Despite the damage it does to our health, we seem to willingly stress ourselves out, especially during this recent epidemic. Stress can be blamed for so many deadly ailments, such as heart disease and alcoholism, it’s a wonder why we choose to worry when the worrying causes more harm than whatever it is we’re worried about. Jesus said “Do not worry” because it solves nothing, and because God will always provide for us, yet worry–or even panic–seems to be our go-to response to anything even slightly life-threatening or just unknown.
Life doesn’t have to be stressful. That seems so obvious, and yet so many of us have gotten so used to being stressed out that we think it’s the inevitable norm. It seems to be the one constant in our lives even when everything else changes.
What if we could eliminate one of the primary causes of stress: the conditions surrounding our work?
Stress and Integrated Lives
Even before the pandemic, we were seeing more and more people choosing to work from home. Why not? While it makes work less stressful, it also promotes family life.
A study showed that productivity increased among a control group of 250 employees given the freedom to work from home.
A survey by Global Workplace Analytics and FlexJobs indicates that remote work has grown 91% over the last 10 years, and 159% over the last 12 years.
These are just a few of the many benefits that come with working from home, when feasible.
This article is not about the benefits of working from home, though. It’s about why life doesn’t have to be stressful. My reason for bringing it up is because at the root of the work-from-home philosophy is not leisure, but life integration–something we’ve lost in modern times. We think the opportunity to work from home is a modern development, but for centuries it was common for people to work on the farm or in some other family business on their home property for their primary work. The unnatural separation between our home community and our work community has not only caused more stress, but it has also caused us to be divided, and maybe the two–stress and division–go hand in hand. This separation of our work and home communities not only makes us part of two communities that hardly interact. It also basically gives us two separate lives that hardly ever intersect. Some people may like this, but all in all, it is unnatural. Our lives are meant to be integrated.
Unintegrated lives have become the norm, and so we’ve become numb to the effects. A divided life leads to a lack of cohesion and an inability to make connections between causes and effects. For example, a father may infer that his children misbehaved all day while he was gone by observing the look on his wife’s face when he comes home, but no recap of events will be as good as if he had simply been there to observe it all. For many, this aspect of family life may seem to be an added stress, but in the long term, it is the disconnect between him and his family that will cause more serious problems.
One may say it is the father’s job to go out into the world and be the provider and protector for the family in that way. Perhaps this was true in a time when we had a stronger sense of identity as a society, and when the family was more of a bulwark of society before which a man would put nothing except God. But now families are in jeopardy, and as a result, civilization is as well. Therefore, the need to build up the family every way we can is crucial.
God at the Center
I truly believe the only reason our lives are stressful is that we think there is no other way, so we just find ways to deal with it. We go to spas, take vacations, pad our social lives with feel-good social media posts. In my mind this all just points to a deeper tragedy: most of us are not at peace with our regular life, so we have to supplement it with sugar-coated jolts of happiness.
What can possibly change this ubiquitous problem? A better economy? Less corrupt politics? Better art and entertainment in the culture? Yes, of course, these things could help, but there is only one thing that can make them all happen at once, and that is to put God in the center of our lives. You see, our lives are so stressful because there is no underlying, unifying element underneath it all. We’ve heard of great cultures in the past enduring great hardship because they had faith in God, and it unified them, gave them a common lifestyle, and made them come out stronger in the end. I’m thinking particularly of the underground Church and Jews in periods of persecution. Somehow, they managed to get through it all. I’m sure it was tough waking up every morning knowing they may be imprisoned or killed for their faith. Yet they persevered and it defined their lives, all because they kept God at the center.
We live in a society where autonomy is the champion. Little did we know such a lifestyle would come at such a great cost. Our autonomous lifestyle led to communities divided by religion, ethnicity, age, wealth; all so we could each live how we please. This autonomy may give us a great sense of individuality, but as a society, it makes us a ship without a rudder. With no direction as a society, we are all running around like headless chickens trying to put out fires at every turn. We don’t know what’s important, so everything becomes important.
Contrast this milieu with that of, say, the large village of medieval Europe where all of life revolved around the church, square and marketplace. Everything was interconnected to create a self-sufficient community. There were no suburbs dependent on larger cities, big companies, and government. Travel and communication were not as easy, so the global economy (if there was one) wasn’t as much of a threat to small merchants and artisans. For all of the modern conveniences we tout today, it seems the simple life of the medieval village had some commendable qualities we would envy today. Now, I wouldn’t trade modern life for the medieval lifestyle–but a few lifestyle changes of the medieval variety here and there wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Just as our autonomy comes at a price, so does our global economy that allows us to live autonomous lives. Lack of self-sufficient communities not only makes us more dependent on outside sources. In recent months we’ve seen how a codependent global community can make us more vulnerable to diseases.
Tying everything back together, we see how employers are encouraging employees to work from home when possible if only to minimize the possibility of the coronavirus spreading. Coincidentally, the only reason we need to leave our local community to work is so that we can financially survive in a global economy, and yet if it were not for the global economy this coronavirus may have never even reached our shores.
One in Christ
I’m imagining a world where local, regional, and national communities interact with one another out of choice, not out of necessity. A paradigm shift from global interconnectedness to local self-sufficiency can benefit all when we notice many of the things we thought only big organizations can provide we can actually provide for ourselves if we work hard at achieving this goal.
By being tethered to the global community, we’ve taken on the weight of the whole world. Let’s take up the light burden of Christ instead and remember that we need only one thing: love of God. Hopefully, that interior oneness then takes root in our lives, so our lives become integrated as every aspect of it becomes rooted in that love.
To bring it all together, I will say that I work from home and it has helped me gain the perspective I’m talking about. While I love going into the office every now and then to absorb the great culture there and to catch up with my amazing co-workers, it’s easy for that environment to drag one down with the worries of the world. I’m not saying there is no hope for those who can’t work from home, just that working from home has helped me get in touch with what St. Theresa of Avila called the “interior castle”. Many saints have recognized that same dwelling place of the soul where God dwells with us. Once we get in touch with it, once we know the path to it and have the key, we can go there even when in the midst of the most cantankerous crowd–and no matter how much the worries of the world try to assail us they will not succeed.