Stress-free living

Homily 480 – 24th APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
December 5, 2021
Epistle: (221) Ephesians 2:14-22 and (213) Galatians 5:22-6:2
Gospel: (85) Luke 17:12-19 and (43) Matthew 11:27-30

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

One of the phrases that jumped out of the readings this morning was the promise of rest. I don’t know how you feel, but I’m really not feeling restful or rested at the moment.

That leads me to think about the state of my soul. If I’m not restful or rested, if I don’t have the peace that is promised, then what is the reason?

Why am I not in that place of rest and peace? Why am I not as St. Paul put it, manifesting the fruits of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and – wow – self-control?

When looking at life perhaps the first response is to say well, Jesus must not know the life we lead. Everywhere we turn there is stress. We have stress at work. We have stress in our relationships. We have stress with our families.

Sometimes – can I mention this? – perhaps we even are stressed by the lack of progress in the Church, or in our life in Christ. We aren’t where we believe we should be, emotionally or intellectually.

Now stress isn’t something that is inherent in the universe. When Christ speaks of rest and being restful He is I think saying we should be not stressed. That must mean that there is a place where stress doesn’t exist, meaning that stress has an external cause.

That external cause doesn’t appear to be from God.

What is that external cause?

In my mind, and in my case, that cause is expectations. Job had expectations. Rather, Job’s friends had expectations. Since God wasn’t treating Job in the way they expected, Job must have done something wrong.

But no, the expectations themselves were wrong.

Expectations are selfish. They are about how I believe my environment should be. They are focused on me. If we follow Christ’s command to deny ourselves, that indicates that we have no expectations.

Think about a servant. A regular, run-of-the-mill servant. What were the expectations of the servant?

If they served well, then they would be provided with the necessities of life. They could expect to do the tasks that they had been assigned by their master.

They did not expect to be treated the same as other servants. Fairness was not an expectation. They didn’t expect to eat at the master’s dinner – comfort was not an expectation.

The only expectation was the similar expectation from a child about their parents. They could expect the necessities of life. Those are the same expectations we can have about God. But no others!

And if God provides our necessities, and we learn to be content with what we are given, stress evaporates.

Learning to be content is a challenge, though. Serious challenge. If we learn not to observe what others have, materially or emotionally or in any way, we can learn to be content. That, dear brothers and sisters, is difficult.

The first Gospel reading from St. Luke offers us a clue about this selfless and content living. It begins with being thankful. The Samaritan was thankful. The others, perhaps (we’re not told this) were maybe expecting to be healed?

It isn’t possible to overemphasize this point. To be thankful leads to being content. It can’t be the thankfulness of the Pharisee though – Lord, I thank you that I’m not like the others especially this tax collector.

Our thankfulness has to be based on us. Part of the peace from thankfulness comes from not looking at others – what they have, who they are, the tasks they are asked to perform.

That’s difficult. For me, personally, that is really, really difficult. I struggle with it and sometimes I manage to do a bit and other times I fail miserably. One thing to be thankful for is that God honors the struggle, knows we will fail – like Job – and offers us forgiveness that we might try again.

Practically, it is important to verbalize our thanks. So often we are quiet, even silent, in our prayers, and we miss out on hearing the prayers we offer. We miss one avenue of input – hearing.

I encourage others – and myself – to spend at least a few moments being thankful. My guess is that the average person spends 85% of their prayer life complaining to God or asking something from God. 15% is spent being thankful, or contemplative.

Maybe we can ramp that up a bit? Maybe get to the inverse of that – we spend 85% of our prayer giving thanks, and 15% asking that the needs of ourselves and others be met.

The Lord’s prayer offers that kind of mix for us. We pray for our daily bread – and the rest we pray that God’s will be done in every capacity and that His Name be magnified and glorified.

There is a wonderful transformation in us when we are thankful. Our expectations evaporate. We can be happy about what we are given, instead of angry at what others have that we don’t.

And we can make stress go away, being content with what we have. Especially when what we have is the presence of God.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.