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Wisdom from mom brings rest for your souls

Kate Barrett | Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What do these three pieces of advice have in common? Take a shower and see how you feel. Remember to say thank you and offer to help. Stand up straight.

In addition to the fact that your mother may have said all of them to you at one time or another (my mom did), they also each contain little bits of wisdom for these busy, stressful days of exams, travel and holidays. Put them together and you may notice an improvement in your ability to navigate the next few weeks.

When my brother and sister and I were growing up, if we woke up feeling sick (unless we absolutely couldn’t drag ourselves out of bed) our mom would always advise us to “take a shower and see how you feel” before pulling the plug on school or whatever else we had going on that day. And doesn’t the shower solution stand the test of time? You know it: no matter how tired, cranky or unprepared for that exam (or even just the day) you feel, post-shower is always a substantial step above pre-shower. So even if your schedule is so turned around in these next eight days or so that you can barely remember if it’s time for breakfast or dinner, don’t skip the shower! You’ll be glad for the gift of those five minutes.

Whenever we would accept an invitation to a friend’s house for a meal, our mom would send us off with, “Remember to say thank you and offer to help!” Although it never hurt to impress someone else’s mom a time or two along the way, what has stuck with me about this advice has been the importance of feeling real gratitude and acting in response to that gratitude. Despite the anxiety attendant on this time of the year — or really whenever we face worry, sorrow or oppression — taking a moment to find a person, situation or other reason to be thankful can help us regain perspective. And once you have found a reason to be grateful, don’t just sit there! Take one, five or 30-some minutes to call home, text your brother, thank the lunch lady in SDH or pick up the trash someone dropped on the beautiful quad outside your hall. Go to the grotto and light a candle for someone you know who has more serious problems than you do.

And finally, stand up straight. “What?” You ask. “Who cares?” Let’s face it, you’re all trapped; doomed to languish in the depths of the Worst Posture Generation. You have grown up with bigger backpacks and greater quantities of heavier books than I or anyone schooled in the 20th century ever carried, and yet you were born just barely too soon to be one of those kids who will go carry nothing but an iPad or its futuristic cousins for their entire 12 years of elementary and high school education. So how can you possibly be expected to stand up straight? Well, remember the beautiful, comforting words of encouragement Jesus offers us in Matthew’s gospel: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

Sometimes we are stooped not merely from the weight of a Chemistry text or a binder full of research notes, but from worrying over a family situation, a friend’s illness, financial fears or even a careless action or comment that has snowballed into a painful argument. These are exactly the burdens Jesus wants to lift from us, exactly the place from which he offers, “I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

In the common — even somewhat ironic — ways that the call of Christian faith clashes with the voice of our culture, we find ourselves in the midst of Advent, a season which presents us with hope for healing, comfort, the redemption and transformation of our lives and world. Yet even as these weeks offer us freedom of heart, we unfortunately feel more ensnared than perhaps any other time of the year by pressure, anxiety and even fear. Making daily time for prayer or talking to a trusted RA or rector can become vehicles for Christ to bring rest for your soul.

So if you find yourself overwhelmed by exams, by mixed feelings about going home for Christmas, by stress in even your closest relationships, try some or all of these simple steps. Take a shower; find the bright spots around you for which to be grateful; allow the Lord to work through other people or through your prayer to lift any burdens that keep you from standing up straight. May God bless each of you in these weeks of Advent and Christmas … and finals.

Kate Barrett is the director of the Emmaus Program in Campus Ministry. She can be reached at kbarrett@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.