, as well as the accumulation of more wealth and more toys, to the extent that it verges on insanity. Author Richard Foster noted that our contemporary culture blindly accepts the notion that "more is better" without question. He even went so far as to suggest, "The lust for affluence in contemporary society has become psychotic: it has completely lost touch with reality." We would wholeheartedly agree for many reasons, among which is the fact that the pursuit of more money and material possessions is insatiable. The desire for more becomes a compulsive pursuit with no end. Authors John Degraaf, David Wann, and Thomas Naylor cynically refer to this as "Affluenza," which they define as "a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more." Sounds like they hit the nail on the head.
Insanity in the World at Large
Each of us operates within the larger context of global trends and developments, a good many of them disturbing. Just pick up any Sunday paper and check out the week-in-review section to get an overview of the devastation of civil strife, war, and famine, not to mention the quieter effects of family dysfunction, hypertension, mental illness, AIDS, and STDs.
But that's not all. The news fails to report the apathy that exists toward spiritual things, and the steady decline toward depravity seen not only in our nation but also across the globe. Today we see, rather than a new day of unity, harmony, and world peace, the opposite: more unrest in our homeland, continued discord in the Middle East, animosity toward America, and persistent terrorist threats. All of this can't help but contribute to our growing sense of angst, helplessness, and powerlessness.
Insanity, Courtesy of Mother Nature
Even the weather seems to be careening out of control. Natural disasters strike intermittently and have done so since the world began-nothing is new about this. But more floods, more earthquakes and tsunamis, more hurricanes and tropical storms are occurring today (or at least are more widely reported) than ever before. As the frequency and intensity of these natural disasters come to our attention, the notion that you and I have absolutely no control over our environment is more solidly reinforced! Subtly but surely, these natural threats penetrate our psyches, leading to an overall sense of agitation and fear.
Remember the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus? The combined chaos of daring animal acts, high-wire stunts, and performances by jugglers and clowns exhilarates to the point of being overwhelming. Add to the visual stimulation of lights, colors, costumes, and movement a curious auditory mixture of animal noises, music, applause, and laughter, and it becomes impossible to take it all in. The typical circus experience features three rings, each with its own separate performance. You might have elephants dancing in one ring, tigers jumping through flaming hoops in another, and motorcycle stunts in the third ring.
Sound familiar? We thought so. We see three main rings of influence in this out-of-control circus we call life. Let's take a look at each of them.
Ring #1: Information and Choice Overload
Technological progress is great, but there is a downside to all these hi-fi, wi-fi advances. Simply put, we have too much coming at us from all directions. From Dr. Phil to The O'Reilly Factor, from celebrities selling Gap jeans to race car drivers hawking Viagra, and from breaking news of another suicide bomber to the latest global catastrophe, we're drowning in data.
That doesn't even take into account the work memos, fiscal reports, personal correspondence, and junk mail we must manage. This is the Information Age, and we've got plenty of ways to gather more and more of it-just no help in filtering what comes our way. Simply to stay abreast we must sift through information ranging from the utterly serious and extraordinary to the purely trivial and sensational.
For example, do we really need to be reminded that it is below freezing in Fargo, North Dakota, or that another middle-aged actress is having Botox injections? Could any harm come from not knowing that lime-green head scarves are in fashion, or that Britney Spears is rumored to be expecting? (By the time this book is printed, I'm sure People will have a ten-page spread of the whole family.) Even grocery shopping overloads the consumer with too many options when the average supermarket has tens of thousands of items to choose from! Fifteen varieties of bread, forty-five brands of cereal, and twenty-seven kinds of toothpaste can turn a quick errand into an hour-long excursion.
Excerpted from Out of Control by Ben Young Samuel Adams Copyright © 2006 by Ben Young and Dr. Samuel Adams. Excerpted by permission.
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