When Stress Strikes
- Wednesday, October 15, 2003
It's 7:00 a.m., the start of another working day. Bleary-eyed from too little sleep, you drink a cup of coffee on the way out the door. Suddenly you remember that this evening it is your turn to host Bible study, so you frantically try to straighten up the house. You leave a few dishes in the sink and jump into your car to join the rest of the workforce in rush-hour traffic. Ten minutes into your commute, however, you realize that the report you worked on last night is still on your nightstand. You have no option but to drive back and retrieve it.
Late for work, you open your door and find your boss pacing inside. Your report was due an hour ago, you are told; the client is furious. Your heart begins to race. Your palms begin to sweat. And you would like nothing more than to run away.
The stress response is the same experience our ancestors had when faced with a saber-toothed tiger-a pounding heart, tense muscles, and a desperate urge to fight or flee. And while the ancient threat of a hungry tiger may be gone, the modern jungle is no less perilous.
And since fighting or fleeing is not really an option in the civilized world, our body's natural reaction to stress has no outlet. As a result we suffer from ulcers, high blood pressure, and other physical symptoms. But that's not all. We carry the stress of the workday world into our relationship. The fight-or-flight response, if not properly managed, creates tension in our relationships. If we can't take our anger out on our boss, for example, we might take it out on our friends or date.
So what do we do? Extinguish all stress? No. Too little stress can be just as damaging as too much. The ideal goal is balance. Somewhere between the fight-or-flight rhythms of too much tension and the dullness of too little, the challenge for each person and each couple is to find the right level of manageable stress that invigorates life instead of ravaging it.
Physical activity and calming techniques help a lot, but the only sure way to prevent your stress from becoming debilitating is to respond to the call of Christ when he says, "Come to me...and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28). From the very beginning, rest had a special significance for God: "And god blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested" (Gen 2:3).
The most frequently overlooked dimension in stress management, even among Christians, is resting in God's presence. This is not always easy, mind you. Even the great leader Moses had difficulty with it. He experienced unrelieved stress trying to keep two-million Israelites happy as they wandered in the wilderness. In exasperation, Moses turned to God, pleading, "Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me."
But God called Moses to rest in God's wisdom and soon his burden and his stress became more manageable (see Num. 11:11-17). The same God who called Moses to rest calls you to relax in peace.
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