These days, it takes me about seven seconds — no, maybe six — of reading the headlines for my heart to start racing. I’m sure I’m not alone. While cardiologists may be rejoicing at the opportunities, for survival I need to find another approach.
The way I see it, there are two choices. Limit my outside reading to National Geographic and People. Or figure out how to read the paper without heart palpitations.
Let’s face it, it’s a daunting job. We are in a storm of epic proportions with everything at stake from education and health care to our borders and our brethren (and sisteren). It’s times like these that we must look for wisdom in those who have weathered the storms before us.
The storm that comes to mind is the one from the book of Matthew where Jesus and the disciples are caught in a boat on the Galilee. The scriptures tell us: “Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat” (Matthew 8:24). The disciples start to panic because Jesus is asleep.
The scripture doesn’t tell us this, but I can imagine that when that furious storm hit, and the boat started to swamp, the disciples started doing the one thing they knew how to do, the one thing they could do — bail out the boat. And they did so until they thought the boat was about to sink. At that point, they woke up Jesus and shouted, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Jesus then rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!”
And the wind ceased.
And there was a dead calm.
While this is clearly a lesson on faith, I think it is also a lesson in the delegation of duties.
Many of us struggle with delegation. We think it’s just easier to do things ourselves, but that’s also egotistical. It assumes that we are the best person for every job. And while we may be good at some things, we are not the best person to do everything.
As in Matthew’s story, the disciples and Jesus had two very different jobs. The disciples were in charge of bailing out the boat when it started to sink. That was within their power, as many of them were professional fishermen. It was what they did best. On the other hand, Jesus was in charge of calming the storm. That was within his power. It was what he did best.
It’s the same for us. We, as human beings, are best suited for bailing out the boat— for showing up, putting in the time, doing the work. Jesus, on the other hand, is best for calming the storms — for easing the fears, the doubts, the anger, the resentments.
The problem is that we try and do our job and Jesus’ — and it doesn’t work. That is why we are getting heart palpitations reading the newspaper. We are trying to do the work and calm our internal storms. It’s like the great jazz singer Lena Horn said: “It’s not the load that breaks you down. It’s how you carry it.”
So, here’s my new approach: I’ve now started keeping two to-do lists — mine and Jesus’. Every morning, I look at my list and think, “Which of these things involves bailing out the boat?” Those items stay on my list. Then I ask, “Which of these involves calming the storm?” And those things get moved from my list to his.
Let me give you an example. If you are facing a medical issue, your to-do list should include things that you can do — that you can control — like going to the doctor, taking your meds, going to tests or treatments (bailing out the boat). Jesus’ list should contain things that that you can’t do, or that you don’t do very well, like calm the storm of anxieties about the future.
What if you have a big project at work? Your list: do the research, write the report, prepare for the presentation (bail out the boat). Jesus’ list: rebuke the storms of doubt, like worrying about what others think.
Then we have the problem at hand: the newspapers. How do we face what’s happening in our world without seeing a cardiologist? Once again, delegation. Our list: stay engaged, voice our opinion, reach out to those in need, pray, donate, and fight. Jesus’ list: calm the storms of anger, judgment, resentment, and fear in our hearts.
St. Augustine explained it this way: “When we allow temptations to overcome us, Christ sleeps in us. We forget Christ at such times. Let us, then, remember him. Let us awake him. He will speak. He will rebuke the tempest in the soul, and there will be a great calm.”
We all face storms in this life, and many of them are big ones. And while the storms out in the world may rage on for some time, the storm in our heart can be calmed at any time. It’s about our willingness to shift the emotional chaos and storms of worry off our to-do list and onto his.
And here’s a little secret that makes that shift easier. At the moment we wake up, before thinking of all the day’s stresses, before reading one headline, we should stop, quiet our thoughts, and offer up this short, simple prayer:
Lord, I’ll bail out the boat. You calm the storm.