By Jacqueline J. Holness
This past summer, at my father’s invitation, I attended a thanksgiving and ecumenical service in celebration of Jamaica’s 50th year of independence from Great Britain. I felt thoroughly American and even somewhat insecure as everyone sang the national anthem of Jamaica, “My Journeyman Jesus” (a song about Jesus with a patois twist), and laughed over shared remembrances of growing up on the sunny isle of Jamaica.
However, I think I have unwittingly picked up some Jamaican values. One episode of the ‘90s sitcom, In Living Color, featured the Headleys, a Jamaican family living in the States. Every member of the family, including the children, had multiple jobs. I remember laughing hysterically because just about every Jamaican I have known works hard. And I am no exception.
I work as a reporter, I’m an author, I write for various publications, I conduct market research, and I teach at a gym. I’m not complaining, but I am busy. But the truth is, Jamaicans aren’t the only ones who are busy. Americans are busy too. Most people I know admit to feeling stressed out by the hustle and bustle of modern American life.
Tim Kreider captures the absurdity of our frenetic pace in “The ‘Busy’ Trap,” an opinion piece written for The New York Times. He writes, “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”
And what is the end result of this hyper scheduling? The American Psychological Association has reported in its “Stress in America” survey that 32 percent of Americans felt “extreme stress” in 2007, the first year of the survey, versus 22 percent in 2011.
Obviously, the decline is good. However, simultaneously, the association reported that only 36 percent of people felt that stress affected their mental health and that number drops to 31 in regard to physical health. Norman B. Anderson, Ph.D. and CEO of the association, said, “Seventy-five percent of health-care costs are associated with chronic illnesses. What’s a key driver of chronic illnesses? Stress.”
So what is the solution? The older I get, the more I see the wisdom of “keeping the Sabbath holy.” But this directive seems to get harder and harder to follow. I end up doing some form of work every day.
In a Christianity Today interview with Lauren F. Winner about her book Mudhouse Sabbath: An Invitation to a Life of Spiritual Discipline (Paraclete Publishing, 2008), Winner discusses the traditions she misses converting from Judaism to Christianity.
One way she observes the Sabbath is by disconnecting from modern technology (like cell phones and e-mail). “Those are implements that connect us to our work and they put me in this state of very low-grade, constant tension that someone is trying to get a hold of me.” How many of us truly try to observe a Sabbath?
In How Did I Get So Busy? The 28-Day Plan To Free Your Time, Reclaim Your Schedule and Reconnect With What Matters Most (Three Rivers Press, 2007), Christian life coach Valorie Burton offers 10 Commandments of Self-Care. Here are a few of them: “Use all of your vacation time every year; eat regularly, preferably sitting down; exercise regularly, preferably standing up; and use technology to gain time, not lose it.” And it wouldn’t hurt to reprioritize like Martha in the Bible!
Most Christians I know are involved in many worthy pursuits from ministry opportunities to shuttling children to and from enriching activities, living lives that are meaningful and overly full. We look forward to retirement and a more balanced schedule, and then going to Heaven someday. But at the rate we are going, many of us may get there more quickly than expected.
Jacqueline J. Holness, a member of Central Christian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, is a correspondent for Courthouse News Service.