When I was a young student I often would get so frustrated with myself, others, or the situation that I would scream and hit the wall with my fists, which of course did little to change the situation, though it did have a few negative consequences for me. Though it was a better alternative than hitting my parents or someone else, it was not long before I figured out that there were better ways to handle stress and anger.
As I matured I tried other methods of reducing stress, but none were as effective as a new perspective that grew following a dedication to be a disciple of Christ. Pressures seemed less once I decided that I would only seek to evaluate myself according to the expectations of God revealed in Scripture instead of trying to live up to the expectations of others. I know I fell short, but I also came to understand that God's forgiveness was assured due to the cross. When I realized that getting ahead in life was far less important than serving Christ wherever I was and in whatever activity I did was the call of every disciple, no longer did I have to stress over grades, the best college, or even amassing enough for retirement (is there such a thing for a disciple of Christ?).
Once I knew God’s purpose and activity in my life was ongoing, I felt comfortable with lists of tasks to do each week that seemed insurmountable, knowing if I approached each day seeking God’s guidance I would accomplish what He wanted and not what I thought was important. I could plan intently, but evaluated each day knowing sometimes the surprise events were what He wanted and the undone tasks were what I wanted. I kept those undone lists from years ago in ministry as a reminder that sometimes God works through me in the unplanned experience.
Once I understood that being a successful pastor of a mega-church was only possible for a few, that I was only a small percentage of people excelling in the activities of life, and that average is a term to define the majority of humans, I could relax and only compare myself to daily faithfulness to God, attentive listening to His Spirit, and not to society’s call to compare myself to others and their achievements.
In the midst of a week with twenty meetings, a few student surprises, and a growing “to-do” list, I’ve learned a few things over the years. First, a perspective that Jesus introduced in Matthew 6:2534 and applied daily allows for a sound sleep at night.
Second, I remind myself of what God said to Jeremiah (1:4-5) that He knows me and has a plan for me, not generally, but even for each day, and His plans are far more important than mine. Jesus knew this as he walked among crowds and still had time when someone touched his robe out of need (see Matthew 9:18-25). I may not finish the day’s tasks, but I trust I will complete what God has given me to do. Also, no matter how busy, taking time for people is paramount for any disciple or leader. Never feel that you are taking time from tasks I am doing when you stop to share a thought or concern.
Perhaps Jesus would tell all of us who are striving to get ahead, stressing to get the highest grade, or agonizing about success, “Lighten up, listen and live for me, and the rest I will reveal in time. Trust that nothing that I ask is beyond your ability for I will give you the strength, insight, and resources necessary.” I can't imagine a better perspective than this that can produce healthy Christians. What is your faith and life perspective?
Rev. J. Loring Carpenter, Interim Head of School