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Life on this earth has always been stressful. Threats to our survival and well-being, whether from the natural world or from what we may perceive as dangerous, have been part of every age.
In such situations, our innate response mechanism is triggered and set into motion. Our stress response is a healthy, inborn ability that supplies what we need to help us cope with the threats in our lives. We get into trouble, however, when the number or size of these threats overwhelms our ability to cope with them, or when our response is prolonged or inadequate for the task.
Today we live in a world that has multiple sources of stress. Whereas our ancestors found most of their threats to be directed at their very survival, in this modern age many psychological situations and beliefs also act as stressors in our lives. What we perceive as threats is unique to each one of us: while the identical situation may be defined by one person as highly stressful, another person may see it as an exciting challenge.
Stress has been described as the potential source of many physical and emotional illnesses and diseases. We see it playing a role in our relationships and job experiences. We also find ourselves distracted and disturbed in our spiritual lives by the multiplicity of stresses and worries we carry. Peace, the antithesis of stress, was a common theme of Jesus in his interactions with those around him. Many times he spoke of peace in terms of the blessing that it carries for us.
In our faith journeys, prayer and spiritual reflection can offer us wonderful opportunities to manage our stresses and work through them. Drawing close to God in prayer and Scripture can allow us to examine and consider our own lives and identify the stressors or our reactions to them. Being able to articulate and name what our problems are, and what our reactions tend to be, can help us find the peace we crave. We may discover that we have tendencies to overreact to certain situations, or to not give enough attention to the problems we do have. Perhaps we see a threat where none exists. Increasing our awareness of the role of stress in our own lives, and praying through our struggles with stress, may help us find the peace we seek and also help us to live more healthy and blessed lives. . . .
The following reflections can be used anytime or anywhere. They begin with a verse or two of Scripture, move into a short meditation, and end with a prayer. The prayer is meant to launch us into our own conversation with the Lord. However, if we are feeling particularly stressed, it may be the only prayer we are capable of at that moment. The important thing is that we are turning to God, who is our lover, our rock, our fortress, and our deliverer in times of trouble. To whom else shall we go for love, security and peace?
Cast Your Anxiety on God
Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. —1 Peter 5:7
So often we feel heavily burdened by the pressures of our lives. No one else seems to understand, and most folks simply tell us not to worry—which convinces us that they really don’t understand. But here’s Peter, telling us that all those anxieties we struggle with can be handed over to God, because God does understand and does care for us, and wants to support us and help us with our struggles. Many times just knowing that someone else understands what we’re fretting about can be enough to ease the load.
“Here are my anxieties, my God who cares for me. I list them for you, one by one. Just naming them changes the way I feel and gives me a renewed perspective. I place each one of my cares into your hands, and I trust that you will help me deal with them. As I list my anxieties, I realize that I’m making more out of some of them than I need to, so I totally turn them over to you. Other problems may need more attention, and talking with you may help me have new insights about how to handle them. It truly helps to know that my problems are yours as well. Don’t let me try to handle them alone. Thank you for caring about me.”
Rescue Me, God, from My Troubles
The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord;
he is their refuge in the time of trouble. —Psalm 37:39
Where do we tend to turn when we know we’re in trouble? And do we find help? Sometimes we turn to things that can only intensify or complicate the problem. If we use drugs or alcohol to blunt our awareness, as we come out on the other side, we find we have created a greater problem. Ignoring the trouble may only make it worse. Pretending it isn’t there prolongs the journey to healing. It could be helpful for us to think about our usual ways of reacting. Do they help?
“Come to my rescue, God, my help, whenever I’m in trouble. Turn me away from my tendency to block or avoid my difficulties. With you at my side, I can gain perspective on my problems and look for healthy ways to resolve them. I may even be able to grow through them. May I always turn to you first.”
Let Go of Distress
O Lord, what are human beings that you regard them,
or mortals that you think of them?
They are like a breath;
their days are like a passing shadow. —Psalm 144:3-4
Sometimes we make so much of things. Someone affronts us, and we blow the situation way out of proportion to what actually occurred. We may spend days feeling upset and offended. Friends and family members stop speaking to each other, each one waiting for the other to apologize. Love and forgiveness are hovering around the fringes, and we leave them unacknowledged. How sad for everyone involved, whose days are “a passing shadow.” May we not waste our days by clinging to distress.
“My life is so short, my God. Please help me to not let it waste away in hard feelings. I am the one who needs to choose to be a loving person. No one else can make me be loving, or make me act in an unloving way, no matter what that person says or does. When I’ve been wronged or feel distressed, let me take a breath and make a decision to respond in love.”
Read more of Joan Guntzelman’s inspiring reflections and prayers in Surrendering Our Stress (The Word Among Us Press, 2009). Available at wau.org/books