I’ve noticed a theme since entering adulthood: it’s stressful. Becoming a grown up means grown-up responsibilities. You go to work, where maybe you have a difficult boss, or strict deadlines, budgets to make and presentations to give. After work, you go home, where you’re trying to keep up with things like grocery shopping, bills and cleaning. And on top of keeping your work and home life in order, you are trying to maintain a decent social life, stay up-to-date on pop culture and follow the news.
It’s a lot. It’s stressful. And, pretty quickly, we grow accustomed to the stress. We talk about being stressed out with our friends. We learn to go about our day with a constant weight on our shoulders, with neck pain and tension, with shortness of breath, or however it is your body manifests stress.
At some point, we just learn to live with it, get the occasional massage, and move on. But I wonder if we’re growing too comfortable with the amount of stress we have in our lives. I wonder if we realize what it is actually doing to us, not just physically, but spiritually.
I think stress, at its core, is feeling worried about things that aren’t going your way presently, didn’t go your way in the past, or might not go your way in the future. I went through an intensely stressful time recently in which I was worried about all three of these things at once. I felt myself spiraling. I got anxious and just held onto the anxiety. In the stress, I began to doubt God’s power, and I began to doubt His goodness. If God is good and cares about me, why do I feel this way? If He is all-powerful and all-knowing, why isn’t He improving my situation? Simply put, I was not trusting God.
When we’re stressed, our reaction is to search for peace. But after this recent bout of anxiety, I wonder if what we should be looking for instead is trust. Consider Isaiah 26:3: “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” According to this verse, trusting God is the key to perfect peace. And how do we trust God, especially in the midst of a stressful time? By keeping our minds “stayed” on Him.
John MacArthur says, “Perfect peace comes when our focus is off the problem, off the trouble, and constantly on Christ.” Let’s be honest, keeping our minds constantly on Christ is a bit of a daunting task, but I think we can take steps in that direction by remembering who God is and what He has done for us. For it is when we forget these things that we begin to distrust, and it is when we distrust that we begin to stress.
Remembering Who God Is
Oswald Chambers says in order to find peace, “remember who you are and whose you are.” When we forget who God is, it becomes very easy to freak out. If God is not in control, then who is? If God is not good, will the bad things never stop happening? If God is not loving, then will I never get the things I so deeply desire?
When we forget the character of God, the troubles in our minds escalate quickly. But when we remind ourselves of who God is—He is good (Exodus 34:6), He is just (Nehemiah 9:32), He is merciful (Hebrews 4:16)—the pressure to solve our own issues and take care of own stress is off. It’s not up to us, and the person it is up to is good, just and merciful.
Remembering What He Has Done for Us
There is no shortage of scholarly evidence that gratitude leads to a less stressful and more “happy life,” as the experts call it. But gratitude for the Christian takes things to a deeper level. We’re not only thankful for what we have; we are able to thank the one who gave it to us.
Paul tells the Philippians, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ” (Philippians 4:6-7). Thanksgiving is on the path toward peace.
I set a challenge for myself this year that you may want to consider if your stress level is high. I’m starting every day by writing down five things I am thankful for and five things I know to be true about God’s character. I’ve been doing this for a few weeks now, and though I can’t say my stress is completely gone and everything is roses, I have felt more aware of how good my life is and more aware of God’s presence in it. Reminding myself of these things has allowed me to be less skeptical of God and more trusting of Him. And in that trust, there has been peace.
A 100 percent stress-free life isn’t realistic, but I think we can, realistically, set a goal to stress less, fear less, and experience anxiety less often, one piece of gratitude and one piece of truth at a time.