I recently started a series of posts about graced realities which I have found to be helpful in the pursuit of chastity, defined deeply as the mastery through grace of internal sexual desires and passions, and their ordering according to the will of God. When people are married in the Church, they undergo marriage counseling; when people enter religious life, they have a period of intensive formation. Yet for people in the most difficult situation within which to pursue chastity, cut off from both marriage and the support of a religious community, there is little discussion of how to make this sustainable in a lifelong way. In a previous post, I discussed friendship.
My second post in the series is on a much more mundane subject, but one which, in my experience, is real enough and relevant enough to warrant a place in this project: stress management. As I have progressed in the academic life, I have learned that this progression results in more and more things that need my attention. Put simply, a PhD student reaches a point where he or she is never “done;” there are always more projects that needs tending to, and any time spent doing something else becomes time stolen from academic work. Like Lady Violet on Downton Abbey, we too can ask “What is a weekend,” though for entirely different reasons! This is the nature of a vocation: it permeates a person’s entire existence, and provides it with structure. The vocation overpowers us, but also invigorates us. I expect this to grow truer after I graduate and, God willing, get a position at a college or university.
While this is certainly a good and stimulating thing, it can also lead to significant amounts of stress. if allowed to grow, stress can weaken us, and make us more vulnerable to sins against chastity (as well as other sins, such as wrath, gluttony, etc.). Trying to find healthier ways to relieve the stress has been very helpful for me. I try to make sure that I have decent down time (though avoiding idleness, which begets sin), that I do some things just because they are fun, and that I spend quality time with friends. The enjoyment of the company of friends is a central part of this stress management, for our friends can refresh us, and offer support that alleviates the stress that, when we try to bear it alone, can seem overwhelming.
I do not attempt to give specific, point by point tips for stress management; there is a host of resources on this topic, and I have nothing in particular to offer to develop those resources. I merely note it, as something which I have found to be helpful in pursuing chastity.
Joshua Gonnerman lives in Washington, DC, where he is pursuing a doctorate in historical theology. His main focus is on Augustine, and he hopes to dissertate on Augustine’s doctrine of grace. He has also occasionally published in First Things, Spiritual Friendship, and PRISM Magazine, where he makes small attempts to help re-orient the way the Church relates to gay people. He can be followed on Twitter: @JoshuaGonnerman.
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I wonder what people under hardscrabble poor conditions think about the luxury that I have to relieve stress by doing fun things with fantastic friends. They probably don’t have time to think about it at all.
Reminds me of Agur in Proverbs 30:8-9: “give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. 9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.”
One of the things that I am constantly thankful for is that my middle-class life has neither the stresses of the rich, nor the stresses of the poor, so stress-relief is within my grasp.
And, yes, relieving stress does help me to stay chaste. Thanks for the reminder.
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Take what I said just above, generalize it from the individual level to the level, and write much more eloquently than I, and you get this article in First Things.
I know that it’s slightly off-thread, but worth the read.
* “to the social level” …
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