Apparently, April was stress awareness month. I don’t know about you, but I was certainly very aware of my stress in April. In fact, the last six to twelve months have been very stressful.
According to several research studies, some of the things most likely to produce stress are bereavement, job uncertainty, financial pressures, relational difficulties, trauma, getting married or divorced, being overworked, moving house, homelessness, renovating, having a baby, illness or injury, having an operation or travelling. As a family, we have experienced 11 of these 14 things in the last year and most of them are still ongoing. It’s been a very stressful year and I’m still learning how to deal with it. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learnt.
The effect of stress on our lives can be immediate; it’s easy to see how stress might trigger arguments, anxiety and anger. But it can also affect us in more subtle ways, such as sleeplessness, sadness and stomach aches. In fact, doctors tell us that over a prolonged period of time stress can cause depression, fear, behavioural changes, changes in our drinking habits and libido, muscle pains and spasms, breathlessness, memory loss, weight gain or loss, stomach ulcers and IBS, to name just a few. The symptoms of stress often only serve to increase it. Even just thinking about stress can be stressful and if you weren’t stressed already, you probably are by now, reading this!
There’s many things we can do to reduce either the causes or effects of stress on us; there is a proliferation these days of articles such as ‘45 Things That Might Actually Help Reduce Stress In 2019’. But we tend to find that none of them stick for long because stress, although often caused by outside factors, is really something internal. It’s something happening inside of us and therefore can’t just be taken away by applying some clever life hacks. Stress-relieving ideas can help somewhat, but we all know that lighting a lavender oil diffuser, popping in some ear plugs and rubbing a Tibetan singing bowl will not always work when you’ve got real stuff going on in your life (I do love those bowls though!). We need something deeper, something permanent which will actually change your life.
One day, Jesus and a small group of friends decided to row across a lake to visit a town on the other side. On their way across, a swift storm brewed up. It was the kind of storm that could overturn small fishing boats and drown everyone within them. But somehow, Jesus was not afraid; he wasn’t even awake! He was sleeping peacefully while the boat swayed and spun in the terrifying waves. His friends could not understand it, how could he be so calm when they were about to die?! They shouted at him in fear and anger until he woke up. ‘Don’t you care that we’re going to drown?’ they accused him. But Jesus, without skipping a beat, rose and spoke to the storm. ‘Be still!’, he said. Immediately the waves died down and the sea became calm.
It’s an amazing story, but it’s not just a story; there is lots of reliable evidence that the people in the Bible really lived, and the things they reported really happened. If Jesus can say to the waves, ‘Be still!’ and they listen to him, how much more can he help with whatever you are going through right now? Even in the midst of storms that rage, he can give you a peace that passes understanding, a peace which isn’t dependent on our circumstances. So, how do we get this peace?
If Jesus’ friends in the boat had known he was in control, they wouldn’t have needed to be afraid, they could have woken him up and said ‘I know you’re taking a nap right now, but we think the boat might be in trouble. Would you mind helping us turn off the storm? Cheers.’ I know it sounds a bit facetious, but actually, its what the Bible recommends. It says ‘Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand’ .
It doesn’t sound like you have to do very much at all, but that simple action can make all the difference. Jesus wants us to talk to him about everything that is troubling us. He knows that nothing else will help us. Those same friends went on to be hunted down, tortured and killed for their trust in God. Yet they were filled with an infectious joy and amazing fortitude in the midst of trials. They experienced almost all of those stress points I mentioned earlier, and much worse, and yet they found that God’s presence in their lives meant that they were not overwhelmed by any of it. Similarly, when we choose to put our trust in Jesus, as the one who controls all aspects of our life, we will experience a profound peace that washes away our stress in a way which no amount of lavender oil ever could.
So how do you go about doing this? Firstly, take your stress to God. Ask Him to take control of the whole of your life and to be the one in charge. Once you do that, he has promised to work everything out for your ultimate good.
Secondly, keep taking your stress to God, every time, reminding yourself that he has the power to still every storm in your life and make a way for you, and will hold you tight through the rocking of the waves.
And thirdly, enjoy being with God, both here and now and, one day, forever. There is a day coming when Jesus will return in person to be with us and, if you have put your trust in him, he will forever wipe all stressful situations off the board. ‘There will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever’ . Knowing that there will be a time when all the stresses and hardships of life will be erased forever can, in itself, reduce our pain now. It’s much easier to endure suffering when we know that it will end and that something so immeasurably better is on its way. And yet, we don’t have to wait for this day without any relief either, the peace of God is on offer today to all who will accept it.
If you don’t have this powerful stress-busting God in your life yet, go get it. It’s one life hack you won’t regret.