Our profession is a stressful one. Many demands are made on our time, our resources, and our emotions and, at times, it feels as though there is very little reward. One lesson is completed only to begin another; one discipline issue handled leads to three more evolving; one staff meeting leads to ten new pieces of information and requirements. I can’t speak for everyone, but my introversion increases from about 75% to 95% during the school year; rarely is something identified as important enough to drag me out of my house once I’ve made it there in the afternoons. Feeling some amount of stress is unavoidable and it would be dangerous to think otherwise. I remind myself regularly that residents of the enviable “Blue Zones” don’t lead less stressful lives than me; they’ve just oriented their lives to deal with it.
The real question, then, is not how do I keep myself from becoming stressed at work, but how do I deal with that stress as it occurs. We know that stress in and of itself is not evil; it is stress that gives people the extraordinary ability to do things like lift cars or run from wild animals. Cortisol and adrenaline working together is just one of the amazing functions of our bodies, one of the incredible ways that God has built us for survival. However, chronic elevation of these useful hormones turns a good thing into a dangerous thing, leading to a myriad of diseases and ailments, including anxiety.
Anxiety, in some form or another, has existed since humans were created. In the very opening chapters of the Bible, we see Adam and Eve cowering in fear of God after they sinned. In the 50s-60s AD, many followers of Christ were being persecuted for their faith. In the midst of this, Paul was forming and encouraging churches filled with new believers. In his parting words to the church at Phillipi, we read:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Health practitioners and self-help gurus recommend many ways to alleviate stress. Indeed, different methods are proven to work well for different people. In my own life, I am a firm believer in deep breathing. I am also a firm believer in the Gospel and it strikes e that the foundation of most stress-busting methods can be found in these verses. Ask for help. Practice gratitude. Seek peace.
I love that we’re not advised to “just stop.” I love that our fears and worries are not viewed as unimportant or invalid. Instead, we’re encouraged to go before God with them. We’re encouraged to talk to God about them, to ask Him for help. Too often, I fear we hold onto our worries because they seem too trivial, too silly. Paul is telling us here that is not the case! God loves us and wants to know all about our worries, not so He can punish us or advise us – so He can give us His peace. Unlike the temporary peaces that comes from breathing deeply, going for a walk, or having wine with friends, God’s peace is a shield around our heart and our mind, protecting us from our fears.
I also love the further advice that Paul gives with relation to our minds, because it is our minds that seem to let us down in moments of stress. The advice is simple: think about good things.
Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
In our productive world, this additional encouragement seems so practical. Talk to God. Experience His peace. Then, turn your mind and think on what is good.
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