by Robert Docter –
Make in my heart a quiet place
We think of it as a “no-fun” kind of word—imposed on us by unpleasant or threatening situations. Actually, however, how we respond to stress simply depends on how we look at it—on the meaning we give it—how we perceive demands that we believe might exceed our resources. That’s what makes it so complicated.
Each of us is very unique in how we perceive our world. Some people’s stress level goes off the chart in some situations, while others almost simply ignore the same circumstance. Stress freezes some with fear, while the same situation motivates others with high excitement.
Urban life delivers its own array of stressors. I think the 405 freeway in Los Angeles is an outstanding metaphor for stress. The traffic, the crowding, the threats to safety, the rudeness of other drivers, the expectations they have of us, the fumes, an unsafe average speed, our own needs for haste while knowing we will be late. And then, of course, the stress level really spikes when we see that black and white car with the funny red lights on the top pull in behind us.
Everyone has a personal freeway—even those in rural areas, and each of us adds various levels of noise – various amounts of traffic and congestion to our lives—various kinds of authority figures ready to remind us we have been “bad” in some way.
We sense our lives as noisy and congested with a traffic of our own making.
We worry about air pollution, our family, crime, safety, no privacy, what others think about us. We are anxious about world situations—about the job—about how to be “successful” when no one ever taught us what it means or how to achieve it—about all those people from California moving next door—and, unexplored in the back of our minds, the discrepancies between how we were taught to behave as children and what society expects of us now.
We earn a D- in coping.
Life is so ambiguous—so uncertain, so unpredictable. That’s true, but so what! A stress tragedy comes with an inadequate response. Poor responses derive from an inability to use our resources—all of them—mental, emotional, physical—and spiritual. Too often we ignore the most important resource, the spiritual, the one that combines all the others.
On the occasion of Jesus’ last meal I hear him say to his disciples: “Before I go, I want to give you a gift—peace.” Continuing, his words fill my mind, embolden my feeling, and set my feet moving with purpose as he adds: “My gift is not as society delivers—confusing and stressful, judgmental and fearful, laden with disillusionment and abandonment. Mine is the gift of a quiet heart into which I can live with you until we meet again some soon sweet day.”
’Mid all the traffic of the ways,
Turmoils without, within,
Make in my heart a quiet place,
And come and dwell therein:
A little shrine of quietness,
All sacred to thyself,
Where thou shalt all my soul possess,
And I may find myself:
A little place of mystic grace,
Of self and sin swept bare,
Where I may look into thy face,
And talk with thee in prayer.
Come occupy my silent place,
And make thy dwelling there!
More grace is wrought in quietness
Than any is aware.
John Oxenham (1852-1941)
Song 615, Salvation Army Song book, 1987