Busy, busy, busy.
That is something that characterizes so many people, including myself. I have a tendency to overextend myself, and then become completely exhausted- and when you’re running on empty, it’s hard to have anything to give.
The American society in which I live does not help with managing busyness. Instead, it has become “normal” to be overextended, fatigued and stressed-out. I don’t know that I hear of anyone saying that they are not stressed out, or even “doing well” on a normal basis.
It is not helpful that people say that life always has stress-triggers, and therefore it should be no wonder if we are constantly in stress. Frequently if I hear someone talk about being stressed out, and rather than having compassion, their fellow (generally older) neighbors will say something like “welcome to adulthood!”, or chuckle and say, “that’s life”. What sort of fragmented, cynical view of Christian maturity is this? One in which a state of stress is the only way to live, and our compassion has been worn down to supposedly helpful quips such as these? One in which if you’re not on the edge of burnout, you’re not fully living? I disagree with a passion.
These things (stress, burnout, and over-extension) are never things that should be accepted as norms! Yes, stress is an inevitable part of life. Let me make it clear that I don’t disagree with this. There are always trials and tribulations that we will have to face, and sometimes in greater portions than we would like. I know that this is something I have had to face in particular potency lately, which has certainly been stressful, but a portion of life I accept nonetheless, despite my sadness. This is our privilege- to show God’s greatness even in the midst of our troubles. Yet if we believe that life is supposed to be all valleys and no mountains, and our storms will be followed by no rainbows, in what kind of a God do we boast? I am not saying that we will always receive the kinds of happiness that we desire, or when we desire them, but if we believe that God gives none, we are cheating ourselves of a great deal of security in Christ. I’ve recently read that one problem with Christians is that they often disproportionately seem to live in despair-like states, instead of in overcoming lifestyles (if I find that quote soon, I will blog about it another time.. it was a great read). How true this is! Even Job in the Bible had a happy ending, but how many times do we hear of it?
I sometimes read of missionaries who faced incredibly stressful situations much worse than what you or I will probably ever encounter, yet received God’s peace. Were they ever stressed? Certainly! Yet their stress was not the god of their life, but instead their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was their source of joy. Similarly, I have read of people that have faced horrendous tragedies. They have experienced incredible sadness- yet it didn’t ultimately overpower them.
Sometimes I feel mowed down by stress. Yet even during these more difficult times, I know that Christ doesn’t intend for me to stay in lows every day. Think of medieval battlegrounds. Fighting on the battleground is tough- just as fighting the battles (trials and tribulations) that you must face is tough. But we don’t enter battles in order that we be beaten. We enter battle so that, in the long run, we will win. We enter spiritual battles daily, and we don’t always win (we lose when fight in our own strength), but ultimately we win as we are empowered to fight by God’s grace as Christ triumphs for all eternity. God is the real victor.
Instead of trusting in God’s power for any kind of triumph, I think that instead so many of us have become slaves to stress. To continue with the battleground analogy, we do not retreat from battle when we need rest. We do not let Christ fight on our behalf when we can’t do it in our own strength. We are used to assuming leadership through the dozen and a half things that we do daily, and less used to letting God work in our lives. I know that I don’t always leave enough room for Him- no one is perfect in their walk with God. Yet God does not want us to live as fragmented pieces of who He intended us to be, but instead, reflecting the wholeness that Christ intends for us. This may not be heaven, but it is possible to live with some heaven inside of you every day: a reflection of the greater things to come.
I think that sometimes we unintentionally breach holes in the defenses that God builds for us. Instead of allowing Him to be enough for us, we get wrapped up in stress. Yet if we take a bird’s eye view of our lives, our over-engagement may be a clue to how little room we are leaving for God in our lives to fill and satisfy us. God doesn’t want us to pursue being a mess of stress! I think that this is particularly hard for people-loving, people-pleasing and leader types (and especially the combination of all 3 types!), because these types of individual may have a hard time saying ‘no’ to worthwhile activities, may become overly concerned about the feelings of others, and may face the pressure to do more than they can handle. There are some ways to lower stress that can be helpful, and which can help restore some of one’s sense of “being” versus always” doing. Here are just a few I’ve been pondering lately..
1. Stop thinking of sleep as optional. Get the proper amount of sleep for your age and workload. I know that so many people in their teens and twenties completely disregard this, and don’t realize what a huge impact it can make in one’s attitude and energy level. Contrary to popular notion, it is not more effective to sleep less and stay up late studying. Learn to manage time effectively, instead of cutting down on the rest that God intends to give. Sleep was something I didn’t value during my early college years but today hold much more precious- and lately getting more sleep has definitely helped me to be less stressed out.
2. Don’t hinge so much energy on your phone. I can’t say this enough! It seems like everyone is either addicted to their phones, or in denial about being addicted. For some reason my generation thinks that it is rude not to be available 24/7, and driving while being distracted by either texting or messing with one’s phone is no longer thought of as dangerous, wrong, and illegal, but instead completely acceptable. I have seen phones result in massive over-extension in my peers, and while I am not anti-texting or anti-phones, few people recognize just how much the phone has altered healthy communication.
3. Eat properly. Eat properly scheduled meals of enough food for your body’s weight, AND to offset the amount of energy you spend doing various activities. Food is NOT optional (other than fasting), so don’t discredit it. I have to remind myself to make sure that I eat properly sometimes, because college can make getting food in at the right time more difficult (but it is worthwhile not to be hungry through a class!).
4. Don’t exercise too much. Yes, there are those of us that exercise too little, but there are also those who may exercise too much. If you find yourself always lacking energy or constantly worn out, examine how many activities you participate in, and see if you can scale down. If exercising is a part of your career or such, then make sure you are getting the proper amount of food to offset the great deal of energy you spend.
5. Don’t let fellowship with fellow Christians replace fellowship with your Creator. Sometimes there can be a lot of pressure to do everything and be everything for everyone. Or, perhaps you just enjoy fellowship, and don’t know when to take a break so that you can present your best self. I know that sometimes I need a break and it can be hard to say no.
6. Commune with God. Often I’ve heard “read your Bible” and “pray”, but lots of people do these things without doing them effectively or in the right spirit. The point is not to check something off of your to-do list, but to spend time with God. To be refilled. To truly foster a relationship with the one who has always loved you. When you think of it that way, spending time with God becomes not a chore, but a necessity and a joy.
7. Cut back. Cut back on anything that may be placing too much weight on you. God never intended for us to live as fragments. If an activity is a distraction, drawing you away from God, exhausting you unnecessarily, or causing you to be far too busy, see if you can cut it out. Cut back on activities and life engagements that cause you to live more fragmented, and look for ways to make more time and less unnecessary stress in your life. This is something that I have been doing lately to make sure that I don’t get too worn out.
8. Add on. I just said cut back- but yes, now I’m saying add on. 😉 Sometimes when you cut back, it makes room for you to add on something that may, instead of drawing you away from God and His peace, draw you toward Him. This is something I have been discovering as I switch up my stressful schedule and make more room for what God would will. Always make sure that when you consider adding something on, you be realistic about not only how much time you have, but how deep a reserve of energy you have day-to-day. Make sure that you also pray about each thing and seek God’s will in your life.
9. Don’t build boxes around yourself. This has several different facets- one is, don’t get settled in the daily routine if the routine blocks the adventure that God has in store for you. It is easy to get comfortable with doing the same-old things day to day, but sometimes that is not what God intends, and can lead to a ‘doldrums’ feeling. Another is, don’t underestimate what God can do in your life! Sometimes it’s hard to feel that He can work amazing things in your life, but knowing and feeling are two different things. =)
10. Have a support structure. What happens to a building when it no longer has supports? It falls down! In the same way, life without a support system can be chaos. Another problem different from the absence of a support system is building the wrong kind of support system. It is a temptation among many young people to live “independent” lives. Independence is no more a sign of maturity than dependency. God intends for us to be interdependent, relying and giving to each other, both family, friends and mentors. Make sure that you have lots of good, trustworthy counselors in life, and have the right expectations from each. It can help your life bear much less stress-weight.
11. Don’t have lots of unresolved issues. Some issues we can’t resolve right away- but there are usually lots that we can. Ignoring resolving issues can lead to unnecessary burdens of stress, as well as more complex issues in life than is necessary. Resolving them may be a bit difficult, and even cause greater stress for a short time, but avoiding doing something is not acceptable, and will wear away at your soul.
12. Accept a little grace- God’s grace. You’re not Wonder Woman or Superman. God is God. He’s got everything under control, and you don’t. Don’t trust in your own ability to control things, and don’t freak out if you do something wrong. Accept that God is your strength and security, not yourself. Accept that God is probably not going to hit you with a lightning bolt if you are stressed out- He doesn’t hate you because you are not invulnerable. Allow Him to protect you at your weakest moments, and shield you when you are most vulnerable. Don’t let your energy reserve stay on empty all the time, but allow Him to fill you. Don’t feel that you have to do and be all at all times, but allow Him to do and be all for you.
I hope and pray that as you continue in your walk with God, you will not be constantly distressed, but refreshed and less like a fragment. God loves you more than anyone could ever attempt to- and that love has the power to overcome even your darkest days with joy, as I am ever finding out. =)
New Living Translation (NLT)
19 The righteous person faces many troubles,
but the Lord comes to the rescue each time.
Art credit: BBC North & South; Margaret Hale