A Great Time to Be Alive

A half-century ago, a study commission was created to look into the matter of stress and its impact on the health of the American population. Its chairman was Paul Dudley White, who is widely recognized as the founder of preventive cardiology and was the personal physician for President Eisenhower. The commission announced what we take for granted today, that stress is a killer and must be dealt with in order to live a healthy well-functioning life.

When asked what people could do to get stress out of their lives, Dr. White said, “Stress is life.”

There is no getting around stress. Even if one stays home and locks all the doors and has his meals slipped under his door, the human spirit still finds matters to worry about, causes to stress over. If you are alive, you are dealing with stress.

Stress is not “par for the course;” it is the course.

“Economy is lousy, and so is our health.” So goes the headline in Tuesday’s Times-Picayune. The article by Stephen Smith is a reprint from the Boston Globe, and brings news that has to have been expected. The tanking economy with its burgeoning unemployment lines, foreclosed homes, and revelations of waste and scandals in high circles is affecting the health of Americans.

Smith writes, “At Massachusetts General Hospital, patients whose blood pressure was in check just weeks ago now find it rocketing out of control. They blame the economy.”

“At Boston Medical Center, obese patients who had been shedding weight are packing on pounds again as they resort to cheaper, high-calorie food and abandon gym memberships. They blame the economy.”

“At a Framingham doctor’s office, patients forgo screening tests such as colonoscopies because they don’t want to spend scarce dollars on copayments. They blame the economy.”

As a result of the unstable situation in our nation and world, people are stressed about their situations, depressed about the future, and obsessed over their personal lives. Taking care of their health, a long-range proposition, becomes less urgent than getting through this week and this month. A visit to the doctor or membership in the gym seem to be options they can live without, particularly if it means choosing between that or making the car payment.

I read these things and grieve for people who adopt self-defeating habits during hard times. The very idea — that one has to have a gym membership in order to stay healthy! All he has to do is get outside and walk! Buy some fruit and veggies from the local grocery.

“A vigorous five-mile walk will do more good for an unhappy, but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world.” —Paul Dudley White

Tough times is no excuse to neglect one’s health. There have always been difficult days for one group or another.

A generation ago, my friend Jim Hankins made a little joke about his humble beginnings. “I wasn’t born in a log cabin, but as soon as we could afford it, we moved into one. The only way we knew there was a Depression was when everyone else started living the way we were living.”

The old line that claims “misery loves company” is a half-truth. No one who is discouraged takes strength from the depression and sadness of others around him. On the other hand, if you have lost your job and are in danger of losing your home, you draw a tiny bit of solace from hearing that hundreds of your neighbors are facing the same bleak prospects. At least, it means this was probably not your fault. That helps a little. It also implies the government may soon take action to reverse the situation since millions of others are in the same boat.

In good times, it’s so easy for believers to quote our Lord who said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things.” (Matthew 6:33-34)

In bad times — and just exactly what constitutes a bad time is a matter of opinion and debate — telling someone not to worry but to trust in the Lord sounds a lot like denying reality and “pie-in-the-sky” religious hokum.

And yet, this is the very time when we learn the strategic value of the Lord’s counsel.

One night this week while watching the evening news I felt an overwhelming rush of compassion for our new president. One has to wonder if Mr. Obama had any inkling what he was taking on when he decided to run for this job. He rushes from a meeting dealing with the Middle East to another concerned about fighting terrorism to a conference on the economy. Meanwhile, congressional leaders are waiting to see him in another room, he’s due at the State Department for the swearing in of Hillary Clinton as his new Secretary of State, and the press wants a statement from him on the auto industry. His people await his guidance on new legislation, the budget, the stimulus package, off-shore drilling, levee protection, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and one hundred other matters.

Wonder how he likes it.

During World War II, the noted New York Pastor Harry Emerson Fosdick published a book of sermons he preached to his people under the intriguing title, “A Great Time to Be Alive.” I own a tattered copy of that old paperback.

Fosdick points out that with all the misery, deprivations, and challenges of wartime, one who looks to God for strength and guidance will find all his systems alert, his mind engaged, and his very existence challenged to the limit. Those who choose to be salt and light in this world will have the greatest opportunity they will ever know at such moments.

“It’s put up or shut up time.” That playground challenge fits God’s people here and now.

Time to decide what we believe and how strongly we believe it.

We are people of prayer or we aren’t. Bad times will tell.

We are people of faith or not. Bad times will tell.

We are people of faithfulness or we aren’t.

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:7)

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways, acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Easy to say. Tough to do. But always the right thing to do.

4 thoughts on “A Great Time to Be Alive

  1. For years I have pushed Scott Peck’s book The Road Less traveled. I tell people the first two pages are worth more than the book’s price. Peck points out that we all expect to turn a corner one day and everything will be fine. Not so. Life is a struggle, and as soon as we accept that fact, life is no longer such a struggle. Even as Christians, we will always face difficult times. Sports is an excellent metaphor here: there’s always another game, another season. And I certainly agree. Tough times test us.For that matter so do good times test us in a different way. So we can trust Christ or trust ourselves. Guess what? Only He will carry us through, good times or bad.

  2. A friend tells a story from the Great Depession in the late ’20’s. Several men were congregated around the pot-bellied stove at a country store. They were crying on one anothers’ shoulders about how hard times were. One man announced that things were getting better. He said that the day before he saw a rabbit pass his house and there were only six men chasing it.

  3. A friend tells a story from the Great Depession in the late ’20’s. Several men were congregated around the pot-bellied stove at a country store. They were crying on one anothers’ shoulders about how hard times were. One man announced that things were getting better. He said that the day before he saw a rabbit pass his house and there were only six men chasing it.

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