Some time back, a friend of mine went on a mission’s trip to Haiti. She was a part of Friendships, an organization that brings aid around the world by cargo ship to wherever it is needed most. Joining them on that trip was a group of young men who acted as security. They had para-military training and went, in uniform, with the missionaries and aid-workers to protect them.
As in many other parts of the world, church services in Haiti tended to run for four hours or more. These young men had to stand, “at ease” for the entire service, at their assigned positions. When my friend had the opportunity to talk to one of the young men during a lunch break, she commented, “At least you can stand ‘at ease’ all that time and you don’t have to stand at ‘attention’.” The young man lowered his head and smiled and said, “Actually, it’s much harder to stand ‘at ease’ for that long than it is to stand at attention.”
He went on to explain that the hardest part of standing at “attention” was that sometimes your hands might cramp but you could easily and unnoticeably straighten them out. When you stand “at ease” with your hands behind your back, your shoulders and upper back and arms get sore pretty fast. Trying to stretch them would be very obvious and would not be acceptable.
I was thinking about that and how it relates to some life lessons I’ve been learning recently. I’ve been working on writing a study about setting goals and keeping them, learning to prioritize effectively, and the importance of balance in our lives. I’ve noticed that “at ease” is deceptive in our daily lives too. We tend to idealize the concept…that a “life of ease” is something to aspire to, and if you plan effectively you can achieve it in your retirement. Most of us settle for a little “at ease” once a week; and if we are really lucky, an occasional week of ease for vacation once or twice a year.
To us, ease means comfort. Comfort means a lack of strife, a lack of effort. The problem is that if we allow this to become our mentality, it saps us of our momentum and we languish. We grow weak and feeble. We cannot tolerate hard work and all around us becomes clutter and chaos. In the same way a steady diet of comfort food packs on the pounds and leaves us non-functional blobs, a steady diet of ease leaves us unprepared for the challenges of life. When they hit, like they inevitably do, they will hit us harder and more easily defeat us that if we are lean, mean, functioning machines.
In contrast to ease is rest. While ease is about facing nothing but what requires no effort, rest is about choosing to dwell in a place of tranquility. While ease creates weakness, rest restores strength. In the past couple of months I have worked very hard. I cleaned out and organized my part of the garage. It was hard work; but now if I need something, I know exactly where to go to find it. Whenever I go out to the laundry room I glimpse the fruits of my labor and I smile, contentedly. I’ve finally reached that place in my room. Clutter has been removed and necessaries are contained in beautiful decorative boxes or baskets. Space has been created. I walk into the room and I feel peace, like a salve, come over my soul. This peace, however, not only required effort to achieve, it requires effort to maintain. Should I slip back into “ease” mode, my room will quickly spiral back into clutter and chaos and peace will disappear. Sure, I might still be able to function, but at the cost of peace. I know from personal experience I can only function like that for so long before I become one stressed out, deeply unpleasant person.
I have learned the difference between ease and peace. I want peace. I’m willing to work for it. It’s worth it.