A community church in North Andover, Massachusetts

Dealing with Stress

Welcome to the fall season and all the events that come with it. We have holidays headed our way, both secular and religious, including Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. We have the advent season coming our way as well, special services, and family coming in or us traveling to family. Then there’s a midterm election approaching. We have decisions to make on so many fronts. Are we pumpkin spice people or not? Will we be full candy bar people at Halloween or are we mini treats folk or those who turn out the lights for the evening? So many choices, so little time. Which is why stress has been on my mind lately.

With every new thing attempted comes stress. Stress is mental or emotional strain caused by negative or demanding situations. For instance, after a year in ministry here, it’s time for me to encourage us to be a missional church reaching out into our community to offer both evangelism and assistance in forms that are appealing to our congregation and to our communities. I hope to create an outreach team to assist in researching and implementing various outreach missions. It is always better to include others than to try to act like a “Lone Ranger pastor.” More minds involved lead to better results. Becoming a missional church of the twenty-first century begins with change … and change causes stress. It leads to a happier congregation and growth.

We all feel stress, but how do we deal with it? The Bible is filled with good advice on not stressing, fearing, and worrying. These things are not good for us and can make us physically and psychologically ill. If left unrelieved, stress can become a way of life (chronic stress). Jesus said in Matthew 6:25-27: Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?

Here are a few ways to lessen the impact of stress on our lives. There are many others. Stress is a mental game and often the worst things we imagine happening when stressed have little bearing on reality. For example, we roll out bed and instantly think, “I have a million things do today!” Our stomachs knot, our mood darkens, and we are stressed on our very first thought. At that point, we need to stop and ask, “Is it true?” An excellent remedy for this type of stressed thinking is to list out what really needs to be done, today. I my case it is usually around a dozen items with one or two that are important at the top of the list, along with some really piddly stuff that only takes five minutes or less to complete. I take great satisfaction in scratching things off that list, which helps alleviate my stress.

We need to be mindful what we are thinking about ourselves as well. If we are in the habit of being mean to ourselves, being “judgy” of what we say and do, we need to quit it, immediately. If we’re speaking to ourselves in our heads in ways we wouldn’t let anybody else speak to us, we need to cut that out. It takes some mental discipline to break the habit of abusing ourselves in our own heads, but it can be done with a little practice. We need to work at building ourselves up instead. We learn from our mistakes and move forward, considering those as constructive learning experiences, and asking ourselves what the takeaway from that experience was. It sure is more satisfying and useful than beating ourselves up.

Another stress reducer involves, “If we mess up, ’fess up.” My father is a retired reporter. In his career, when speaking with major organizations and helping them to work well with reporters, he advised, it is better to have a pint of trouble now over a mistake we admit to than a gallon of trouble later when a mistake we have hidden comes to light.

There are a lot more, and some you can see in a video I put up recently on this topic on both our Facebook and my YouTube pages. The final issue we’ll deal with now for stress reduction is to stop “catastrophizing.” We need to stop letting our minds run away to the worst possible outcome of any stressful situation. We need to drop that “what if” destructive thinking. We need to stop spooling out in our minds all sorts of awful scenarios. Most of them will never happen. What does happen usually comes as a surprise out of left field, so why bother with that tiring mental exercise. Live with what is, prepare for what will be, and have faith that God will be with us for everything that does happen.

In the end, we need to have faith in God, who sent us Jesus to liberate us, and the Holy Spirit Jesus left for us to be our faithful guide. As the prophet Isaiah said in chapter 40:28-31: Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youth will faint and grow weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

Wishing us all a day liberated from the worst aspects of stress.

God bless us all.
~Pastor Jeff