One of my favorite cartoons shows two snakes. One is resting on the ground, his body relaxed in supple curves. The other is leaning against a tree, his body stiff and straight as a board. The one on the ground says to the other, “Charlie, you gotta learn to relax already!”
Summer time is the time of relaxation—for many of us. We cook on our grills, eat outside, spend time with family and friends, enjoy a vacation, or take a dip in a pool. But some of us have a hard time relaxing. One of the main enemies of relaxation is perfectionism. Perfectionists are people who put excessive demands upon themselves—and on others too. Psychiatrists say perfectionism is sometimes a way of coping with low self-esteem. It can also arise out of fears of abandonment or shame.
In her book, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott calls perfectionism “the voice of the oppressor.” She continues, “Perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting every stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die.” She concludes, “The truth is you will die anyway and a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”
Jesus knew how to relax. He frequented the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, not to preach to them, but to relax in their presence. We sense that Jesus knew how to relax when we read his parables. Where did he come up with such incredible images—bread rising, seeds germinating, children being children, lilies bobbing in the breeze, camels squeezing through narrow gates—except that he took time to observe the world around him and to reflect on what he saw and felt. In other words, he relaxed.
Not only did Jesus relax, he told his disciples to relax. On more than one occasion he said, “Come away by yourself to a deserted place and rest a while.” Other times he told his listeners things like, “Don’t worry… don’t be afraid… stop fretting.” Why? Because the God who loves you more than you imagine, is caring for you. Everything is in God’s hands, so you can afford to lighten up a little and relax!
(Adapted from my book Gracious Goodness from Loyola Press. All pictures are from Pixabay.)
On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being “a perfectionist or workaholic” and 10 being “someone who has no problem relaxing”) where do you put yourself?
What kind of activities, places, or things do you find relaxing?
What or who helps you to relax regularly? Do you help others to relax? If so, how?
Do you ever see a connection between your ability to relax and your trust in God?
PS: I am leading a retreat from Sunday, Aug. 4th to Saturday, Aug. 10th at the Sisters of Charity Retreat Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. The theme is: “How Can I Keep from Singing?” I ask you to please keep this retreat in your prayers. Thank you!
Here is a simple little song entitled “Come Aside.” It is written by Leonor dela Santa and sung by Hazel Tolentino. These recent words by Pope Francis seem a fitting introduction to this song: “We live with the accelerator down morning to night… This frantic pace ruins our mental health, spiritual health, and moral health…”
I invite you to respond to this reflection and/or song below!