Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Don't Sweat The Small Stuff

Fr. Dale Matson

In 1956 Al Feldstein became the editor of Mad Magazine. At one time I owned every 25 cent issue of Mad Magazine. The cover boy for Mad was a fictional character named Alfred E. Neuman. Feldstein told the artist to portray Neuman as follows, “I want a definitive portrait of this kid. I don't want him to look like an idiot—I want him to be lovable and have an intelligence behind his eyes. But I want him to have this devil-may-care attitude, someone who can maintain a sense of humor while the world is collapsing around him.” I adapted and used that portrait and that was the beginning [of Mad Magazine]” Alfred E. Neuman always had the phrase, “What, me worry?” underneath his picture. I always attributed his attitude of no concern to being clueless so I was wrong.

The late Richard Carlson wrote a book called Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff: And It Is Small Stuff. (1997) He stated, “Often we allow ourselves to get all worked up about things that, upon closer examination, aren't really that big a deal. We focus on little problems and blow them out of proportion. ... Whether we had to wait in line, listen to unfair criticism, or do the lion's share of the work, it pays enormous dividends if we learn not to worry about little things. So many people spend so much of their life energy "sweating the small stuff" that they completely lose touch with the magic and beauty of life.  Ask yourself: Is there any way I can become even more loving than I am? Can I fill my heart with more loving kindness? Can you, despite the fact that there are less than perfect people in our world, think loving thoughts about yourself and about others? Spread that love around as far as your mind will allow!” I would add to that, put the best construction on what others say and do. Don’t take things personally. Today, there is a common phrase we use. We have borrowed the phrase, “No worries” from the Australians.

I must publicly confess that I suffer from a chronic case of the “What ifs”. I asked Sharon recently, “Why is it that I am bothered by the little things of life?”  Why is it that I obsess about things over which I have no control, things that don’t really matter in the long run and about being failed by others so often? Why aren't people more dependable? Why is my peace and contentment so fragile and transitory? Sharon’s response was, “It’s not easy on those of us around you either.”

As I reflect on this, there are four things that come to mind. The primary issues are obsessive ruminating, impatience, mistrust and abundance. Often, our strengths are also our weaknesses. For example, I am very good at setting goals, pursuing, and accomplishing them with a single minded focus. What I call focus, others might call obsession. Obsessive thoughts that are pleasant comfort me. The “Prayer of the Heart” (Jesus Prayer) comforts me. Changes in training (fooling the body) increase conditioning and strength but threaten the psychological solace of a routine pattern. Training can become simply a comfort ritual.

The problem arises when there is a negative obsessive thought. It can dominate both the thoughts and feelings. They are uninvited house guests that I house and nourish and compose future scripts for. Let go, let go, let go! Stop thinking about what you will say or should have said and just drop it. It’s such an ego thing.

Patience is not a natural disposition. Patience is a fruit of the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22) I have been impatient most of my life. Once again, this is another feature of the ego setting goals. Getting closure can become pathological when the desire to accomplish things means premature closure. It means manuscripts submitted for publication replete with errors and friends who feel prodded and bullied. On a large scale impatience contributes to disasters like the explosion of the Challenger. Sometimes problems even fix themselves given more time.

I have difficulty trusting others. How often have I been let down by someone who has promised to do this or that? Sometimes I inadvertently help the disappointment by imposing too strict a deadline or standard. In short, I have never found the Godly ground between too high an expectation and no expectation of others. With my dysfunctional family background it seems like my prime directive for friendships is that they be dependable. Where is the grace in this? Is the bar set too high? Stop setting others up for failure. Stop judging them when they fail. “I told you so” is not the response of a gracious person. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6) If only.

Finally, I confess that I am much more like the rich man in the story of “The rich man and Lazarus. Most of what I worry about is quality of life issues. For me, God has allowed a high quality of life. This past week is typical. Our automatic garage door opener needed to be fixed and we have been waiting days for the repairman. I have to be home in the middle of the day to assist people who will be installing solar panels on our house. The list goes on but it is too embarrassing to continue. I am continually inconvenienced by my many conveniences. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8, KJV) 

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