Want to live an extraordinary life? The best route to that goal is to follow the two great commandments: love God, and love your neighbor. However, you first need to get past the roadblocks of anger and stress that knock so many of us off our paths.
Thankfully, two authors have now written guides to help you do just that. Deacon Greg Kandra – the Emmy award-winning and Christopher award-winning former CBS News writer who runs the popular Deacon’s Bench blog – recently released “The Busy Person’s Guide to an Extraordinary Life.” And Gary Zimak – an in-demand speaker and radio host who shares his story of how God helped him overcome a crippling anxiety problem – has penned “Let Go of Anger and Stress.” They joined me for an interview on “Christopher Closeup” (full podcast below).
Deacon Greg noted that the old Army slogan, “Be all that you can be,” can also apply to us as Christians. Loving God and our neighbor allows us “to summon the best in us and to fulfill our greatest potential.”
But what does “love” mean in this context? In his book, Gary uses the definition that St. Thomas Aquinas put forth: to love is to will the good of another.
Gary continued, “The world will tell us that love is a feeling, but in reality the kind of love that Jesus commands us to perform is not a feeling but a conscious decision. It’s an action. I can love somebody even if I don’t have good feelings for that person.”
Though God’s love for us should be a foundational teaching of Christianity, Deacon Greg’s experiences revealed to him that a lot of people have missed that message. He said, “So many people don’t feel lovable, or they feel unloved and don’t realize how much God loves them…A friend of mine, a deacon, was getting ready to preach his very first homily…The pastor said very gently, ‘Whatever you tell them, remember to tell them that God loves them.’ That always stuck with me. Whenever I have preached about this or even when I’ve written about it, that has resonated with people so much because there are so many people who don’t feel loved. The world is hard on us, especially now…You can forget that God is there looking out for us, and that He loves and cares about us.”
In today’s world, stress and anger can eclipse the light of God’s love. While righteous anger can lead to positive, constructive action, the type of anger often exhibited today – even by people of faith – stems from a darker place that can hinder our closeness to God.
Gary explained, “Many people who have been trying to evangelize, and who have been doing a really good job sharing the gospel, have pushed me away because of their anger and their lack of joy. I don’t want to follow a person like that, and Jesus was not like that. Yes, He was straightforward. He would tell the truth, but He was filled with joy. As Christians, we’ve got to exhibit joy or else nobody’s going to listen to us.”
In learning to deal with crippling anxiety, Gary learned that stress and anger are issues that “both flow from the same thing: a lack of control…If I try to control other people, try to control my circumstances, I can easily become angry and frustrated. You’re right, righteous anger is one thing. But if I’m about to act on my righteous anger, if I see an injustice in the world, I’ve got to do it with love. That’s what Jesus told me to do. This whole book that I’ve written, ‘Let Go of Anger and Stress,’ is a Holy Spirit book. This book is about letting the Holy Spirit work through us, and one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is love. I can’t love on my own. There are people that annoy me so bad that I’m just not going to pray for that person if it was up to me. That’s where I get into trouble, and this is where Jesus, through His spirit, tells me, ‘No, Gary, you have to make that decision to love that person through prayer. You don’t have to take them out to dinner, but you have to do what’s best for that person and pray for them.'”
The truth is that Christians are evangelizing through their behaviors and actions, whether they consciously intend to or not. Deacon Greg recalled, “When my wife and I went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, one of the people who was traveling with us was a woman who had just recently come into the Church the previous Easter. I asked her what it was that made her want to become Catholic, and she said, ‘It was my boss…I saw the way he lived, the way he treated his family, and the way he treated his coworkers. There was a light in him, and I wanted that.’ I think about that all the time, and I’ve preached about it a little bit. It’s a challenge to all of us: would somebody speak about us that way? Am I giving out the light that is going to attract them to my way of life and to my belief?”
Deacon Greg witnessed a humbling act of love many years ago that remains with him to this day and has influenced his own faith. On his way home from work, he picked up a bag of fresh, warm bagels from a local store. Upon entering the subway station to catch his train, he saw a homeless man begging for money. Deacon Greg asked the man if he would like a bagel. The homeless man’s face lit up, and he said he’d love one.
“He acted like I had given him a sirloin steak,” recalled Deacon Greg. “I was feeling so proud of myself, that I had had this generous Francis of Assisi moment with this poor guy…I went through the turnstiles, and as my train pulled in, I was looking for the homeless guy and I couldn’t see him. I had to look all the way down to the end of the platform. He had walked to…another homeless guy there, and he broke his bagel in half and gave half to his friend. I got on my train and I thought, ‘Wow!’ I thought I had done something beautiful and wonderful, but here was this guy who had nothing, giving half of what he had to someone who had even less…I describe it as Emmaus in a subway station. I saw Jesus there in the breaking of the bagel. “
That homeless man exhibited not just a sense of selflessness, but also of peace. And peace is another gift of the Holy Spirit that will help us move beyond anger and stress. Peace is not just the absence of conflict, though.
Gary explained, “Peace is a sense of serenity or tranquility that allows us to remain untroubled in the face of serious or unpleasant circumstances…It’s the ability to sleep in the boat while the storm is raging around us…Jesus was able to do that. Why? Because He knew He was in control. If He gives us His spirit through the Holy Spirit, we’re able to tap into that peace, that serenity, even though the world might be crumbling, according to the news. We’re able to be at peace in duress knowing that He’s in control.”
Achieving this peaceful state is an ongoing process, admits Gary, who takes his own stumbles in this area with humor and humility. He said, “I try to be as transparent as I can. The day my shipment of the books came from the publisher, I’m driving in the car with my wife and my daughters and I exploded over something. I just lost it and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so embarrassing. The guy who wrote Let Go of Anger and Stress …’ But it happens. We’re a work in progress. I’m going to be working on this every day for the rest of my life and I think that’s the way the Lord wants it. He just wants us to keep trying each day.”
In closing, Deacon Greg hopes that readers of “The Busy Person’s Guide to an Extraordinary Life” think “a little bit more about what God is doing in their lives. The book is about two great commandments, loving God and loving your neighbor…I hope it opens their eyes a little bit to seeing God’s love at work in the world and how He touches us and impacts our lives even in ways we may not realize. Like that homeless guy on the subway was a gift from God to me that I look back on with tremendous gratitude.”
And regarding “Let Go of Anger and Stress,” Gary hopes that readers “will start to lean on the Spirit and let the Spirit become active in their lives because none of us can live the Christian life on our own. Jesus knew that. That’s why He sent the Spirit. We can’t just do it by gritting our teeth and saying, ‘I’m going to be peaceful. I’m going to be joyful. I will be patient.’ [We do it] by leaning on the Spirit and by praying that simple prayer, ‘Come, Holy Spirit.’ I pray it often, and you know what? It really works.”
(To listen to my full interview with Deacon Greg Kandra and Gary Zimak, click on the podcast link):