Carrying Stress and Turning the Other Cheek

I have SO much going on.  Well, so many of us do, don’t we?  But this week, I have a lot going on.  I have to finish a sermon by Thursday, because my supervisor has set up a preaching practicum for me.  I appreciate this, but it requires that I actually preach.  And when I say finish, what I mean is start and finish.  I have to finalize some paperwork and send it off to the Ministerial Fellowship Committee.  I have to write a board report for the church board.  And someone’s coming to paint the trim on my house…sometime.  Oh, and today, well, today, I went to the dentist.

I went to the dentist because it was time to do that, and also to get a night guard, because I clench my jaw, especially when I sleep.  Other people carry their stress in, say, high blood pressure.  I get muscle tension.  So I clench my jaw.  Now the other thing is, I have a really strong gag reflex.  REALLY strong.  In order to get the night guard, the hygienist had to make a mold of my teeth.  This required sticking a bite plate full of dental mold stuff in my mouth.  That went as predicted.  I had a very strong reaction.  So the dentist came running in (I really like my dentist – did I ever mention that he came to Don’s memorial service?  He did, but that’s a tangent).  Anyway, he came running in, and told me to hold my arms out.  That helped a bit.  I managed to get through it, but not without ending up with a very stiff neck.  I completely tensed up.  And that ended up, ultimately, in a migraine.  Hurray.  So I’m hoping that this night guard will prevent some headaches, but today, it gave me one.

In thinking about my gag reflex, I was thinking about how I don’t like to have things forced down my throat.  I don’t just mean dentists sticking things in my mouth. I mean that metaphorically as well.  I don’t like being poked and prodded and force-fed things.  I don’t like having to toe a line.

So here I am, on an ordination path.  What do I have to do?  Toe a lot of lines!  I have to submit to all sorts of judgments, examinations, and assessments.  I have to submit things on time, check off boxes, and constantly look inward.  So much fun.  It’s been a bit stressful.

And there has been some external stress in my life of late.  I mean, my husband died.  And before that he was very sick for a while.  And two pets died.  And other less-really-big things.  So there’s been that.  And all the while, day-to-day goes on.

All the while, I’m trying to learn to be a good minister.  A good pastor.  I’m trying to keep my house in order.  I’m trying to get my house in order if I really want to be truthful.  I’m trying to serve other people.

Self-care becomes really important.  Self-care is always important, but in times of stress it’s critical.  When I did my first unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE – my chaplaincy internship), I went to the hospital chapel nearly every day after work to pray and to hand my day off to God.  I’d pray for everyone I served, for everyone I came across, and then I’d tell God, “I did what you asked.  I came.  I saw.  I pastored.  Now this is yours.  You look after these folks.”  If I didn’t go to the chapel, I prayed in the car on the way home.

I know I have to take care of myself.  When I was in college, some guys in the dorm (friends of my boyfriend) asked me if I would do some laundry for them, and I agreed.  My boyfriend told me I shouldn’t let myself be a doormat.  He was right.  I realized I could be nice and that wasn’t the same thing as saying, “yes” all the time.  I could say, “no,’ too.  The thing is, I’ve always realized this when standing up for other people, and if backed into a corner, I’ve stood up for myself, too.  He helped me to understand that I didn’t have to wait until I was backed into a corner.

Some stress is unavoidable.  Every muscle in my body is reminding me of this.  However, there is so much we can do about protecting ourselves while still remaining true to ourselves.

Someone commented on one of my recent posts, saying that I shouldn’t have called out Mutual of Omaha in public.  Instead, I should have turned the other cheek.  Oh my. So much damage has been done to people in the name of Christianity because people don’t understand the context and don’t know what that passage means.  So allow me to explain.

I owe most of this explanation to Walter Wink and his book Engaging The Powers, which I heartily endorse, by the way.  However, Walter Wink is not alone in this interpretation.  Understand first that this gospel (Matthew) was written in the Roman Empire at a time when Christianity was an oppressed minority religion.  Understand also that people did not use their left hands in public.  The left hand was the toilet hand.  So when Jesus says, in Matt. 5:39, “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” (NIV translation), the listeners would have immediately understood that this would mean “if you are back-handed across the face” because you can only be slapped on the right cheek by a right hand if the other person back-hands you.  They would also have understood that this was what someone in a position of power or authority did to people who were lower than they were.  You would never back-hand an equal.  So back-handing someone is saying, “I have the power.  You are low.  You don’t count.”  Jesus said in this instance, turn the other cheek also.  WOW.  Jesus just told us to shame the other person.

In the next verse, Jesus says, “And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.”  In other words, if someone with more power takes you to court, and you lose, strip down naked and give him everything.  Who then looks bad?  You, standing naked, or the person who has just taken everything you have?  

Finally, because in the gospels, Jesus often says things in threes, he tells us, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.”  This is because Roman soldiers could force civilians to carry their packs, but only for one mile.  So if a soldier forced you to carry a pack for one mile, and then you said, “no, really, I’m fine, I’ll keep going,” now the soldier is responsible for your care.

Jesus is advocating non-violent resistance!  I love this guy!  We can learn a lot from him.  And I’m trying.

So now, I won’t just be a doormat.  I won’t let people do whatever they want to me, and then say, “oh, it’s fine, really.”  Because it’s not fine.  Really.  As I’ve said, some stress is unavoidable.  And of course, many things are unintentional.  A healthy dose of assuming good intentions also goes a very long way.  A VERY long way.

Oh, and even those folks whom I hold accountable – I still pray for them.  Accountability is important, but so is letting things go.  You stepped on my toe in 1975?  Well, if you apologized in 1975, then I’m sure I don’t remember.  And if it was just a step on the toe, even if you didn’t apologize, it was 1975.  I’m sure I don’t remember anyway.  Moving on is important for all the parties involved.

My night guard should be ready next week.  I hope it helps.  I could use fewer headaches. In the meantime, I will keep trying to take care of myself.  I’ll keep caring for everyone around me.  Oh, and if the powers engage me, I will definitely turn the other cheek.

That’s my mite.  It’s all I’ve got.

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