COMBATING WEARINESS WITH ALTERNATE FORMS OF EXERCISE.
(Written after a short but hectic visit to Ukraine)
A few decades ago the cricket-loving world was shocked when a popular and brilliant English cricketer said that the pressure of having to perform according to people’s expectations and the resulting stress often led him to take cannabis after a game. Cannabis is a narcotic. A narcotic is “a drug (as opium) that in moderate doses dulls the senses, relieves pain, and induces profound sleep but in excessive doses causes stupor, coma, or convulsions” (Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary).
Tiredness, especially if it has been accompanied by stress, makes us vulnerable to a whole new set of problems. We have recently read about cricketers who visit night clubs, get drunk and behave badly at night during a series. I once read of a pastor who used to visit a prostitute on Sunday nights to supposedly “satisfy his needs” after the tiring and stressful Sunday.
There are good and bad ways to recover from tiredness and stress. When Elijah suffered depression after his spiritually draining conflict with the prophets of Baal God let him to walk in the open for forty days and to sleep for more than a day with stops only for meals which God provided miraculously (1 Kings 18-19). We see images of cricketers relaxing in the swimming pool at the end of a day’s play or playing football (soccer) on their day off from cricket in the middle of a series.
Our entertainment-oriented culture provides us with ways to face this challenge, and many of those are damaging. Therefore it is important for us to plan what we will do after a tiring and stressful activity. I think the most common method used today is watching television which has a narcotic affect on one’s tired mind. I do not think this is all bad. But in some countries television gets unclean at night, and that can be very dangerous.
I have recently returned from a trip to Ukraine. I had asked my hosts to put me up with the other delegates, but they overruled me and put me in a different hotel. And how glad I was about that! After putting the heat on at maximum I needed to wear three layers of clothes to keep myself warm in my hotel room! The delegates did not have any heating at all, as the government had not yet released heating gas for the winter! On my second day I found that TV gets unclean at night there. So I pulled off the TV plug and replaced it with the kettle plug! I sent my wife an SMS text message saying that I am doing so and asked her to forward the SMS to my accountability group. I usually send SMS’ to these people when I stay in a hotel.
Slowly I am coming to accept that the best way to overcome tiredness and stress is not by using a narcotic (like TV), but by using an alternate form of exercise which refreshes me as a person. We saw that above with Elijah’s walk and with the swimming and the football of the cricketers. On the flight back home from Ukraine I read several short mystery stories by Agatha Christie which exercised the mind through an activity markedly different to preaching. I find that swimming produces a similar form of relaxation through alternate exercise.
The day after I came home was a free day for me, so I spent a good time at the piano singing hymns in what I like to call a “praise feast.” This is my favourite form of “alternate exercise.” I usually use one of five styles of sacred music for this. (1) I use my Methodist Hymnbook most often because that is what I grew up with and because it beautifully portrays the great truths which under-gird my life. (2) When I am abroad I often use the Sinhala (my mother-tongue) song book we use at Church and YFC. (3) I sometimes use Mission Praise which gives the best of contemporary Christian music. (4) This time I used Praise: Our Songs and Hymns (edited by John W. Peterson). This book has many songs representing the gospel hymn tradition of which the famous early representative was Sankey’s Sacred Songs and Solos. Gospel hymns are lively reminders of great gospel truths. And sometimes it is good to just sing lustily about the marvels of grace! (5) Occasionally I use some western classical music, like music from the great choral works of Bach, Handel and Haydn. These present the great truths of the faith with sublime majesty and musical artistry.
By having an occasional “praise feast” for my prayer time instead of my usual intercession-saturated prayer time I am trying to follow the rhythmic pattern to life which I believe God gave us humans for our enrichment. We have six days of hard work and one day of rest. We have daily physical contact with our spouses and occasional moments of ecstasy through sexual relations. Daily we thank God for providing our needs, but occasionally we have a festival to vigorously enjoy praising God for it in community. In the same way we can have a praise feast occasionally as a change from the normal routine of intercession saturated prayer.
A significant feature of the alternate activity which punctuates our normal daily routine is vigorous enjoyment. The Old Testament festivals were usually days of loud praise with dancing and singing in community. We can’t do that daily. But we need to do that occasionally because the God who made us to live daily in joy also intends us to have occasional bursts of ecstasy when we focus on the things that produce our daily joy. Occasional praise feasts do this for us. Music, of course, is the language of joy. Singing helps engage our whole being in praise. We are able to express our gratitude to God in a way that gives full expression to our emotions. Such expressions of emotion serve to refresh and heal our tired and battered souls.
Praise feasts also help us avoid one of the great traps of hard work: we think that we have done something great and that we are superior to those who don’t work as hard as we do. Spiritual pride is a trap those who work hard can easily fall into. But when we spend time rejoicing in God and praising him we are impacted afresh by that great antidote to spiritual pride: the grace perspective. We realise that everything good in our lives is entirely the result of grace. We realise we don’t deserve anything we have received. But that realisation does not cause depression; instead it causes deep, deep joy.
Let’s see how the grace perspective produces joy. We realise that now the greatest things in our life do not have to do with us but with Jesus who has loved us and made us the precious children of God. If we depended on our worth for our sense of significance we will restless and insecure, for deep down we know how weak and imperfect we are! But if our significance comes from what God has made us to become—then we have complete joy! Nothing can take that joy away because there is nothing in this world that is as powerful as the God who is the cause of it.
Let your tiredness be an occasion to increase your joy in the Lord! But be careful! Even though pleasure is God’s gift to us, it is also a tool which Satan uses. And the entertainment industry is a ready means he can use to lead us astray. This is why I decided to give some rather personal details about how to handle this issue. I wanted to demonstrate that we must make specific decisions about how we are going to deal with tiredness. Satan has many traps laid out for us to fall into if we have not planned our times of recovery from stressful activity.