The “Small Stuff” Matters

untitledThis past spring has been an incredibly busy one at CCDOK.  Staff in many of our programs have adjusted and accommodated significant changes in the work they do, the reports they complete, and the roles they have within the agency.  Our services have been in high demand and we have been challenged to do more with less.  We are juggling accountability, sustainability, and quality as we seek to meet demands placed on us from all sides.  Many of these demands just come with the territory and are to be expected in the non-profit sector.  Others have grown exponentially over the past few years with no end to that growth in sight.  The world around us — social, political, economic, professional, religious — seems to be getting more complicated and harder to juggle competently.

Please don’t consider me naive . . . I understand that CCDOK is not in a unique position.  When I look at the lives of my family, friends, clients, and peers I understand that people everywhere are stressed, busy, and tired.    Like most of you, I’ve read the depressing statistics:

  • Only 38% of U.S. employees are taking all of their earned vacation days. The average used only 14 out of 18 days (Expedia.com).
  • Fully 48% of American workers report being required to do more work with fewer resources, 39% report doing the work of two people because jobs have been cut, 47% report having difficulty taking time off from work, and at least 30% feel the need to stay connected 24/7 when they do manage to get some time off (TNS Research).
  • According to “The Statistic Brain,” the top two stressors in America today are “Job Pressure” (including co-worker tension, bosses, and work overload) and “Money” (including loss of job, reduced retirement, and medical expenses).

I’m not that old, but never in my life have I felt so uncertain about the future.  I look at my children and I wonder what the world will be like for them as adults.  The most obvious response to this uncertainty is fear.  Add in the stress and you’ve got a nice recipe for a nervous breakdown or a case of sheer panic.

So why am I calm and at peace as I type this?

I was recently given a wonderful tool to use on a daily basis.  When nothing in the world makes sense, this tool helps me to realize that the “small stuff” of my life really matters to God.  I can’t change some of the major issues of the world . . . I can’t change the Supreme Court’s decisions or create world peace, but the things I can do and can change are also things God cares about and uses to teach me on a daily basis.  This tool helps me to focus on that — and, in so doing, creates hope and peace in my day.

The tool I’m talking about was recently given to me by Fran Denny, CCDOK’s Executive Director.  It is called The Examen and it was created by St Ignatius of Layola.  It has been around for more than 400 years, but it is as applicable to life today as it was for St Ignatius himself.  According to Jim Manney, “The Examen is the prayer that changes everything.”  It helps you to see God (and His presence and involvement) in everyday events:

“There’s nothing complicated or mysterious about making the Examen part of your life. The subject matter of the Examen is your life — specifically the day you have just lived through. The Examen looks for signs of God’s presence in the events of the day — lunch with a friend, a walk in the park, a kind word from a colleague, a challenge met, a duty discharged. The Examen likes the humdrum. God is present in transcendent “spiritual” moments, but he’s also there when you cook dinner, write a memo, answer email and run errands,”  Manney states.

Like Mr Manney, I used to come into prayer carrying all the burdens of the day and simply be overwhelmed.  I would try to pray about “the big stuff” and would end up either babbling or falling asleep.  Neither result helped me feel anything but guilt — I was continually “falling short” in my mind.  Praying the Examen helped me to realize that God is walking with me through everyday life — even folding laundry or cleaning the toilets — and that I can see Him in anything and everyone.  He wants a relationship with me as I am here and now — not as the person I aspire to be someday in the distant future.  Mr Manney sums it up well in his blog on The Examen, saying:

“How are Christians different? A friend of mine . . . calls this “the Christian problem.” Our lives look pretty much the same as everyone else’s. We bob along on a river of emails, meetings, housework, errands, commuting and to-do lists. Believers of other faiths usually have outward signs of religious identity. Christians have few of these, because Jesus was more interested in the conditions of our hearts than in external signs of piety.

The answer to the Christian problem is to find God in all things — to see God in what we think, do and feel; in life with family, friends, colleagues and casual acquaintances; in our busyness and our rest. That’s what the Examen does. That’s why I call it the prayer that changes everything.”

If you are one of the people I talked about earlier in this blog — those who are overwhelmed, unable to take vacation days, and doing the work of two people — the Examen might not specifically make your work load lighter or give you eight hours to sleep every night.  It’s not going to magically change your situation, but it will change your mindset and your understanding of who God is and how He works in your life.  It will help you see His work in the “little things.”  It will help you to stop, think over your day, and ask Him for guidance as you walk through the rest of your tasks.  No matter how busy you are, no matter how many jobs you have to do, you are never doing any of them alone.  The “small stuff” matters to God.  What peace and freedom that can give!

If you’d like to learn more, please check out these links:

http://www.osv.com/tabid/7621/itemid/7718/The-Examen–the-prayer-that-changes-everything.aspx

http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen/lunchtime-examen/

Advertisements