Learning to Live with Stress

by James Rudy Gray

Learning to Live

Most of our country seems to be stressed these days. We are in an unprecedented and unusual "war" against terrorism. We hear of acts or threats of terror almost every week. Sometimes in ways we don't consciously realize, this affects our lives, our work, and our relationships.

I was on a plane September 11 when the Twin Towers in New York were destroyed by terrorists. When I arrived in New Orleans for a seminary trustee meeting, the airport closed and I was stranded for a couple of days. That crisis and tragedy that struck our nation continues to influence us today. Thousands of people suddenly and unexpectedly being killed on our mainland was unthinkable to most Americans before September 11. Now, the day-by-day account of the war inside Afghanistan continues to supply us with reasons to feel stress.

To complicate matters further, we were already a people given to stress and anxiety. How do we live in a world of uncertainty and stress? How can we help others?

In John 14:27, Jesus said, "Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful." But how can we do that? Psalm 56:3 says, "When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You." When fear comes, trust God. That is simple and yet profound counsel that works.

Norm Wright emphasizes that stress is "any life situation that chronically bothers, irritates, or upsets you." Too little stress is unhealthy. We need some stress to lead productive lives. Too much stress is decidedly unhealthy. Too much stress, the feeling of distress, has the tendency to knock us off balance and spin us into a crisis. While it is not

realistic to think that we can eliminate all stress from our lives (it would not be in our best interest anyway), we can learn to manage stress by gaining a greater sense of control over our lives. That sense of control comes from the realization that God is the one who is really in control of everything. Part of the fruit that His Spirit bears in our lives is self-control, and when we have that kind of self-control we can manage stress much better.

We need to do some practical things like understanding and facing our feelings, practicing a sensible diet and exercise routine, and utilizing the tools of spiritual nourishment and discipline like meditation, Bible reading and study, prayer, worship, and service.

There is a phenomenon some call silent stress. It is a chronic state that constantly tempts you with thoughts and feelings that life is out of control and you are helpless. It's difficult to precisely identify the cause of it, but the stress we feel from something is evident.

September 11 may have indeed changed how we live. Perhaps that change is good! A new kind of stress may motivate us to look for resources many have never tried before. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is sovereign. To know Him gives us the opportunity to be anchored in certainty and assurance. Taking the time to talk about what we're feeling, praying, spending time with family and loved ones, and learning to appreciate God for who He is can give us great confidence and personal strength.

Jesus reminds us in John 16:33: "These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world."

James Rudy Gray, who pastors Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C., is certified as a professional counselor by the National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors.