Recently, an article in the Daily Herald caught my attention. It was titled; Fewer Americans pray to ease stress. The article indicated that the levels of stress continue to stay the same but that how people react to stress is changing. The survey conducted by the American Psychological Association reported that only 29 percent of Americans polled said they pray to relieve stress, a gradual decline from 37 percent in 2008. People use listening to music and exercising as a way to cope with stress more often. There is also an increase in yoga and meditation. The article concluded that the image of God is what makes prayer as a stress reliever effective. A person who’s God is loving and merciful, close not distant will find relief. One’s whose God is distant, acting only as a judge will not find prayer as helpful in relieving stress.
This information made me think about the role of prayer in our lives. During this brief season of Ordinary Time, we hear from the gospel of Mark. Mark has a reputation for moving rapidly. It is a short gospel and action packed. The gospel for this coming Sunday, February 4th shows Jesus moving at a rapid pace. I was reminded of my to-do lists which I depended upon when working full time. I think I derived from it too much satisfaction regarding what I could accomplish. Then I tried to imagine what Jesus would have put on his to-do list based on the gospel I read. It might be something like this; teach in the synagogue, cure Simon’s mother-in-law, cure the sick and cast out demons, after a night’s rest rise early to spend time in prayer, continue preaching and curing the sick. Jesus as portrayed by the community of Mark was extremely busy. He did, however, take time for prayer. How many of us include on our to-do lists a time for prayer? Perhaps that is part of the problem of why prayer is declining as a way to relieve stress. Our image of God may play a role but first of all we need to make prayer important in our lives consciously setting aside time to pray.
Lent is just around the corner. Perhaps this is a good time to make sure that our “to-do” list always includes daily prayer. Being committed to personal prayer and public prayer can help us to control stress in our lives.