Are you feeling stressed? Everyone gets stressed sometimes. We all know the feeling: that pit in your stomach, the tightness in your upper back. Life brings no shortage of challenges, and dealing with many of them can be stressful. But what to do about it? I have two simple suggestions that may help.
1. Recognize your feelings and don’t let them run away with you.
Times of stress are often times of strong feelings. We all have feelings, emotions. Jesus had emotions: he cried over Jerusalem, he wept over Lazarus. Having feelings is not a bad thing, it is not wrong to have emotions. It is part of being human. It is what you do with your feelings that matters. Remember that feelings are real, but they are not always true. Because they are real, you can notice them when they happen, but because they are not always true, you can choose not to act on them, even if you “feel like it”. In his famous book, the Odyssey, the ancient Greek author Homer wrote the story of Odysseus, a heroic ship captain. At one point in the story, Odysseus is faced with the need to steer his ship between Charybdis, a terrible whirlpool threatening to suck his ship down to complete destruction, and Scylla, a ravenous many-tentacled monster on a rock, a monster that grabs men right off the deck. If you were steering your ship between such two dangers, and you saw that you were veering too close to one of them, you would want to do your best to correct (but not over-correct) your steering, to turn a bit more away from the danger. So it is with feelings: when they threaten to suck you down into a circular, paralyzing Charybdis of negative thoughts and emotions, steer away. Or when they try to spur you to become a Scylla monster, full of rash and damaging words and actions, steer away. You do not need to go where your feeling is pulling you. Do not let your feeling make the choice for you. It may not easy, but you can choose to steer away.
2. Pray simpler, not less.
When life is stressful, it is easy to focus on the bad things, the missing things, the things that you would like to fix. At times like this, anything that isn’t “fixing the problem” seems like a distraction, even a waste of time and energy. Even taking time out for prayer can feel like this. But prayer is never a waste of time and energy. Jesus is with us in the stress we face: he loves us more than we know, and prayer is connecting with him. He helps, not hinders. He also understands what it is like to be stressed. He knows that feeling of running on empty, of not having anything left to give. So do pray, but pray simple. Use words that don’t exhaust you. Can’t think of what to say? Use a memorized prayer: the Our Father is a good choice, or “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner“, or even “Dear Jesus, please help!” Or just be with Jesus without saying anything. Simply look at something that brings him to mind. In prayer, you do not always have to do or say something. It, too, is prayer to simply be with Jesus. Always leave space for prayer in your life, even when stressed. Especially when stressed! At such times, we need Jesus more, not less.
These are merely two suggestions of many that could be made about stress, but for me, these two things are vital. Managing feelings is enormously important. Praying is even more important, because we cannot manage our stress by ourselves. We need Jesus. The good news is that he is with us and he loves us. Jesus is there for us, especially when we are stressed.