Originally created 08/16/97

Embracing the things that matter



One of the new books I've enjoyed this summer is the national best seller, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff ... And It's All Small Stuff, by Dr. Richard Carlson. The subtitle is The Simple Ways To Keep the Little Things From Taking Over Your Life.

Earlier this year, on a particularly troublesome Monday morning (this is regularly my busiest day), I was greeted at the church with a succession of unexpected and vexing problems. My blood pressure was rising just as I happened to see this book title looking up at me from my desk, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff.

I was embarrassed that I was indeed "sweating the small stuff." The unexpected problems that had brought me vexation that morning were in the broad view of life, small stuff. Yet I had allowed them to bring me major agitation.

You may react positively as I do to the suggestion that we truly need to put things in perspective and worry less about the small stuff. Too often we let basically trivial things get to us and rile us up. We simply need to tell ourselves "don't sweat the small stuff" and then let it go. Right?

Easier said than done, though, isn't it? Even after our confident resolutions and promises that we will never again sweat the small stuff, and even after assuring ourselves that it's all small stuff, we still can't kick the habit. Is it possible that there is something wrong with this idea in the first place?

Is it really all small stuff? I don't think so. In fact, this leads us back to the words of Jesus. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about the so-called necessities of life - food, clothing and shelter - and about our characteristic anxiety over such things. Then Jesus proposes a solution. Instead of simply telling us not to sweat the small stuff, he says, "Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well." (Matthew 6:33)

The longer I live and the more I observe of life, mine and that of others, the more convinced I am that the key to composure and serenity lies not in pretending that it's all small stuff, but in learning to distinguish between the small stuff and the things that really matter.

I am a Christain because I believe that God not only points us in the right direction but actually models it for us in and through Jesus Christ.

None of us will ever in this life get fully beyond experiences of irritation, vexation and frustration, of course. Our best hopes of a growing degree of composure and serenity lie in identifying and embracing the things that truly matter. I believe the best thing we can do is to follow the advice of Jesus and "Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness!"

Dr. Daniel McCall is senior pastor of Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church.