In yesterday's post I included the word "relaxed" in a list of traits that I felt characterize what it means to be a Christ-like human being.

But relaxed isn't a word you hear a great deal in discussions of Christian virtue and character. And yet, I think relaxation is key, a foundational issue.

Non-violence flows out of relaxation. Kindness, gentleness and mercy all flow out of relaxation. Joy and gratitude are rooted in relaxation.

And by relaxation I mean being physically and mentally at ease. Being non-anxious. Peaceful and calm in body and mind. Non-defensive. Non-neurotic. Unselfconscious. Emotionally quiet and still.

Most of us are not relaxed in this way. We are constantly being triggered by the successes and failures of others. We are emotionally reactive--always being angered, disturbed or upset by other people. Our fuse is short. Our nerves are on edge. Our stomachs clench and turn. Our heartbeats race. Our thoughts swirl and obsess.

We feel jerked around by events, small and large. We feel pushed and pulled by every little thing. We feel knocked off balance.

We crave. We desire. We worry. We obsess. We ruminate. We rant. We self-medicate. We despair.

We are not relaxed.

And it's difficult to be a human being if you aren't relaxed. It's difficult to be emotionally available to others if you aren't relaxed.  

So how do we become relaxed?

Religious traditions differ in how they answer that question. The stoics have their approach. So does Buddhism.

Jesus's answer is twofold.

First, trust. Trust that God will take care for you. Consider the lilies and the birds.

Second, place your heart in a location where moth and rust do not destroy or thieves break in and steal. Your heart must be "hidden in Christ" in a place where death has no dominion.

Trouble is, these recommendations strike us as pious platitudes. Trust. Lay up your treasures in heaven. These are the sorts of things we tell children in Sunday School. These are recommendations we find in inspirational books and on bumper stickers.

Trust. Lay up your treasures in heaven. We are way, way too sophisticated for that. Life is too dark and too hard for such saccharine recommendations.

But hold on, just for a second. Put your cynicism and your education aside for a moment.

Seriously, stop and consider the lilies. Consider. Consider the birds.

What would it mean to live like that, if just for a moment, today? What would it look like to live like the flowers and the birds?

And what would it mean that my heart was hidden in a place where what I treasure couldn't be lost, broken or destroyed?  What would it mean to "seek first the Kingdom"?

Might I become more relaxed? More natural? More at peace? More awake? More aware? More free? 

True, we have our doubts about all this.

It all sounds so childish and childlike. Like a lesson we've heard before but never learned.

It's almost as if one must become like a child to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.


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23 thoughts on “Consider”

  1. On the whole, I like this. I think that we see Jesus valuing relaxation at many points in the gospels- by making time to go off by himself and pray, by dining with friends, by endorsing gestures of beauty. He models this trust and peace for us, he doesn't just tell us to do it. But these particular verses do not strike me as always being relaxing. Such trust can be agonizing work, as shown by Jesus in the garden. Of course, he ultimately seems to be brought to a place of increased peace there, and it allows him to face what comes with calm and assurance (at least until he is actually on the cross).

    But that brings me to my second point, which is that the birds and lilies verse always struck me as double-edged. Nature is not peaceful, and I don't think we needed the study of evolution to tell us that. Birds starve and both they and lilies die early and brutally. So I think we would be wrong to interpret that verse in terms of physical or financial safety, as often seems to be done. God might not in fact provide physically for us; the safety lies in his care for our soul and love for us on an eternal scale. But that sets us free to face some pretty horrible things if need be; it doesn't keep us from every experiencing horrible things.

    That might essentially be what you are already saying, especially with the "part two" stage of trusting. I just wasn't quite sure and was thinking it over.

  2. Laxus is the Latin for "loose", and, figuratively, for "easy". (Re expresses intensiveness.) So:

    "Blessed are those who hang loose. Lose the angst; take it easy."

    Yeah, right. Get real, Jesus: how childish can you get?

  3. I enjoy so much just standing and looking out our kitchen window that faces the wooded area behind our house. Its God's canvas. The color of the leaves, the Blue Jays, the Cardinals and the finches are beautiful and fascinating. My wife and I leave corn and apples out for the deer. Sometimes when we pull into our drive in early evening when the deer are feeding, we see them leaping through the woods, their white tails bobbing up and down, appearing to be in slow motion. You could put it to music. Once when we had filled the bird feeders I noticed what looked like hundreds of birds going for the seed in the feeder and what was on the ground as fast as they could, eating as much as they could. Then I noticed two doves on the roof of our shed, just sitting there, patiently, seemingly watching the others. My curiosity had the better of me, so I waited. Finally, all the other birds had their fill and flew away. Then with grace, the two doves left the shed and found their way to the base of the tree where the feeder was hanging. They began to eat...they had plenty.

  4. Thank you for your hard work that is this blog, kind sir. I read the momastery blog and in her hypothetical letter to her son, she said, "Much of the Bible is confusing, but the most important parts aren't. Sometimes I wonder if folks keep arguing about the confusing parts so they don't have to get started doing the simple parts."

    As I stumble through Christianity, every now and then a truth unknowingly sneaks past my defenses, touches my soul, and opens my eyes. What you wrote here has been one of them. It is so simple and childlike that we are too sophisticated and self-sufficient to give notice. In the same spirit, many people missed Jesus. His plan took away too much autonomy, didn't deal with the terrorists, called people to count their lives as worth nothing, asks people to forgive unendingly, and didn't guarantee health and wealth. His plan isn't palatable to our culture in the same way it sounded off when He first delivered the message. It doesn't have much in place to deal with contingencies. Its not complex enough.

    Isaiah ran into the same problem when speaking of the suffering servant. "Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem."

  5. Perhaps you don't "achieve" it. Perhaps it's the by-product of grace--perhaps it's that you surrender by allowing space for it to happen.

  6. On the issue of trust, I wonder sometimes about Romans 4:20-21. The idea that Abraham "did not waiver through unbelief," has to be a kind of summation, right? Maybe even an extremely kind one? As he is presented in Genesis, Abraham appears to have waivered in some significant ways. So then I wonder if "being fully persuaded that God had the power to do what he promised" implies a process; that Abraham persuaded himself, or let himself become persuaded (or "fully" persuaded), whether through meditating on the promise, through strenous prayer, by weighing the consequences of the schemes he undertook when he wasn't trusting, etc.

    In any case, trust is a state I find difficult to attain. It takes me a lot of work and even then... not a lot of succesful expereince (yet). The Garden of Gethsemane that Melissa references comes to mind for me as well; a need to return even a "third time" (or however many) and to be "saying the same thing," until I achieve enough trust, patience, etc. to have some kind of peace. Christianity aside, I know what I'm like and what I'm capable of, how
    much more available I am to others, when I am "relaxed." Then there is
    the love of God I'm missing behind his call for me to examine how much
    trust, peace, and joy I have in a given moment. He is not asking me to do that just for others' sakes; he cares.

    To the extent I try to live out Jesus' teachings "this time around," I need to make these "impractical" statements of Jesus the focus ("as though Jesus meant what he said"). What I'm beginning to see is that I need to move such that
    focus from the "nice idea" category, to a "higher priority" category, to
    maybe even a "the whole point" category. What if one of the reasons my Christianity fell apart "the first time around" is because a lot of teachings I only paid lip service to were/are actually the cornerstones? This is all great food for thought for me. I appreciate it..

  7. O C, I wish to say again how beautiful I find your honesty to be. Sometimes when writing of ideals, and I am guilty of this as others, we leave the impression that we are there. But I strive, and "strive" is the operative word, to keep in mind that both imperfection and ideals are integral to our existence, in which the awareness of both keeps us stirred with life. After all, it is our imperfections that keeps us awake to love being the "greatest of all things".

    Indeed, the same Jesus that spoke of trusting God to care for us as God does the birds and the flowers of the field, asked to be delivered from his hour, and at the height of his suffering asked his father "Why have you forsaken me?" I believe the Gospel writers were not afraid of Jesus' humanity, where most of us, in our evangelical and legalistic pasts, have been bewildered by it. I find comfort in Jesus' humanity, the same as I do with the apostle Paul's seemingly contradictions. He could write to his churches of the pure life that God calls us to, of the the fruit of the spirit that pictures the perfect child of God. Yet, this is the man who said, "I do what I know I should not do", and "do not do what I know I should". I do not believe for a moment that Paul was giving a shallow nod to, "Hey, we all make mistakes". This was a man who, I am convinced, was at times tortured as we all by failure.

    And these failings do not make us hypocrites. I appreciated what an individual who was not a Christian once said to me regarding spiritual leaders who fall from their lofty perch. He said that it wasn't their mistakes that made them look like hypocrites; it was their refusal to be as merciful to others as they expect God and others to be of them. Great point. I believe when we have those moments, and, granted, some of those moments can feel like forever, of not trusting God, if whatever amount of mercy we can bring up from our soul is poured out and emptied on another who seems to be losing their grasp, then our times of back and forth between the mount of ideals and the garden of tears and blood will not seem as crippling.

    Please pardon my wordiness. Its early morning, my favorite time, and the coffee is having its kick.

  8. I think this is contingent upon the amount of "caffeine" one consumes during the day. Our relationship with this substance is one of cyclic-dependence. Over 600 milligrams a day and you’ll want to crush the lilies and shoot the sparrows!

  9. Another couple of things.

    Relaxation is actually a discipline (as any good athlete will tell you), requiring concentration, focus, attention, and so it takes practice. Moreover, as you could describe it as the unclenching of the spirit -- as in unclenching a fist -- relaxation is a particularly important discipline in the praxis of nonviolence.

  10. I know this kind of sidetracking but we usually equate relaxation with activities rather then trust in God. So I wondered if the form of relaxation matters. Like are some ways healthy versus unhealthy ways. Some people would say that alcohol or pot relax them for example. I know some people would say that these methods require a dependency on something, but it seems there is a similar dependency when people say they 'need' situational things like solitude, meditation, exercise, nature etc. Or maybe we gain trust in God by connection to him, and all these tools are just necessarily ways that allow us to connect and build that trust.

    Whatever the method, I am curious how we develop the discipline that Kim mentions to unclench not in the easy times of peace but in the hard times of fear and uncertainty.

  11. John,
    Thank you for this inspiring reply. If I haven't mentioned it previously, I want to emphasize now that comments by a few here, including, recently and prominently, your own, provide an excellent example for me of honesty in such a forum. I benefit from the honesty I see here, precisely for the ways it blends ideals and imperfection. It makes me feel that my own thoughts, even when not up to par in content, experience, belief, or expression, will nonetheless be welcome. That is a privilege.

    Your statements that "both imperfection and ideals are integral to our existence" and that both "keep us stirred for life" strike me as profound and as poetic, as does your description of going back and forth between the "mountain of ideals and the garden of tears and blood." Thank you for those images and their content.

    I have a ways to go. Your reply is a helpful encouragement on that way. Thank you!

  12. Nice Post and so true. We should be bathing in the rivers of peace as Christians! :)

  13. James Alison speaks of faith as relaxing in the presence of Someone you know loves you, has seen you at your best & worst, yet is still faithful to you. Peace to you, brother Richard!

  14. I think it's in 'being hidden in christ'. If one is willing to see the reality of how powerless one really is then maybe one is ready to reach the highest purpose for one's life.

  15. I wonder if the littler birds filled up so fast bc of those doves. We live where there are a lot of mourning doves and we've seen them be aggressive and bullies at feeding time to the small birds pecking them & kicking them out of the way!

  16. That too! Although in moderate amounts it can be quite soothing to the soul & body. Might I suggest a mild but rustic "Montepulciano d'Abruzzo". A glass after a long day at the office goes well with any meal.

  17. Great post @Richard Beck . I'm experiencing some synchronicity here, actually. I just listened to a great podcast yesterday where "relaxing into complexity" was a point of discussion. I blogged some reflections on it (link below), though it is more approaching relaxation from an economic viewpoint--in short, we can't relax because leisure time/play/relaxing is always an end in itself, never a means. This simply doesn't jibe with the capitalistic commodification of time itself. Time-anxiety is a direct result of placing a monetary value on time. Leisure time, recreation, play, relaxation, when measured in terms of clock-time, is impossible.

    Blog post:

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