Monday, September 30, 2013

A New Outlook on Stress

I have no stress in my life. 

I know...crazy, right?  I can hear you groaning, thinking, "I wish I had no stress in my life!  How is that possible?" Well, let me clarify--- I have no stress in my life right now.  And because of that, I have changed the way I look at stress.

I actually used to thrive on stress.  It's how I got things done.  Somehow, the pressure energized me---or so I thought. But I got to a point where I realized that my loved ones---and myself--were suffering the fallout.  I was short tempered and anxious.

A little more than a year ago, I was working about 30 hours a week at a job at which I now work 45 hours a week, trying to hold on to a dying business, and in the process of moving.  I was definitely stressed!  And I was in a period of spiritual dryness.  I felt like I was coming apart.

Once we moved, a lot of the stress lifted.  We were in a better place-physically and financially. Though still in a period of spiritual dryness, I realized that I had a lot to be thankful for. God blessed us immensely, more than we ever thought possible with our new house.  My job was one where I got to help a family member and he helped me by giving me this job.   It wasn't what I thought I'd be doing at age 52, but I found that I was content.  And contentment is the first step toward living stress-free. From there, I found that several things contributed to my new nature.

Step #1: Find contentment where you are.  Find it; don't expect it to come to you.  Choose to be content. I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances...I have learned the secret of being content in any and every circumstance...I can do all things through him who gives me strength (Phil 4:11-13). You can choose to be resentful of where you are, wondering when your turn will come, when you will see the word God gave you come to fruition. You can live in turmoil, or anger because this isn't what you signed up for. Or because you had to put your plans, your dreams on hold so you could support someone else's dreams. Or you can choose to be content, regardless of your circumstances. it's called maturity. Seek peace and pursue it (Psalm 34:14)

Step #2:  Learn to say no and let things go.
About 6 months ago, I went from having a part time job and a dying business to full time work and a dying business.  A few months ago, I gave up my business.  The little money I made in my business wasn't worth the time I was putting in after my job.  I have been actively involved in community theatre for years, but realized that getting involved at this point would cause over-committment.  As much as I loved my theatre friends and my creative outlet, I knew I had to give it up--for a time.  Not forever.  That's the beauty of community theatre.  You can go in and out of it as you like.  I do it for fun, and if I'm stressed out it's not fun.

We tend to feel obligated to "do," and feel guilty for saying no.  Then we begin to resent the very people we are helping. I've learned that my contentment, my peace, my joy is worth more to me than simply appeasing people.  Simply let your yes be yes and your no be no (Matthew 5:37).

Step#3:  Slow down!
Remember that Simon & Garfunkel song, "Feeling Groovy?" --- "Slow down, you move too fast! You've gotta make the morning last, just kicking down the cobblestones, looking for fun and feeling groovy!"  They say hello to the lamp post, they watch the flowers grow.  How often do we take the time to do that?  Just look at traffic - everyone is in a hurry!  Everywhere we go, people are hurrying through life. Slow down.  Take a deep breath.  What's the hurry?  Why wear yourself out?  Just what are you after anyway?  But you say, 'I can't help it...I can't quit. (Jeremiah 2:25 The Message)

Step #4:  Learn to rest 
Because I wasn't going out to rehearsals, I was spending my evenings at home. We had been in our house about a year now, and we were settled.  I was content and not committed to any shows.  I wasn't really involved in anything.  I was resting. It felt good. There was a quietness in my life, yet a restlessness in my soul.  I was still in that period of spiritual dryness, but I always felt God's presence.  I knew He loved me still and always would. But I longed for what I once had-that closeness.  Even though I was quiet, I wasn't still. My cry, my prayer, my song became, and still is, whenever I feel anxiety and restlessness, "Be still, oh, my soul!"

I rested physically, but I still had unrest in my spirit.  I listened to Audrey Assad's "Restless, " in which she sings, "Still my heart; hold me close, and let me hear a still small voice.  Let it grow, let it rise into a shout, into a cry...I am restless, so restless till I rest in You!"  Music is how I get close to God. So I sang my way through the chaos in my soul until I found my rest in Him.  Find rest , O my soul, in God alone.  My hope comes from him (Psalm 62:5)

Step #5: Declare it!
 Before I actually was living stress-free, I started declaring it.  "I have no stress in my life."  I'm not saying that I "named it and claimed it."  It was more that I realized,  "I really have nothing in my life that should cause me stress, so there is no reason I should feel stressed."  It just made sense to me. 

It felt strange, at first, to be saying this.  After all, I used to be a person who thrived on stress (hah!).  I didn't fully believe it.  I was used to complaining, not speaking positive thoughts!  But the more I said it, the more I believed it.  We can speak death over our lives, ("Oh, I'm so stressed out! I just can't handle any more! I never get a break!") or we can speak life. ("I really have nothing in my life to be stressed about, so there is no reason I should feel stressed. And when stress comes, I can choose not to let it rule my life.").

This weekend I put over 200 miles on my car going back and forth to the hospital.  I attended a funeral of a dear friend yesterday.  And I've been dealing with some personal issues. On the outside, it looked like a lot to deal with.  But I truly never felt stressed because I chose not to let the situations and circumstances reign.  I chose to focus on my Father in Heaven.  I chose to cast all my anxiety on Him because He cares for you (I Peter 5:7).  I was tired, but not stressed. When I started to stress over something that I needed to do, but couldn't find the time to do it, I had to let it go or ask someone else to do it (Ask for what you need??? That's another day's blog!). 

I know, I know.  "You don't understand, Mary.  You don't know what I'm dealing with right now." No, I don't.  But God does. And He wants you to be content.  We will encounter stress in our lives.  But we don't have to let it rule our lives. Look at your life and ask what you can let go; how you can say no. Slow down. Rest in Him. And listen to your words-speak life, not death.  The words I have spoken to you are spirit and are life (John 6:63)

Blessing Along the Path, 

Restless (Audrey Assad)
Feeling Groovy (S&G--look for the Smothers Brothers!)

In repentance and rest is your salvation
In quietness and trust is your strength (Isaiah 30:15)

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