“Son, you look like death warmed over.” That’s what my father would frequently say to me on our occasional visits. He was referring, of course, to his idea of perceived stress and my appearance. My father always worried that I was working too hard and was under too much pressure.
“Death warmed over,” that’s also a good description of stress itself and introduces a point. Whether we like it or not, we are living in a fast-moving world. We are living in an age of tremendous advance, but we are also paying a heavy price for that advance, especially in terms of stress. Stress that works itself out in tranquilizers, illness, frayed tempers, hypertension, crime sprees, frustrations, suicides and the list is endless.
So what is stress? Without going into a lengthy definition, let me just say that the word for stress in Latin is “strictus,” to be drawn tight.
A woman defined stress this way: “It is like spinning on the edge of a whirlpool-faster and faster, till I wonder how much longer I can keep from being sucked down.” At any rate, I believe we have more difficulty managing stress than defining it, and that’s what I want to focus on today.
The first step toward managing stress is to carry as little interior baggage as possible! Frequently, we moderns get so involved in dealing with the outward causes of stress that we tend to ignore the real problem, which is with our hearts and minds. Truthfully, so much of today’s stress is caused by interior demons — things like anger, bitterness, resentment, anxiety, greed, fear, envy, jealousy and guilt. These interior emotions eat away and cause all kinds of poisonous stress. Carry as little interior baggage as possible.
Second, maintain a balance between self-denial and self-affirmation! Perhaps we can best understand this in terms of Christian ministry, though it applies to every field of endeavor. All ministry is defined and measured by Jesus Christ. Consequently, all of us who respond to his call to live a life of faithfulness to God are called to live a life of giving ourselves for others. So whatever form ministry takes, the basics are the same: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends and to deny oneself. But there’s another side to this or the church and/or society will have more and more “burned-out” non-coping people on its hands. This is where self-affirmation becomes critical. Self-affirmation has to do with making time for family, rest, diversion, recreation(exercise). You’ll remember that two of the important gems that Robert Fulghum learned in kindergarten were “live a balanced life” and “take a nap every afternoon."
Third, rediscover a sense of self-discipline! Helter-skelter living may have its moments all right, but it generally leads to frustration and stress.
Writing in her book “The Writing Life,” Annie Dillard commented on the importance of having a daily schedule. She put it so well: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives... A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. A schedule is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find your yourself decades later, still living.” If a schedule is that important, and it is, then all of us should have one.
Fourth, keep a good sense of humor! Without doubt, laughter is one of the ways to best manage stress-both individually and as a society. If we aren’t laughing at ourselves and with others, we are in trouble. One of the real dangers in our modern-day society is that we are losing our ability to laugh. For the most part, we are uptight and we are living in a society of uptight people, and that is the danger. Next to prayer, laughter is one of the most important things we can do. It has the power to dismantle tension or stress.
Fifth, be diligent in your quiet time! We make a serious mistake if we think we can handle our dress apart from God. Without God, we are like a lamp not plugged into the source of its power.
Perhaps the following story will best make the point. A mountain climber had as his life’s ambition the desire to scale the Matterhorn. When he had saved enough funds, he made the trip to the great mountain, hired the best mountain guide available and set off for the summit. The guide literally picked and pulled him to the top of the mountain. The winds were fierce but the sight was breathtaking. As the mountain climber started to rise from his knees to his full stature to enjoy the mountain top, the wise guide yanked him back and screamed in his ear, “Stay upon your knees, man, or the winds will blow you off the top of the mountain!”
That’s our message! Stay on your knees man (woman) or the stresses of life will blow you off the mountain top.