Stress relief: Where we go when life falls apart

stress-reliefYesterday was a rough day.  For the sake of privacy, I’ll just say I experienced another significant loss in my life and it left me feeling empty.

We all experience loss throughout our lives; relationally, financially, emotionally, physically, etc.   It’s part of the human process.   We all handle losses differently.   Losing (anything) creates a certain level of disappointment and stress which forces all “losers” to figure out a way to deal with it.   The emptiness we feel from the loss tempts us to find a way to fill the gaping void.  The question isn’t whether we will try to fill the void or not.  Every void begs to be filled.  The question is whether we fill it with a positive or negative, good or bad, appropriate or inappropriate filler.

Some friends of mine, when experiencing some level of stress or loss, bite their nails.  Somehow that makes them feel better.   Others smoke.   Some begin drinking.   Others work out.   Some of us have been known to bury our troubles in our work.   I know a few that comfort themselves with food.  I know a few others that refuse to eat.  I know one lady that cleans her house when she is stressed. (She needs serious help.)  Others become a couch potato.   Some people run to the opposite sex.   Whether it is gambling, sex, pornography, movies, Yoga, books – there is no shortage of void filling activities.  For every 10 people I know, there are 10 different ways that people handle their stress.

As I was struggling with my loss and trying to figure out how to handle it, I thought about some of those options available to me:

  • Bite my nails.   Unfortunately, I wasn’t given the Beaver gene.  My teeth simply lack the mobility to actually do it effectively.   Besides, that wouldn’t relieve the stress for me.  It would just make me slobber on my fingers, mess up my cuticles and require me to eventually sit in some poorly ventilated Korean nail salon while I struggled to breathe amidst the fumes.  The thought of this actually stresses me out more.
  • Get drunk.   Fortunately, this option is not tempting to me. Though I do occasionally drink socially, I have never been drunk and therefore have never used it as a way to drown my sorrows.  With my “luck,” I would end up getting a DUI, thrown in jail and spend my time trying to avoid being someone’s prison girlfriend.   This thought also brings me stress.
  • Do drugs.   Other than the bottle of Ibuprofen in my bathroom cabinet, I wouldn’t know the first thing about acquiring drugs not available in CVS.   Besides, how many Ibuprofen pills would I have to take to relieve this stress?  I normally take 2 for a headache.  So, 4?   (You can tell I live on the edge).   Knowing me, I would go crazy and take 6 and immediately call 911 and tell them to “come get me” in my best Brian Regan voice.   I have never smoked pot or cigarettes or even a cigar for that matter, so the idea of using this as a stress relief option doesn’t make sense to me.   Actually, taking drugs would stress me out more than the stress of my loss.   Then what?  What do you do when your stress reliever causes more stress?
  • Netflix.  Honestly, sitting at home and watching hours of movies sounds very appealing to me.  But I know me, after the second movie, I would be bored stiff.  I’m pretty sure I would develop a bed sore.   Experiencing a loss is bad enough.  Experiencing a loss while nursing a bed sore – that must be unbearable.

These options, while appealing to some, just would not suffice for me.  Of all the available options known to me, I’m embarrassed to admit to you how I handled yesterday’s stress.

I ran…

…to the opposite sex.      (Don’t judge me.)

You see, there is a woman in town who is quite fond of me.  Honestly, she is a beautiful person all around and she has made it clear that she would love to spend time with me, whenever I am available.   She is also a great listener and gives the best hugs.  In light of my loss, I decided I wanted to fill the void with her.   I drove to her home unannounced.   When I arrived, her face lit up when she saw me and immediately gave me a huge embrace.   I could already feel the stress leaving my body.   She invited me to sit down with her and visit for as long as I could stay.   She complimented my appearance and was constantly putting her hand on my knee, seemingly aware of my primary love language of physical touch.   We sat in her front yard on a bench under the tree and talked and laughed.   She was overjoyed by my visit and told me repeatedly how glad she was that I was there.   I was thankful for her time and loving presence.

Our conversation was seamless.   We covered a wide variety of topics and current events – never once mentioning my loss.  We even spent some time looking at the clouds and talking about what we see.   Honestly, I could have spent all afternoon with her.   It was exactly what I needed in light of my rough morning.   Unfortunately, I had to run some appointments and she had her own things to do.   After all, when you’re a 91 year old woman, you have a very busy schedule to keep.

helen sanders

The truth is, we all have our stress reliever of choice.   While many of us struggle with inappropriate stress relieving outlets (like cleaning your house), there are appropriate options out there to help you cope with your disappointments and loss and grow from the experience in responsible, healthy ways.

In the past, it is no secret that I have chosen some pretty self-destructive coping mechanisms.  Instead of facing my problems, I have run towards people or things that merely complicated my stress.  Though they may have distracted me for a moment, in the long run they have added more stress and further complicated the situation.   I have made a conscious effort to stop that and by God’s grace and some much needed accountability, I will continue to make good on my promise.

As I look around the human landscape, stress seems to be a common denominator for every earth dweller.  Everyone seems to have some healthy dose of it, in one form or another.  Emotional, physical, mental, financial, relational & spiritual pressure points abound.   And it seems to be no respecter of age, gender or persons.  Our stress levels are as high as ever and many people struggle with how to cope.  We can blame our problems on things like drugs or guns all we want, the truth is stress is the culprit and our inability to handle it appropriately.

As Creator, God seems to not only understand our capacity for stress but desires to lovingly address it on our behalf.   A brief glance through Scripture reveals two things:

  1. Stress is not a new struggle for mankind.  It began the day Adam left the Garden of Eden and has just gotten more complicated ever since.
  2. God is in the business of helping us handle it.

When Moses was stressed about his inability to lead God’s people out of slavery, God relieved His stress with 5 words: “I will be with you.” (Exodus 3:12)  THAT is all Moses needed to remember.   For many of us today, we still need that reminder.

When the disciples realized the threats against Christ were a very real and present danger, they were obviously concerned about their own physical safety.   Jesus put their fear into perspective, “My friends, are not five sparrows sold for two cents?  Yet not one of them is forgotten before God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Do not fear, you are more valuable than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7)

When the disciples were stressed about their Master and His impending death, Jesus relieved their stress by reminding them, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”   That promise is still in effect today.

When the Apostle Paul was distressed about his “thorn in the flesh,” Christ reminded him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” (II Corinthians 12:9)   That grace, Paul realized, was all he needed.  From that understanding Paul wrote, “I am well content with weaknesses… with distresses… with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (12:10)

Mary, Jesus’ mother, had to be stressed the day she watched her Son hang on a cross.  What greater torment is there than watching your own child die?  And yet, while Jesus hung suspended between heaven and earth, bleeding and dying – He was concerned about His mother’s well-being.   While He could have easily been distracted by His own life-threatening situation, He wasn’t.  Just moments before He breathed His last – one of His final acts was to make sure that someone was appointed to look after His mother.   He didn’t randomly assign a disciple to the task.  Rather, He chose “the disciple whom He loved” to oversee His mother’s care.  (John 19)

It’s not just a cute, church cliche that “Jesus loves you.”   He actually sincerely, genuinely cares about YOU and whatever situation you are going through right now.

Over 100 times in the Bible, God reminds His children to “fear not” or “do not be afraid.”   Apparently, He understands that we are a people under stress and there is no shortage of things that we let grip us with fear.

What is in your life that is currently stressing you out?  How are you handling it?  Know this – you have access to Someone who wants to help you.   And He offers you blanket assistance:

Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

I don’t know about you… but I have some pretty enormous things in my life to be anxious about.   I often feel weary and burdened.   I could use some rest for my soul.  And running to women, drugs, alcohol, pornography, food or Netflix merely distracts me from God’s offer.  A clean house, though important, can’t ultimately solve my problems.

Come to Me,” is the offer of God.   He wants us to come with our weary and burdened stress and He exchanges it for rest – even rest for our souls.

He invites our problems because He knows He’s the only one truly equipped to handle them.

And why does He want to help us?   Why does He encourage us to share our stress with Him?   What could possibly motivate Him to embrace our messy life?

Love.

He actually cares.

Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-8)

“God is good at all times, but He seems to be at His best when we are at our worst.”  – Charles Haddon Spurgeon

“The Bible that is falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.” – D.L. Moody

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