Financial and Spiritual Stress Test

Financial Stress Test:

More than half of us do not…

A financial stress test lets an individual, business, or institution simulate an economic crisis under a variety of circumstances. My suggestion is if you are considering improving your spiritual foundation – conducting a financial stress test of your finances with “eyes wide open” is an excellent place to start. The details of your earnings, spending habits, planning, and overall financial wellness will be insightful for anyone seeking spiritual transcendence – regardless of overall financial wealth. It is hard to be there for God or others when your finances are in disarray or distress. “If your struggling with Money, Read this” article from NPR or listen to the 17-minute podcast.   

Or perhaps these other resources may be helpful as well. How Exactly Do You Stress-Test Your Financial Plan? This Kiplinger article explains the basics for both everyday living (budget, emergency fund, and what to do with cash liquidity) and portfolio management. This is not the article to read for the do-it-yourself (DIY) guy. It provides just enough information to recommend you get a financial planner! Perhaps that is best. Would you pass a financial stress test today? What is in your emergency fund today? What is your debt to income ratio? Do you know this without having to look now? More than half of us do not keep a budget or know how much we spend! I strongly suggest you start here – with an honest appraisal of where you are now. Most Americans reach financial safety by small victories accruing overtime over the long haul.   Start or revisit your financial plan today! My suggestion is to find a way to budget and track your money first in a manner that you can maintain over time – whether by an app, an excel sheet, a fancy tool (Quicken), or simply pen and paper!  

I am putting money here ahead of Spiritual practice for a reason: 

Matthew Chapter 6 has much to say about money, including 19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[e] destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” These biblical verses almost seem to say, do not worry about tomorrow or money! That is not the case. 

Spiritual Stress Test and Financial Stress Test Relationship:

A financial stress test lets an individual, business, or institution simulate an economic crisis under a variety of circumstances. My suggestion is if you are considering improving your spiritual foundation – conducting a financial stress test of your finances with “eyes wide open” is an excellent place to start.

The chapter teaches daily life management and setting priorities – not avoiding fiscal or other responsibilities. It concludes with  34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” 

If we handle your priorities today and give the rest to God, we will be prepared to handle both adversity and prosperity (in whatever form) that may come our way. 

Handling money and finances by being aware of every dollar’s intrinsic value and putting it to work aligned with your priorities in life will feed your spiritual soul if done correctly. Look at where you spend your money now – does it bring you closer to peaceful living and spiritual harmony or farther away? Does it support your financial stability today and prepare for tomorrow or create instability? Does it help others? Know yourself financially, and you may well be on the way to greater awareness of your spiritual wellness. Money remains a top stressor in American life.

As an anecdotal point, one study published in 2020 entitled “Worldview Under Stress: Preliminary Findings on Cardiovascular and Cortisol Stress Responses Predicted by Secualrity, Religoisty, Spirituality, and Existential Search found that “Contrary to our expectation, self-identification as atheist was not associated with an advantage in dealing with social stress. Atheists’ stress responses were substantially higher than those shown by self-identified religious participants. Self-ascribed atheism may (theoretically) suggest an orientating worldview, but it does not appear to be a predictor of healthy stress regulation.” In essence, your spiritual health could affect your ability to handle stress physiologically, as evidenced by this study.

Tv Preacher Memes

Before going any further, let me make a personal claim – I do not believe a strong faith will guarantee prosperity! I believe our faith can sustain us in strength, hope, and dignity in times of prosperity or great poverty. Both prosperity and poverty can wreak havoc with our spiritual or moral vision of how we should live our lives.   P.S. some very fine people and spirituality happen in prosperity churches in spite of a disproportionate amount of energy being “spent” on wealth acquirement – this claim is not directed at Joel Olsteen or any church for that matter.

Spiritual Stress Test:

There is a lot out there on the financial stress test. Not so much on Spiritual Stress Test. Who wants to do that at all. Life presents enough spiritual crisis every day! I fear we have become numb to a spiritual crisis in the face of commonplace human misery:  poverty, hatred, war, violence, hatred, and other human conditions that devalue life. If we genuinely conducted a spiritual stress test, we

110 Spiritual Quotes About Inner Peace and Love (2021)

would, in all likelihood, come up in the Red.    We also may be afraid that taking a self-assessment may call for more spiritual activity – where would we find the time and would not take us away from our worldly responsibilities? To the contrary, many believe and find it deepens our involvement with the world and the people around us.

There are many attempts to clinicalize spiritual assessments in the mental health field to tap into patients’ spiritual strengths as part of recovery.    Borrowing from the International Journal of Palliative Care, whose discipline routinely works with the spiritual needs of patients at the end of life or while dealing with uncontrolled chronic medical illnesses, one might check out the “Hope” tool. The American Family Physician offers a review of several tools in this article called “The Spiritual Assessment” by the American Family Physician Journal, including the Hope tool in a modified form:

H:  What are your sources of hope, strength, comfort, and peace? What do you hold on to during difficult times? 

O:  Are you part of a religious or spiritual community? Does it help you? How?

P:  Do you have personal spiritual beliefs? What aspects of your personal and spiritual beliefs do you find most helpful? 

E:  Does your current situation affect your ability to do the things that usually help you spiritually? 

Adapted with permission from Anandarajah G, Hight E. Spirituality and medical practice: using the HOPE questions as a practical tool for spiritual assessment. Am Fam Physician. 2001;63(1):87.

The medical field has recognized spirituality is a vital source of patient care during times of medical crisis. I do not want to be searching for spiritual answers when amid a crisis. Like knowing my financial picture – I want to know where I stand spiritually daily and be aware of how my actions and thoughts align with my spirituality all the time.  You can do this on your own today or seek out a spiritual advisor that you trust.

Yet our spirituality or prayer life is not much better than how we handle finances: “A Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2014 found that 45% of Americans – and a majority of Christians (55%) – say they rely a lot on prayer and personal religious reflection when making major life decisions. The same survey found that 63% of Christians in the U.S. say praying regularly is an essential part of their Christian identity.”

How did I get here to this moment, reflecting on spirituality and financial stress testing? I woke up this morning not wanting to read spiritual material or pray and ask my wife to join me to start doing taxes. Both sentiments are a form of “sloth” or spiritual and financial laziness in today’s terms. I thought about blogging and felt empty there too. I turned to the live cam at Lourdes and sipped my coffee – the rosary was in process in French with no sub captions. I grabbed my rosary beads. I was watching and holding the beads – still not aware or connected to what I should do…my computer went to a black screen (froze), and my rosary beads separated. I went and checked on family! Then I went back to my room and started my morning prayer and reading. 

The words that came to me were writing on prayer’s difficulties after my morning readings. Life’s stressors (finances as an example) and immense human suffering are barriers to my prayer. It sometimes seems as if prayer is very far removed from daily reality. 

Prayer’s Place:

My morning reading hit a few points on this challenge. The author, Joseph A. Tetlow, S.J. hit on the following points, among others that resonated with me today paraphrased into my words:

  • Our prayer time is to talk to and listen to God; it is not in a vacuum but an interactive and searching revelation.
  • Sloth is a refusal to accept gifts given to us (we are inherently creatures of action with given talents and abilities)
  • Sometimes we could go the other way and pray like a “workaholic.” Fill our time with business; even in prayer can turn into purely human activity, denying God’s spirit to talk to us genuinely.    Tetlow advises, “wastetime with God.” Or, in other words, for me – be patient and be present – more will be revealed if I am open. 
  • Avoid intolerance and a notion of “praying better.” This may be more spiritual pride than a spiritual discipline, spiritually gluttony rather than divinely inspired prayer.   

Prayer and Action:

Many churches or religious organizations have come to realize that financial well-being of their congregation and of the institution is vital for continued focus on spiritual development and acts. Some even hold events like Dave Ramsey workshops and other activities in addition to ministries to the poor. Getting a grip on our own financial and spiritual wellness is pivotal for our ability to go to the next level of genuine spiritual altruism. I dislike the word “warfare” below – but I love the message it may send to readers that relate to sports or western competitive notions.

Giving time or money to good causes when we have excess is a key to individual and universal peace. I personally sometimes put more investment into a sports game or chess game than I do into say fighting for social justice, eradicating poverty, or simply being mindful of someone suffering nearby in my community. The discipline to the latter rather than seeking refuge in games of leisure requires a game plan…though both have their place, one should almost always take priority. Even recreation has a place in our lives. Enjoy that football game – and then do what the Cheifs fans – a 13 dollar donation drive to a Bills player charity Not the ending the Bill’s wanted – but a subscript for the ages in football.

Slide 8 (JPG) | Life, Money, Legacy | Financial Peace University | Free  Church Resources from Life.Church

Therapy and Spirituality

Where spirituality and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy meet at the cross roads of a psychiatric crisis change can be miraculous.

This brave college student shared a deep experience of being “broken” by several life pressures. Quickly, in mental health speak concepts like adjustment disorder, cultural acclimation challenge, anxiety disorders, and perhaps major depression single episode come to mind. Diagnostically none of the words matter – the treatment and interventions are key. This kid found three elements for recovery or answers for his trial with life: family, therapy, and spirituality.

All too often we need a crisis before we consider the value of all three of these elements that can promote good health, healthy relationships, and internal peace.

His story is below. A short read with only superficial mention of the road to recovery. I imagine it was not easy and involved many steps, some deep and insightful. Others just ritual and developing muscle memory for the ego and for the soul.

If your suffering out there, seek help now. If you can’t find it, message me a zip code and type of mental health crisis you are facing. No promises, but I will look for resources. Of course, if you are thinking of harming yourself now, call the nearest crisis hotline near you, 911, or go to a hospital. God will be with you all along – you can seek him once the risk of self-harm is addressed.

https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2021/07/30/mental-health-ignatian-spirituality-college-241140

Mysticism

Friedrick Nietzsche, German Philosopher, declared “God is Dead” in the late 1800s. In the 1980s I would author opposing papers regarding this assertion. The earlier version would assert an atheistic worldview and render belief in a personal God futile. The latter version would assert the opposite, that religion was dead, having lost its way and become a dead letter rather than anything representing a guide to a truly holy life. Post enlightenment and today we are far removed from the desert fathers or the mystics of the early Catholic Church.

After reading an article in America Media this a.m. “This is your soul on Mysticism” I wondered if Mysticism and prayer was “dead” in Catholicism and Christianity.

Mysticism is not dead. About a third of Catholic believers will report if asked that they have had a “mystical” experience. That is a pretty high number given few of us have a disciplined “mystical” or “contemplative” prayer life.

The pandemic has provided us with increased isolation and an awareness of our mortality. Confronting the power of prayer now or deepening one’s prayer life is a positive pandemic opportunity.

I don’t imagine us walling ourselves off like Julian of Norwich though sometimes I wish I could live a hermetical life. Take a look at this article. How has the pandemic increased or decreased your connection to God? Perhaps a spiritual retreat is in your future.

https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2020/12/17/mysticism-covid-19-julian-norwich-239506

Death

“I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”
Mark Twain

I have a healthy respect for death these days, though unlike Twain, I still retain a certain degree of fear regarding my mortality.

disgust

How prepared can we be for the dimming of our own light? I have witnessed the prepared and the unprepared. Neither is pleasant, but the prepared are far better off in the final moments.

If you had a year to prepare for the day the light goes off, what would you do? Is there someone close to you who needs help preparing as well? Our lives and the lives of those we love do not need to end with despair or disgust.

Give death its due in 2021:

Make a list of what is important to you and your loved ones. Some ideas may include:

  1. Create or update your advanced directive.
  2. Take care of any asset issues (Will).
  3. Make amends where you can except when to do so would hurt others.
  4. Consider seeing a spiritual advisor (of your religious belief).
  5. Love the people in your life all your remaining days.
  6. Bucket list?
  7. Help others prepare?
  8. Exercise and eat right.

Live Life:

Giving death its due does not mean not living life but the opposite. Bring joy and happiness wherever you go. Perhaps avoid things that might kill you or make you miserable to be around!

Choose activities wisely. No sense running towards death. You probably have many things you want to do still before you meet the guy in the hoodie.

excercise

All humor aside. We don’t want to live looking backward. Do what you can now, concretely. Get it done.

Knock off the low hanging fruit first. Build in some healthy habits. Work on the human relationships as if each one was a relationship with God himself! There are so many resources out there for managing “To do” list. Planning for eternity is probably ranks pretty high up their in priorities!

Planning for a peaceful death does not have to be grim. Done with levity and purpose, it will make the quality of your life now better! It is about living our best life now. Start with a list and then get a daily agenda productivity app to make things happen in the “Life Domains” that need the most attention: personal relationships, advanced directive, will, God, health now, bucket list, or whatever is important to you. Don’t let it escape you – stick to the list even if it proves tenacious. By the end of 2021 if you do this – people will notice something different about you! They might not know what it is, but they will want to know you more! Do it quietly or do it loudly – just get it done.

Peace and serenity await you.


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Survival

Sitting on the beach reading a work of fiction a protagonist ponders with resentment, “Did his work have meaning or was it merely a means to survive? There was nothing shameful about trying to survive–it was the occupation of the majority. However, was it enough to live….and not even be sustained by a sense of purpose?”

Nesterov is with the military police in Communist Russia and is being promoted by his wife, an annoying visitor who is on the outs with establishment, and an underlying sense that he must do the right thing, even if it means death. There is no mention of God here, but you can feel the pull of Nesterov struggling to act in a transcendent manner.

We do not often if ever get faced with literal life and death choices to stand up for our principles. However, we are faced daily with the human striving for economic prosperity or safety, good social standing, and access to resources we deem valuable. Are we willing to compromise our principles or faith for the promotion of our self-centered desires?

Are we silent when we see injustice? Do we benefit from the misfortune of others? Are we willing to face our fears and perhaps even be courageous? Can we accept loss and sacrifice?

I imagine must of us see ourselves as well-meaning people, perhaps even worthy of being a protagonist archetype of good with just a little embellishment and grandiosity from an author with creative imagination. Digging a little deeper we could also round out our lives with our deep inner struggles with good, evil, and situational adversities that shaped our characters.

But is the mold done and the dye cast? Or are we still a work in progress, seeking perfection while fulfilling a transcendent purpose that is mostly beyond our intellectual and spiritual grasp?

It is easy for me to say survival is not enough – harder to practice it with perfect fidelity. Truth is I cannot achieve perfection here as I am chained to my human desires, instincts, and mortal flesh.

Only in prayer and faith do I stand a chance of spiritual alignment with a greater metaphysical truth.

It does not matter what our occupation is or activity at the moment, every action and thought is meaningful and connected to the whole.

Where do you find your meaning in life?

The 4 Partnerships 

My God is the most exceptional partner.   My God, Jesus, Mary, Saints, and Spiritual writers are my bedrock of sanity.  From the unimaginable to the tangible written word I have spiritual guidance and solace.   While they are within me and outside me, I still must actively seek union between my corporal body and thoughts and my soul’s wisdom and guidance.  The tools for me include daily prayer, Ignatian Examin, spiritual direction, and the sacraments of the church.   I was not called to be a hermit, yet I have been invited to live a holy life.

My meditation practices are for my peace.  Meditation is required of me to tame my anxious mind and unforgiving nature towards myself.  Without it, I tend to become overly enmeshed in human desires, fear-based thinking, pain avoidance, and the utter hopelessness of the human condition.  I place my actions in overdrive and even when in a state of non-activity remain hypervigilant to maximize achieving my ideas and pursuit of coveted ends and control of my destiny.  A mind on overdrive leaves little room for any partners of the spiritual or human variety. self-control

You can find many ancient proverbs and biblical writing on “self-mastery” before attempting any external endeavors.  Whether you turn to the philosophical world or spiritual for reference, the aim is the same.  Here is a modern day writer and blogger that I have never read, but whose quote seems to capture the balance of integration of action and restraint:

“As a rule, we must not be the slaves of passion; rather, we must be the possessors of great passions. Through passion commences power, but passions should not direct our paths; rather, passions should be our bridled horses, with us commanding whence and to they be directed. Our passions must not take their own courses; but they must be directed by us into which course they ought to take. Modern day people blindly follow the notion that to be slaves to their passions is to be free! But for one to be the Master of one’s passions is to be not only free— but powerful.”  ― C. JoyBell C.

My body deserves its due.  It is the only vehicle I have, and it comes with no warranties.  I am fortunate enough to have access to healthy food, clean water, a gym, and subject matter experts on both nutrition and exercise.   I have no excuse to not treat my body like a temple that hosts my soul and carries out my spiritual and meditation practices.

My human partners are where the rubber hits the road.  My spiritual metal, mindful practices, and overall physical health will be severely tested and nourished by the relationships I keep as well as the relationships imposed upon me by happenstance.  The vastness of this partnership network is too exhaustive to nail down here, but each requires nurturance and respect commensurate with demands,  sometimes reciprocal and sometimes vastly unequal.   Involvement with family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, strangers, church groups, spiritual director, fraternal organizations, self-help groups, charities, clubs, political groups, and anyone you come into contact must be treated with dignity and respect regardless of circumstance.

An imbalance or neglect of any of these four partners (Spiritual soul, mindful awareness, physical health, and human relationships) collapses the whole.   Sometimes a fifth partner is needed as well.

Professional help is also a potential partner.  For some of us, we need additional partners that although considered of the human variety, take on an unnatural essence as their services must be sought out and provided compensation for their expertise.  Physical or psychological conditions have overwhelmed our capacity to resolve the presenting issue.  Regardless of origin, these conditions have caused sufficient damage that requires rehabilitative interventions and support of the professional type.  While these professionals are of the human variety, the relationship is not reciprocal.  They are there for a price to meet your needs when they exceed your resources.  They have dedicated their lives to being prepared for helping people that fall into suffering and need help accepting or alleviating said conditions.

I write this for myself as I embark on another chapter in my life, not disconnected from the previous episodes or discontinuous, but an extension and expansion of purpose.   It is time to take stock and realign my actions and intentions with my beliefs and mission.  Some call it a personal inventory or taking stock of where you are today as opposed to where you want to be.  Perhaps call it the State of the Union of the four partners.  The fifth partner if you have any, will graciously be considered a part of the human partners!   They often demonstrate a higher possession of humanity and humility than the average person by their exposure to immense suffering in the people they help.  I have some work to do!  How about you?

The majority of readers of this post will stumble under the assumption that their “State of the Union” is strong.  It is my opinion that this cannot be.  The evidence is all around us.  We witness heinous acts of violence, abuse of power, incessant gossip, lies, greed, power mongering, and other senseless and selfish actions every day.  If we look closely, we may be the ones committing the acts or by our silence contributing to a culture that supports an unprincipled and unholy life.    By relativity standards, I could make the case that the state of my union is strong.  But if I hold the state of my union up against the full human capacity to live a holy and disciplined life, conscious and aware in my every action, I am far from being strong.   What is the state of your union?  Is it in any of the four partnerships lacking?  Do you need a fifth partner?

Others will fail by being overwhelmed by the immensity of feeling, emotions, and responsibility that emerges by taking stock.  Procrastination and avoidance to preserve a sense or actual comfortableness with our adequacy or even inadequacy.   Unifying all the partners requires specific effort and discipline.  They are frequently co-existing in contradiction.    It takes effort to live in opposition, yet we do it all the time.   We are at the end of the day human and incapable of perfecting harmony of the four partners and unified self.

And finally, a lack of knowledge and specific action plan to pursue greater integration and unification of the whole will defeat many to relying on autopilot in a state of status quo.  A self-justifying rationalization will support leaving some areas of the partnership underdeveloped.  Through neglect, we neglect to maximize living our lives to the full potential.   Excessive activities will create enough fog and chaos to keep any uncomfortable reflections recessed and buried under the clutter of our very sense of self-importance and necessary goal-driven actions.  Who has the time for contemplation and self-care?

Without proper self-care, I believe the integration of mind, body, spirit and human relationships is unnecessarily hampered and ruinous to living our ideal selves.  ChristWhile my perfect person spiritually may differ from yours (Christianity), the bulk of ancient philosophical treaties, eastern and western thoughts, and significant religions will converge on the principals of integration of mind, body, spirit and direct application to every human relationship we encounter.

Where are you today in your practice of self-care:

  1. Spirituality (of any faith) and nurturance
  2. The consciousness of your thoughts and mindful decisions (fully informed and not auto-pilot)
  3. Nutrition and Excercise (and perhaps add appropriate sleep!)
  4. Healthiness in relationships (and any negative relationships that need to be restored or healed)
  5. Do you need professional help (from often great humanitarians!) for any spiritual, psychological, or physical conditions that are impeding you from living to your full potential?

You deserve to be the best you can be and if that is not enough for you, the people around you deserve and need the best You!  This is a life long process, never-ending and always unfolding new and deeper wisdom.  Never too late to start or restart wherever you left off and never time to stop until you are no more.  Seeking to perfect our selves is an infinite process within an infinity of life that we cannot ever fully comprehend.

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