I like to think I’ve made progress in this area… but sometimes, more times than I care to admit, I’m leveled. I’m back to square one. Humbled and even a bit ashamed to come before Him and admit I’ve done it again. I have charged off in my own strength attempting to solve everything in my wake.
This time it has been my body that has screamed STOP.
The symtoms started out small and insignificant. Like a gnat I kept squishing, but his brother would come back for revenge. An awareness on the left side of my neck, enough to wake me at night, slowly became a dull ache and sometimes a demanding pain. It floats in and out, not enough to halt my striving, but just enough to make me grouchy and worried.
Stumping the doctors, who ordered a myriad of tests just added fuel to the ordeal. And the king-pin STRESS was being fed all the fuel it needed to keep the hot embers burning.
A Healthy Routine
Since it has been four days since the primary source of my stress has moved out, I’ve resumed a healthy routine— priority one, spending quality time with God. Never disappointing when I do meet with Him, He has shed some light onto my situation.
A Tool He uses
This stress which wreaks havoc, causes me to rant, to rage, to be short with anyone who crosses my path and exasperates my symptoms, is a tool God uses. Say what?
Romans 8:28. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Stress is not exempt. God uses even stress for His good purposes. Inspired by Randy Alcorn on the subject, in my vast experience with the stress demon, I wholeheartedly agree.
How God uses our stress
1. …to get our attention.
He created our bodies and designed them to send us messages. If you put your hand in the fire your body alerts you with a quick and precise message. Ignore it, and you pay the price. CS Lewis wrote, “Pain is God’s megaphone.” And the way I see it, we are often deaf. In spite of physical, emotional and spiritual warning signs, we ignore them. We’re like the stubborn mule that requires a two by four knock to the head to get the hint.
I believe it’s Gods desire that we’re in-tune with our minds and our bodies and pay attention to what they may be telling us.
2. …to re-evaluate our priorities.
My careless inattention to consistent time with Him set me up to learn or re-learn a basic lesson.
Learning Lessons the Hard Way
Have you ever been frustrated by an unteachable kid who has to learn lessons the hard way? Ian moved to the dorms and was assigned two keys— one for the apartment unit shared by 5 others, and one to his bedroom door. I recommended a lanyard or key chain. Apparently that isn’t cool.
Predictably within hours, he lost a key. Later when he found the key, I swooped in and INSISTED he comply with a discrete key-chain including a tile attachment, that enables blue tooth to find the missing item. (A life-saver for anyone memory challenged) That same night I get a panicked phone call that he lost a key in Johnson field — a massive green space at the University. Cool I thought, let’s test the technology. Not so fast. He then confessed he took the key off the key chain. Trying to understand why only added fuel to the fire. Today he plans to comb the green space and find the elusive single key. I can only pray that the tedious effort will teach him a better way.
He’s not the only one
I know that putting God first and spending time with Him daily should be a high priority. When I do, my day goes smoother. Every. Single. Time. But no different than my stubborn ginger, I’ve had to learn the lesson the hard way. Over and over and over.
My stress has taken me back to the basics and has motivated me to realign my priorities.
3. …to draw us to Himself
We’re not the only ones. The Israelites, Jonah and all throughout the Psalms, we read of people who turn to God in times of intense stress.
2 Chronicles 15:4 “But in their distress they turned to the Lord, the God of Israel, and sought him, and he was found by them”
Jonah 2:2 “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me”
Psalm 18:6, Psalm 81:7, Psalm 120:1.
The Danger of Comfortable
When our lives are stress-free and comfortable, we carelessly withdraw from the Lord as if to say, I’ve got this. But just as the hungry reach for food, those under stress often turn to God. I’m especially thankful for God’s graciousness. Even though it has happened before and will likely happen again, when we come to the end of ourselves, He is there waiting. Every. Single. Time.
4. …to discipline us.
Yuck. Who wants discipline? Of course we don’t. But any parent knows discipline is corrective and vital. An undisciplined child grows up to be a menace.
How it works
God allows stresses not to punish us for doing wrong, but to deepen our dependence on Him so that we can do right. Though the stressful experience may be excruciating at the time, it is ultimately used for good.
Hebrews 12:10,11 God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
5. … to strengthen our faith.
1 Peter 1:7 “These [trials] have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
Did you know that stress is required to strengthen a muscle? A muscle that isn’t worked atrophies and eventually becomes useless. Also, a muscle that isn’t stretched beyond its limits can only maintain itself. It doesn’t grow. To grow, a muscle must be taxed. Demands must be placed upon it.
Stress is a demand placed on our faith. Without it our faith will not and cannot, grow.
This past week marks the two-year anniversary of Ian’s car accident that nearly took his life. Since that day, there have been hills and valleys, successes and set-backs. But stress, to some degree, has been a constant companion. Still… amazingly, we have persevered. God has sustained us and strengthened us. It is as if the very thing that should have decimated us, was used by Him to cause us to thrive.
If you’re under stress, resist holding onto it. Instead, offer it to Him. He will use it to strengthen you for your good and His Glory. God is faithful.