Thursday, October 26, 2006

Stress or Distress

When Shay was about four years old he gave me a big hug one day and said, “You’we the gweatest dad in the wowld.” (He couldn’t say his “R’s”) Just an hour or so later I had to punish him for something and as he walked away, under his breath he said, “Now you’we not the gweatest dad in the wowld.” It’s amazing how our affections can change when we’re challenged a bit. (By the way, the truth about my parental skills is somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.)

I’ve been reading a lot lately from the book of Matthew… about Jesus, the people he interacted with and especially the religious and political leaders. (Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Herodians, etc…) These different groups sometimes remind me of how my kids have acted from time to time: I’m happy as long as you don’t challenge me. As you get more and more into Matthew 9, 10, 11 and 12 these leaders are starting to feel challenged by Jesus. As such they start to ‘lose their cool’. They are unable to handle the stress that Jesus is putting on their systems of coping. (Pause… Stress in and of itself isn’t bad. It can help you clarify and focus on goals. Too much stress though without dealing with it turns into distress. That is bad. At that point, you start letting go of goals and instead focus on finding immediate relief.) Back to the political/religious leaders in Jesus’ day…Their perspectives were becoming overwhelmed with the radical way of living that Jesus taught and lived. Most of them probably had good intentions. Many of them may have had good goals. But at the point of distress goals and intentions went out the window. They were only focused on finding relief. For them relief was ridding themselves of Jesus.

Two things…

Number One: We have to learn how to keep stress from turning into distress. How does that happen? Here are four thoughts:
A. Confession to God and one another is what the apostle James prescribes. Oh and Jesus said it as well. What would our worship look like if we actually went to someone who we have ‘issues’ with and asked for forgiveness before we sang a song or took communion or listened to the message or anything else we do at church? Seriously!
B. Invite wise people into our lives that can support us and give us feedback about our stress levels. Proverbs 13:20 says, "He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm."
C. Sometimes professional counseling is the best option. Some believers have problems with seeing a therapist. Admittedly there can be some conflict of interest because psychology is often about developing self and the gospel is often about denying self. But with the right outlook it can be of tremendous value. My friend, Diana, gave me a quote from John Powell who is a Catholic writer. He says, “The only reason for Christians to go to counseling is so that we can know ourselves, so we can be ourselves, so we can forget ourselves.” That seems to make a lot of sense to me.
D. Sometimes the only way to develop the ability to overcome stress is to learn as you go. You ‘take the hit’, bear down and resist allowing disappointment to slide into discouragement, frustration into anger, or fear into panic. (For more on this idea from a business/leader perspective see “Take the Hit: The Breakfast of Champions and Great Leaders” by Mark Goulston from the fast company website http://www.fastcompany.com/resources/leadership/goulston/090106.html)


Number Two: We must fight the tendency to automatically reach for the ‘finding immediate relief button' when we are under stress.
This ‘immediate relief button’ comes in the form of (big breath) running away, moving out, leaving town, leaving the church, sending the hurtful letter, getting the divorce, ignoring the issue, giving the silent treatment, slamming the phone, escaping, etc, etc… or in general trying to ‘kill’ the thing that is hurting us. (For Shay it was walking away from me and ‘writing me off’ as now not being the best dad in the world.) The painful truth is God’s allowed the stress to be there for a reason… to teach us something, to build character in us, to make us stronger... As C.S. Lewis said, “God is the transcendental interferer.” That’s true but we know this interference is there not to get us to throw out our goals and intentions and proper way of handling things. This interference is not there so we can panic and hit the 'immediate relief button'. It’s there because God tests those He loves. Got a problem? Good. God loves you! Suffering under something? Good. You’re blessed! (This sounds counter intuitive? Good! Join the crowd. Re-read Matthew 5.)

My boy tried to ‘write me off’… the religious/political leaders tried to ‘write Jesus off’… They couldn’t handle the stress and it turned to distress. How about you? Are you trying to do that to someone or something in your life? Are you trying to hit that ‘immediate relief button’ regardless of what it does to others? Take a step back for a moment. Take a breath. Don’t just react. When you’re 'challenged' extend grace even as Christ extended grace to you. That’s a huge part of what maturity is all about… not running away but standing up to the stress and dealing with it.


Epilogue
Regarding finding ‘immediate relief’… Of course there are seasons in life when a change is necessary. Obviously if you are in an abusive relationship you should remove yourself immediately. I would never encourage you to ‘stick it out’ under the pretense that God is trying to teach you something or build character. But also there may be times when abuse is not even a part of the equation and you might need a change. Change in and of itself is not bad at all. I think the scriptures teach that God is always doing something new. The key is making sure we’re not changing just to avoid challenges, stress or tension. Hope that makes sense. (If not see point C under “Number One”!)




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4 comments:

jtc said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
jtc said...

I myself think that therapy can be extremely helpful but ... Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.

Oh and by truth I mean that which man has claimed not that which God is.

jonathan foster said...

Good clarification. Truth is as truth does. Wouldn't that be how Forest would say it?

jonathan foster said...

Oh, one other thing. One of the main problems with people and truth, as I see it is the whole idea of faith in the first place. Truth can be interpreted from a heart of faith or a heart of doubt. If you already have great doubt then you’re probably going to discern the truth to be negative. By the way, this is true with 'signs' as well. Interestingly enough I'm preaching about that this coming week.