Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Stress is a funny thing. I suppose in the natural, evolutionary, biological, whatever scheme of things it is part of our instinctual mechanism for self preservation: Part of the process leading to fight or flight. But as we are not likely to run into a bear around the corner, I wonder why it is such a very common and overwhelmingly large part of the life of modern man.

What is it that we are preparing to fight or flee? What is it that makes us think we are in danger so much of the time?

I think of the major causes of stress in the lives of those I know. Work is a biggie. I guess this makes sense as our jobs are our bread and butter. Seeing our livelihoods as something to preserve makes sense, but prior to the current economic climate, the stress did not seem to be related to losing one's job but fulfilling it. Was it the desire for preservation of status, respect, power? Is it that we so define ourselves by our work, we fear losing our very selves without it? And so we live in a constant state of stress ready to fight those over whom we have power and flee from those who hold power over us?

Kids are another major source of stress. I think this is in part due to the parent child bond which pushes our self preservation out to include our off spring. We are willing to fight for them or flee with them if we feel they are in danger of any kind. Not just the hungry bear for the modern man, but the demons watching and waiting to steal their innocence are in our sights. The dangers change from a peanut or lego left lying on the ground to a car backing out of a drive or a weak tree branch to the evil lurking yet unseen on the TV and internet or parked in a beat up old truck around the corner. It includes those we know or don't know, those they may like or love. It includes protecting them from their very selves.

I have also seen much stress in the married lives of those around me: Competing interests, jealousies, lack of respect for the contributions of one or the other to the partnership. It can be rooted in deep seeded animosities or simply due to the overwhelming nature of busy, hectic lives. It can result in hostile confrontation or the slow drifting away of a recognized need for the other for one's fulfillment. We are in a constant preparation to fight or flee from he who is central to our own preservation. We are not stressed to fight the enemy, but the friend.

I think that while many of these seem to be a conflict with an outside force or person, modern man's stress is really, in most circumstances, rooted in one singular fear. One thing we are willing to fight or flee to avoid at all cost. It is the desire not to protect our power, livelihood or even those we love. It comes as a shield to protect us from being hurt. And the hurt is not the bleeding wounds of a physical mauling, but the internal wounds of a bruised, broken or shattered heart.

With all of our modern conveniences, our worries would seem simply ludicrous to those who had to fight to stay alive. And too, we fear not just big pain, but little pain. We hope to protect ourselves not just from large scale humiliation, crushing grief and overwhelming evil, but inconvenience, irritation, and interruption.

Our natural instinct for self preservation from the elements and enemies has changed with our cushy pillow life to include an instinct to protect ourselves from dealing with any of life's unpleasantness. We are stressed about putting laundry in a machine, sending a 2 second e-mail, getting the kids' homework finished. We are stressed about putting dinner in the microwave or picking it up from a window, whether our meeting will end soon enough to allow for a round of golf, or how to get two kids to two different places at the same time. We are stressed about having our favorite program interrupted, not having time to get our coffee or being stopped at the water cooler for petty conversation.

I am now, not making accusations, but self reflecting. My stress is really selfishness. My stress is my desire to protect my time, my will, my interests from those around me. It comes from being diverted from what I want to do (important or not) by the needs of another human being: The car in front of me, the infuriating bickering of my children, my husband's travel schedule.

I do not mean to suggest that stress is not real. Ask my body, it will tell you. I do not believe that all our stress revolves around petty things. To desire to protect your heart from being broken or to avoid mass chaos which threatens to engulf your whole world is not a trite endeavour. But the fact remains that love requires pain and sacrifice. If we are to reach our human potential, we must learn to love others more than ourselves. We must be willing to accept pain and suffering. Unfortunately, this means in the biggies and the smalls. We must be willing to suffer heart break and irritation.

Okay great, but how? I keep asking myself this as my stress grows daily to become something too large for my small frame to bear. I could take drugs and function more efficiently, I guess. But it would still be there, silently crushing me, I just wouldn't know it as much.

I didn't know the answer when I started writing, I rarely do. But as I write, I just keep seeing Christ stretched out on His cross. How do I love? How do I love? Where is the Peace? Where is the peace? Is it in our human abilities that were transformed by the Passion and Death of our Savior? Did He change all the rules? Well, not change, but fulfill. Is he saying, "STOP! Do not fight or flee, surrender? Surrender to the daily irritations. Surrender to the daily worries. Surrender the fear of lack of respect, crushing grief, or humiliation."

But to whom, Lord? Where do I wave the white flag? Do I become a doormat, depressed, abused? Do I surrender to those who hold power over me, ignore me, irritate me? Do I surrender to the evil lurking in the darkness waiting to strike?

And then I see myself waving the white flag. Defeated. I can not fight anymore. There is no where left to flee. And the flag swirls from the stick to which it is attached and wraps itself around me as a sparkling garment, and I am raised above the battlefield in a circle of pure light.

"You surrender to me, my child. I am not defeat, I am victory. I make all things new. I turned death into life. Do you not think I can take stress and make it peace? Have more faith in Me."

And so my energy diverts. I will not work on managing, avoiding, anesthetizing the stress, the pain. I will work on having faith. I will not work on pulling myself up and out, but on believing I can be pulled up and out.

Lord, today I ask only one thing, help my unbelief.

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