Now and then we hear people wax nostalgic about “simpler times” when life wasn’t so harried and hectic. The popular imagination often sees life before the 21st century as such times -- before automobiles and airplanes and cell phones and computers and vast sprawling cities. Life then, as we like to picture it, was basically rural, centered in small towns, lived at a slower pace, with time for self and others.
It is interesting then to note that in the 1860s a hymn writer wrote a hymn which began, “Dear Lord and Father of mankind, Forgive our fev’rish ways,” and went on to say, “Take from our souls the strain and stress, And let our ordered lives confess The beauty of thy peace.” Apparently, feverish ways are not a recent thing, and strain and stress are not unique to life in the early 21st century. It seems that the desire for an ordered life graced with beauty and peace has been around for some time.
It may be true, however, that the stress we observe in others and experience in ourselves has intensified over the years. The edge we hear in voices, the “road rage” we witness on the interstates, the angry tantrums in offices, the tempers flaring at home, the furrowed brows and rigid backs and tense faces - signs of strain and stress seem more evident than ever. And we see it in the mirror as well, feel it in our bodies. Whether we are working or retired, married or single, parents or not, it is there - the irritability and anxiousness and tension.
But why should a hymn writer make mention of stress and strain? Because ultimately it is a Christian issue. As one author has pointed out, the stressed person cannot be generous or express gracious and kind emotions and actions. In other words, it is very difficult to follow the way of Christ when strain and stress are our constant
We need relief and release. And there are many who offer help: counselors, consultants, spiritual guides, workshop leaders, massage therapists, relaxation therapists. And muchof the advice and many of the techniques do help.
But the hymn writer of long ago saw that the most effective help comes from another source. He prayed, “Drop thy still dews of quietness, Till all our strivings cease…” It is the Maker of beauty, the Giver of peace, who
offers enduring relief and release.
Life has never been simple nor stress free. Re-adjusting schedules, practicing certain techniques, escaping on vacation often give temporary relief and release. But the beauty of God’s peace comes from elsewhere. It comes from centering our lives on God and finding our worth in God’s love for us; trusting God’s care enough to let go of our often desperate striving to secure ourselves; pushing back the worries and fear and allowing the Spirit in. Little by little, the strained hearts and minds relax, the anger cools, we are released from ourselves and the schedules that have come to order us around, we experience relief from the demands we have allowed to drive us - we are released to become generous and gracious people who are graced with peace.
It’s not easy though, and the hymn writer reminds us that it never has been. But relief and release are possible and if you’re wondering where to begin, you might try the hymn writer’s suggestion. Pray that God would quiet your racing heart and mind, that quiet would descend like dew, and then listen, listen for the word God speaks to you and me in so many ways each day: “Be still. Do not be afraid. I am with you. Follow me."
God be with you,