Freeing yourself from stress might be easier, and harder, than you think.
Easier, because there are simple exercises (mental and physical) which can have a profound impact on stress.
Harder, because stress has an endless number of causes.
It’s my hope these posts empower you to overcome both small and even tall hurdles. Each post we make will be like a tiny hurdle. Easy and manageable. But the more small hurdles you jump, the more strength you’ll have to clear the taller and harder hurdles. But speaking of jumping...
Joel Embiid is a famous basketball player. This year he's competing with Lebron James for the league's MVP. Not bad. Even in the NBA, he seems like a giant. However, he’s had his fair share of setbacks. His Freshman year at Kansas, the Jayhawks were poised, like many years, to finish as one of the final four out of sixty-eight teams. But prior to the tournament, a routine check for back soreness uncovered a stress fracture in his lower back. That fateful check-up meant his season was now suddenly over. Everything he had worked tirelessly toward, nearly every single day and night, had ended with a routine CAT scan.
But this was just the beginning. The NBA was excited (though slightly cautious) about the sheer potential of Embiid. He wasn’t just seven feet tall and nearly three hundred pounds of pure muscle, he was surprisingly agile and fast. Naturally, the media couldn’t stop fawning over him. That was until his first season echoed with the haunting sound of another false start. Once again, Embiid suffered a year ending injury, but this time it was his knee. Once again, he rehabbed and waited. And waited. Finally, after all the recovery and work, the next season arrived. Then, sadly, it happened again. Embiid was soon viewed not as a promising talent, but a costly mistake. Years later however, eventually Embiid began to play, but only in comical, tiny bursts of playing time, as the owners remained fearful they would lose this gigantic business investment. But slowly, following many other smaller injuries, Embiid gradually morphed into one of the most fearsome players in the world.
But during all those years of injuries, setbacks, and criticism, he tweeted, spoke, and repeated (almost ad nauseum) one single phrase:
“Trust the process.”
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3
In harder circumstances than Embiid's, I encounter real people who reject the process. I also encounter real people who trust the process.
In the process of life, here’s where it gets interesting. Many of these same people have identical circumstances but completely different responses. Some have been raped by family members and horrifically left as though they were worthless. Some have been turned on by the only close friends they’d ever known. Some have survived cancer. And despite these similar hardships, one person is filled with peace and an authentic, palpable joy, while the other is filled with defeat and bitterness. So what’s the difference?
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3
The difference occurs at the moments of pain.
One person trusts what God says. They trust the truth He’s spoken in His Word, the Bible. They become like a child in the midst of confusion, pain, and loss.
The other person makes their own conclusions about the process. These self-made conclusions are false beliefs in the midst of the same confusion, pain and loss that the other individual experiences. Rather than accepting God’s love, they turn away from His embrace and believe their own reasoning, their own views, above God’s Word.
Pain: Bitter Response
He (God) abandoned me when I was abused countless times as a child.
He betrayed me when my spouse betrayed me.
He hated me when others hated me.
Failure: Cynical Response
I’ve battled this addiction and it always ends the same.
I’ve been around the block of relationships and it always ends the same.
I’ve tried church one too many times and it always ends the same.
I’ve never had my real needs met, why would things change now?
These beliefs about the process of life are lies.
Here’s the truth.
Pain: True Response
He (God) cried bitterly for me when I was abused countless times as a child, and He gave His only Son (Jesus) away for an even worse fate so I could be His, free from this prison forever.
He was betrayed by those He came to save, even me when I rejected His love.
He was hated by the world and me when we turned away from His sacrifice for us. He took the punishment of my worst sins on Himself, and forgives them all through His sacrifice when I believe.
Failure: Faith Response
I’ve battled this addiction and it always ends the same because I trust myself rather than God and others. I sing for joy when I trust His strength rather than my own.
I’ve been around the block of relationships, but I expect the brokenness of human nature. Therefore I won’t allow myself to be used or enable others bad behavior, but I’ll love and sacrifice myself for others just as Jesus did for me.
I’ve tried church one too many times and it always ends the same because I’ve believed it is a club for my needs and whims, rather than a volunteer hospital for the broken and wounded.
I’ve never had my real needs met because I haven’t discovered the unshakable joy of giving my life away, thereby gaining it back all the more.
It’s at the precipice of pain and failure you trust God’s Word, God's love and God's power through this process, or your own word, your own love and your own power.
I thought we were starting with the small hurdles, you might be thinking. The first hurdle is always the most difficult, especially if you’ve slowly resisted the conviction of God on your heart over the course of many years. Resist your own wisdom rather than God's wisdom.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. James 4:10
You can trust that promise today rather than trusting in yourself. Trust His process. His Word. His explanations. His presence. Look for it on the horizon. Wake up to it in the morning. Being an adult does not mean you have the infinite wisdom of the universe. There's nothing more deceptive and joy stealing than the often repeated phrase of the 20th century: Believe in yourself.
Trusting in yourself flatters the emotions while cutting off humble connections with God. The world's flattery will deceive you every single time.
As we said before, stress has many causes, and we'll begin to look at them week to week.
But before we start our journey, nothing is more important than this: it's the roots that make the tree able to endure each season. It's the foundation that keeps the house standing. And it's a humble self-reflection of the Bible's words about you (God's words) that will lift your spirit out of the lies of the world and into the Spirit of truth.
Let me be more specific: trusting God's process requires deep humility to throw off self-trust, especially when you're at your lowest.
I recently read an amazing true story about a young man.
As a young boy he was abused by someone his parents trusted. He desperately told them what was happening. They wouldn't believe him, so on and on it went. As he grew up, drugs and alcohol numbed everything, but only in short bursts, and the intense pain and fears always returned. Close to suicide, he called out to Jesus and began following Him instead of his passions and his life completely changed. He began serving people on the streets and helping the poor. Unfortunately, the very people he sacrificed and ministered to started turning on him. Untrue accusations followed him everywhere he went. Then, one particular man he gave food and money to each week cornered him, put a knife to his throat, tied him up in a building, beat him, sexually assaulted him and left him for dead. Afterwards he reported his description of the man to the police and they told him they knew exactly who he was, had been searching him, and that he never left his victims alive. The police told him he was incredibly lucky.
He also lost his job.
During this time, he turned back to his former life of sex, alcohol and even harder drugs than he used to consume. He did this for years. He was filled with not only substances but bitterness towards the Christians who'd abandoned him and the people who'd robbed him of self-worth. He was a prisoner.
Late one night he had a dream. In his dream he saw a prison cell. Inside the prison cell was a child, shuffling his feet back and forth as if bored. He immediately recognized the child was actually him. The child looked up. To his amazement He saw Jesus at the cell door, unlocking it. The boy ran out of the cell and into Jesus' arms and embraced Him. He suddenly woke and knew what God was telling Him. You're no longer a prisoner. You're free. You're with Me.
He forgave them all. He trusted God instead of himself. He asked God for forgiveness. God wants you to follow this man's example. Don't trust yourself any longer, where has that gotten you? Trust Him instead.
Shame and pain are powerful, but they're not more powerful than the love and hope of Jesus Christ.
Nothing will rob your energy, peace and joy more than rejecting the One who’s waiting to give Himself to you. To receive His truth you must reject your own and even the world's. Nothing will create a colder heart than believing your own bitter thoughts rather than the thoughts of God. Because in Him are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, peace and understanding, joy and purpose, and finally meaning and a most certain hope.
Remember that topics such as abuse, physical health and anxiety will receive more in depth treatment as we go on. Each week cannot be exhaustive, but added together over time, that will be the result.