There is a lot to like about the Mindfulness movement and its emphasis upon living in the present moment and reducing stress but lately there have been several Facebook posts that irritate me because of their advice to reduce stress by doing less and doing it slowly. Such advice sounds good but it is not the way my life works.
I can’t remember when I last had a job where I got to the end of the day or week and could knock-off knowing that I had got everything done that needed to be done. It’s not just “a woman’s work is never done.” That saying can apply to most of us. Life seems to be a series of uncompleted tasks or ongoing projects but that doesn’t mean I am necessarily stressed. Over the years, I have developed an ease about unfinished tasks and projects that just seem to go on forever. To some extent it is about prioritising the tasks so that the most important things get done but it is also about developing what has been described as a tolerance for ambiguity.
Tolerance for ambiguity can be defined as the degree to which one is comfortable with uncertainty, unpredictability, conflicting directions, and multiple demands.
Some people may be born with a natural predilection toward tolerance for ambiguity while for others it develops over time through education and experience.
Ambiguity exists in different degrees and for varying periods of time within our family and working lives. It may arise when situations or problems occur that have no simple or single answer. Sometimes it is about ethical uncertainty when the line between right and wrong becomes blurred.
If we have a high level of comfort with ambiguity then these things will not stress us to the extent that they will if we need clarity, certainty and completion.
I think Jesus has a great tolerance of ambiguity. The Gospel stories seem to be Jesus responding to one interruption after another. Typically, Jesus is trying to go about his business when someone approaches him with an urgent request, a difficult question, or Jesus is challenged by one of the conservative community authorities.
When he wants to get away to pray, the crowds follow. When he wants to spend time with his disciples teaching them, they fight over who is the greatest. The sick, the outcast and the desperate continually interrupt his day but in each case, he responds to the need at hand and is truly present for those who need him. Talk about multi-tasking! No doubt other things don’t get done but this is how the kingdom of God appears in our midst. It breaks in when we don’t expect it, when we are unprepared and we never feel we are worthy or have played our part well.
Learning to live with the incomplete, the messy, the imperfect, and not getting stressed about it, strips away our pretensions, for we too are incomplete, much less than perfect and our lives and relationships can be messy. Maybe we will get around to fixing everything up and completing things and maybe we won’t. In the meantime, we live under grace. God’s unconditional love and grace is sufficient for our inadequacies and incompleteness.
This is the gospel, and it’s good news.
Brian Spencer, Minister