It’s such a dirty word in 2018, hey?
We prefer to talk about sleep hygiene, self-love, meditation and minimalism. We strive to rid ourselves of this demon that wreaks havoc on our mental, emotional, and physical health. Yet we don’t really like to talk about it. I’ve often wondered how many people answering the question, “How’re you doing?” with “Oh I’m just so busy!” should really just cut the crap and say, “I’m stressed.”
But maybe that’s just me.
We think that replacing the dirty word with new vocabulary buzz words will replace the accompanying feelings. We think it’s as simple as resolving in our will to remove stress. We think a few less hours of screen time will solve everything. We think that 10 days of doing absolutely nothing in a hot climate will reverse the damage we do the 355 other days of the year. We think a drink or two after work will buzz out the exhaustion and the nerves. We think, we think, we think.
Here’s what I’m starting to think.
Stress is not simple, nor does it simply disappear with the right amount of mental toughness or determination. Stress is not ONLY about our external factors, and attempting to maintain some semblance of control over them.
Stress runs deep, like channels of water that have carved out over time. Even if that stream runs dry for a season, the slightest amount of rainfall is enough to send water back through the same channel. Make sense? It’s the pathway of least resistance; it’s the only direction our minds naturally want to go.
I felt like writing about this because 1. Social media is super deceptive, and for all you watching my life on Instagram – I would like to clear the air and say that just because I’m currently living on a tropical island does not mean I am immune to stress. 2. Actually just the opposite is true. I am in the middle of an outrageously big life adjustment. It’s been anything but easy – yes, the sunsets and surf help, but in the last month I have found myself wading through piles and piles of stress. (An unforeseen and rather unfortunate consequence of uprooting your whole life just shy of your 25th bday). I am not immune to this, but I also don’t believe that stress is just humanity’s lot in life. I think it is something we have collectively become so used to that we have largely stopped trying to understand it or even fight it.
Again, I’m in no way claiming to be a researcher or anything along those lines. I write based mostly off my own experiences. Here’s what I’ve been observing lately (in myself).
I think stress is actually the response that follows after something familiar goes down that mental pathway. Stress itself isn’t the issue; it’s the response to the issue. Stress retraces the steps of the familiar channel, and then the floodgates fling wide. Anyone else had a super peaceful month, or week, or day… right up until that thing tips you over the edge?
It can be relational, it can be financial, but the point is we all know the feeling. It’s that drop in the pit of your stomach when your phone dings with a passive-aggressive text. It’s the fear that wracks you when you have no idea how ends are going to meet this month. It’s the unknown, and our complete lack of control over it. (Notice: stress always comes from external sources – it’s the unknown because we are entirely unable to control or manipulate the source from which it comes.) Because it’s kind of fresh and kind of proves my point, I’ll use a fairly personal example of a recent relational stress. Saturday morning rolled around and I woke up in such a good mood. It was one of my first chill weekends on the island and in my new home!! Like, I was in a weirdly good mood (PSA I don’t normally wake up bouncing off the walls). Now, my first mistake was waking up and checking my phone first thing (a habit I’m very aware of and very much trying to change). Of course, what was the first thing I saw on my screen but an email notification from an old friend. I was so excited! I figured we hadn’t chatted in a while and immediately opened it to read. Enter: stress. Without spreading the dirty detes… essentially what I received was a heartbreaking email from a friend whom, though we had drifted, I still considered a friend. This email read like a formal request for the dissolution of our friendship. It was absolutely devastating to read. Now maybe some of you are psychopaths, but I think most of us can agree that relational tension is extremely stressful. This email, this “trigger,” this immediately-sick-to-your-stomach moment, spun my entire day off course. I was caught up entirely in my mind about the whole thing. Regardless of how much I knew it wasn’t my fault, and no matter how many positive messages other friends sent me to counteract it, still the stress remained.
Here’s the thing I’m learning. You can be absolutely 100% sure of where you are and why you’re there and what you’re doing, and you can still be stressed. I absolutely detest the quote, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I used to love it, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that ever since I started actually doing what I love I have never worked harder. (Physically, mentally, and emotionally… I think doing what you love taps you out – but in a good way!) I say that because I know in my mind I’m where I want to be, but that doesn’t make my life sunshine and butterflies all the time. Your mental knowledge of any given situation does not translate directly to your heart.
And yes, I believe that stress is a matter of the heart.
My mind knows exactly why and how and when I made the decisions I made to get me where I am today. My mind can do all the explaining, get excited about the future, and even console me when things don’t go well. The mind loves to examine, explain, and justify. The problem is that the heart and the mind don’t always move in tandem. I want to live freely from my heart. I don’t know about you, but I want to live a life knowing deep down that I am fully loved and accepted. I want to make life decisions based off my security in who I am and my sense of peace, even in the unknown. (In this particular instance, I want to live life secure in the fact that my heart is always to be a loving and kind friend, even if others don’t see or appreciate it. If I live in that place on a consistent basis, all the hurtful emails in the world could be sent my way and I wouldn’t waver in my peace.) I think our minds are important (obviouslllyyy), but I don’t want my life to revolve around rationalizations, explanations, or calculations. There is a certain type of freedom that comes if you’re open to living from the heart. The heart gets a bad rap from sappy rom coms, but truly living from it is one of the most stable places to be. It protects and guards you from the reactions of others, the fears of the future, the uncontrollable, the untouchable, unknowns in your life.
James Jordan touches on why solving stress doesn’t actually solve much. There’s a key to living from your heart, and that key is knowing who created your heart. God is love; He cannot be anything outside of love. You can’t expect to live in full freedom outside of the one who designed freedom in the first place.
“You will never be rid of the tribulations of the world. They are going to keep happening all of your life but His love will eclipse the effect of them. Most of us try to fix our internal issues by trying to address external problems. We think that if we get everything peaceful on the outside then we will be at peace in our hearts. If I can get everything happy around me then I can be happy. If I can get everything nice on the outside, then I will feel nice on the inside. We try to get the externals of life fixed so that we can be at peace… you will always be waiting for the day to arrive when everything is perfect.”
In other words… controlling the unknowns, removing the “stressors” in our lives, or escaping to Mexico for 2 weeks won’t begin to touch on the real issues at work. It’s a bleak idea – the thought of waiting your whole life for something that will never arrive. Perfection is impossible on this earth. I don’t know if any of you saw Chris Pratt’s acceptance speech for the Generation Award at the 2018 MTV Movie & TV awards, but it was amazing. One of his most hilarious and potent lines to a young generation was simply this:
“Nobody is perfect. People will tell you that you are perfect just the way that you are, you are not! You are imperfect. You always will be, but there is a powerful force that designed you that way, and if you are willing to accept that, you will have grace. And grace is a gift.”
The point is, stress hypothetically would go away in a perfect world. But you’ll be waiting fruitlessly if that’s your only solution to a stressed-out life. But there’s more to this idea of stress. It’s not enough for me to just say that we’re imperfect and that stress exists – good luck! Thanks for reading! Kidding. There is a way to live untouched by stress. It’s a way of life, the original way life was intended to be lived. It’s love.
“Prior to [the serpent’s temptation] their only concept was of God’s love for them. They knew they were forbidden to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil but that was the only prohibition upon them. For them, everything was complete peace and joy. If you had sat down with them and attempted to explain the concept of insecurity, you could try for one hundred years and they would not have grasped it. Their whole experience was that the almighty God walked with them everyday and completely and absolutely loved them. They were filled with love so there was no capacity for fear or insecurity.”
-James Jordan (The Ancient Road Rediscovered)
What an insane thought. GUYS…Adam and Eve couldn’t comprehend insecurity!! Literally they could not have grasped the concept! Can you imagine living life like that?? We can’t even picture it. Stress, insecurity and fear have become the unseen rulers of our daily lives; they are so normalized we can barely notice them anymore much less fight them off.
There are a few reasons I love that last quote. The first is that it eradicates this old-school concept of religion as a rule-based organization. They had only ONE rule in the garden. Never mind churches, just look at how many rules we have in place everywhere now! Schools, government… you name it. The point is, God did not set out to create a religion of rules. He set out to love humanity. So if your picture of church and God don’t align, I don’t think God is to blame.
“Christianity is not a quest to find a distant and obscure God. Christianity begins when our eyes are opened to see the God who is already there… Christianity begins with the revelation of who God really is and flows from there. The religious construct is founded on humanity hoping to feel its way towards God and find Him.”
-Stephen Hill (Primal Hope)
Therein lies the second part I love about this quote. God is the one who actually initiated a way to connect with humanity. Because of His love. It’s like love is this big huge balloon that fills up a room, and suddenly there isn’t space for anything else to fit! On the rare occasion I feel like playing adult for a few hours I babysit kids, and the thing that always fascinates me is how utterly distractible kids are. They forget to eat because they are having so much fun playing! How many adults do that? But I think that’s a perfect picture of what this looks like. Imagine the complete joy that takes over a child when their dad comes home from work after a long day. They couldn’t care less what the headlines are on the news, what’s for dinner, or what anyone is wearing because their daddy just walked through the door!! They just want to play. To a kid, playing is receiving love. I think we can be the same way with God. So yes, there is some truth to ‘stress-relieving’ tips. Get outside, be active, and socialize. Why? Because all those things are ways we celebrate life; ways we play. I fully believe that every time we are awed by a sunset or enamoured by a mountaintop it’s because we experience a bit of God’s love in that moment, regardless of whether or not you even realize it.
Sometimes I feel the need to summarize these blogs and make each one more professional than the last, but then I really don’t care. If there’s one thing to remember from all my rambling its that stress resounds from the heart. Get your heart at peace and watch the rest of your body follow suit.
“You will keep in perfect peace
all who trust in you,
all whose thoughts are fixed on you”