Once, during a stress filled point in my life, I received a card from a friend – I’m sure it was meant to encourage me. It showed a fifteen-pound cat in a size seven shoebox. Stress is like that. Often, we are overwhelmed and under resourced. Too much to do, too little time. Life is a fifteen-pound cat in a size five and a half shoe box.
Jesus is always busy doing good, but he’s never in a hurry. Obstacles are placed in his way, but he remains calm. He also remains compassionate. The 8th chapter of Luke probably describes a typical week for Jesus. We see him caught in a small boat in a storm. His disciples around him fear drowning. Jesus calms them. He also calms the storm. Then he confronts a man enslaved to mental illness. “What is your name?” Jesus asks. “Legion, the man replies, for there are many demons in him. After healing that man, Jesus returns to the boat and goes to the opposite side of the lake. There he meets a woman with a persistent illness. She was literally bleeding all the time. He heals her. From there he goes on to comfort a father whose only child, a twelve-year old daughter had just died. He speaks peace into that grieving home and then he restores the child back to life. A busy week.
I am deliberately telling the stories of the eight chapter of Luke this way in order to emphasize the healing calm Jesus brings to each situation. We usually focus on the miracles. But one of the ways that Jesus defines the kingdom of God is to say that it is a healing and peacemaking process. God’s kingdom is like a little seed thrown into the vast field of this earth. It grows. It gradually becomes fruitful. The good life is a process; a healing process.
Jesus doesn’t calm our stress by becoming himself more stress-filled. Jesus is in every situation a non-anxious presence. When the storm assails the little boat he is in with his disciples, he doesn’t join in their fear. He shows them the courage of his inner calm. When a crazy man approaches, Jesus doesn’t join in the insanity. He remains apart from it. He offers the man a fresh start and a taste of what inner peace is like. He sends the legion of stress away from both of them.
We aren’t expected to do miracles. But we are each required to accept this peace process. People don’t need us bring solutions to their problems. They need us to be a non-anxious presence. This means bringing a certain distance to life. We can’t do it all. It isn’t healthy to take on a legion of projects. It isn’t healthy to be stressed out all the time. We example Jesus best when we live our days with simplicity and compassion.
No matter how stressed out we get, Jesus reminds us that the kingdom of God is still among us. Maybe life is like a fifteen-pound cat in a size five shoe box. But I have often seen my cats find utter contentment by resting within a cardboard box. We are in the box, whether we choose to be stressed out is up to us.