It seems to me that more and more of us are stressed out a lot these days. I know I’ve spoken to many students, staff, faculty, parishioners and friends who just seem to be overstressed and overwhelmed all the time. Add the holidays into the mix and it becomes overwhelming for so many! In fact, a doctor friend of mine quoted some unbelievable number of the U.S. population living with anxiety and stress — I don’t recall the exact number but up around 20 percent or more!
When we look at our priorities, especially in these stressful moments, I wonder where God is on the list. It often seems that we forget prayer, and Mass, and other opportunities to spend time with God during the very times we need Him the most. I’m not speaking of calling out to God in desperation for help only when we need Him — we all do that. I am speaking of taking the time to develop and work on building a strong personal relationship with Jesus that will carry us through the most difficult of times.
One of my favorite posters we have on our wall in the Campus Ministry Center at UMass Dartmouth is a photo of Jesus with the words, “There are 168 hours in a week, can’t you give Me just one? — Love Jesus. See you at Mass on Sunday!” The point is obvious. In the grand scheme of things an hour is a very small bit of time to give to Jesus, and many can’t even do that. Why? Think about it. We get so engrossed in things and get so stressed out about things that we push aside Jesus and sometimes everything else that is important in our lives. We don’t go to Mass because we’re busy with other things. We don’t take the time to pray, because we’re busy with other things. We don’t reach out and help others because we’re busy with other things. We have so much going on that we push away the very One Who can help us in these times of trouble. We push aside the very things we should be doing. And we push away the people who mean the most. I guess it really is all about priorities.
When folks share with me that they are stressed or they’re having a bad day, or everything is just falling apart, I often relate a little story that I once heard in relation to a young mother trying to juggle everything going on in her life.
Imagine that you are a juggler. As a juggler, you must remember that you must keep all of the balls in the air without dropping any. Now think of these balls that you are juggling. There are two types of balls. Balls made of glass and balls made of rubber. The balls made of rubber can be dropped without too much concern, right? They’ll either bounce and come back to you at some later time, or they’ll just roll away. It’s no big deal if these balls made of rubber drop. It’s the balls made of glass that we need to concern ourselves with. If they are dropped, they are destroyed, broken, smashed.
So now look at your life. You are juggling lots and lots of these balls. We like to try to keep them all in the air without dropping any of them. But that’s impossible. There are so many things we must juggle in our lives. The question becomes: which of these balls are made of glass and which are made of rubber? Once you decide that, then it’s easy to start letting the rubber ones go and concentrate on the important ones, the ones made of glass.
The obvious point is this: What are the balls made of glass in your life right now? God? Family? School? We need to keep those in the air. Sometimes, however, we tend to want to keep the balls made of rubber in the air instead because we like what they represent: partying, drugs, video games, etc. What are these rubber ones for you? In an effort to respond to the urgent, to all these other life issues and situations, the important is sometimes set aside and as a result we begin to drop the glass ones. Once they break, it’s hard to recover them.
What are the balls made of glass in your life? Your faith? Spending time with your family? Your health? Make a list of these. Then make a plan to ensure that you are able to juggle these first. Block out the time in your schedule for those activities. Amazingly, the other stuff still gets done. Periodically reflect on how you’re doing. Are you putting your balls made of glass first, or do the rubber ones dominate your life? Decide which rubber balls to drop so that you can keep juggling what’s important in life.
When you’re planning your month, your week or your day, and even when you’re making specific decisions during the day, refer back to your list of the balls made of glass. Then, juggle them first. Everything else can be dropped, and will fall, bounce, roll into place after that.
Anchor columnist Frank Lucca is a permanent deacon in the Diocese of Fall River, a youth minister at St. Dominic’s Parish in Swansea, and a campus minister at UMass Dartmouth. He is married to his wife of 38 years, Kristine, and the father of two daughters and their husbands, and three grandsons. Email him at DeaconFrankLucca@comcast.net.