An out-of-towner drove his car into a ditch in a farming area. Luckily, a local farmer came to help with his big strong horse named Buddy. He hitched Buddy up to the car and yelled, “Pull, Nellie, pull.” Buddy didn’t move. Then the farmer hollered, “Pull, Buster, pull.” Buddy didn’t respond. Once more the farmer commanded, “Pull, Jennie, pull.” Nothing. Then the farmer nonchalantly said, “Pull, Buddy, pull.” And the horse easily dragged the car out of the ditch. The motorist was most appreciative and also very curious. He asked the farmer why he called his horse by the wrong name three times.
The farmer said, “Oh, Buddy is blind, and if he thought he was the only one pulling, he wouldn’t even try!”
Buddy is one smart horse. Even though he could do it on his own, he wants to believe he’s getting some help.
We’re often the opposite. We can’t do it well on our own but we want to believe we don’t need any other help. That’s stress causing us to increase our stress by causing us to choose options that only cause more stress. If you’re thinking “vicious circle,” you’ve got the idea.
It’d be nice if there were a Geiger counter for stress. We could use something that could count the amount of stress atoms we have coursing through our bodies and brains at any moment. I should invent it!! Then we could have something like a USDA recommended daily amount of stress in our emotional/spiritual diet. This way, we could know when we are overwhelmed.
Most of us have no idea how we are being influenced by our anxieties and stresses. We just live with it—sort of like a parasite. If you don’t believe stress is very similar to a parasite, just listen to what parasitism is. “Parasitism is a non-mutual symbiotic relationship between species, where one species, the parasite, benefits at the expense of the other, the host. Unlike predators, parasites typically do not kill their host, are generally much smaller than their host, and will often live in or on their host for an extended period. Parasites reduce host biological fitness … to the point of changing host behavior. Parasites increase their fitness by exploiting hosts for resources necessary for their survival, e.g. food, water, heat, habitat, and transmission.”
You don’t benefit from stress. You can live like this for a long time. Stress reduces your biological fitness (it can kill). Stress changes our behavior. And when we’re stressed, we transmit stress to others.
Stress is a parasite we live with for way too long, sucking the life out of us.
A moderate amount of stress is required for us to exercise our bodies, minds, and emotions, and keeping us functioning at our best. But excessive stress can cause real problems in our quality of life. Many things can cause excessive stress: overbooked schedules, unavoidable loss, lack of food, finances, or safety, and serious things like this.
Everybody feels stress and knows it intimately, but very few of us think about what stress actually is. Stress is for the most part a thought. That’s it. No more, no less. We have complete control over stress, because it’s not something that happens to us but something that happens in us.
Stress is the perception that something negative has happened to us or will happen to us. Sometimes there are bad things, objectively bad things. But the truth is, stress is the result of a perception, the thought or the belief that something bad is coming. It’s this “stinkin’ thinkin’” that makes us stressed. But this thinking is a choice.
I want to show you a video clip from “Morning Glory.” Becky is a hard-working TV show producer who gets a job at a morning show with plummeting ratings. Her job is the almost impossible one of bringing a show up from the dead. On her first day, she finds out how difficult and stressful this may end up being—dealing with all the demands, including firing the sexist co-host.
So that’s how you put stress in its place. You fire it. Seriously, Becky did a great job of putting each request in its place, and each problem got a quick and tidy solution. This can happen in her world it appears—you just have to be good at that job.
The big difference between what Becky does and what we have to do is that everything she had to deal with were questions of the moment, to be solved with a quick answer, and then they would go away. She was in control of each of those items and they existed for only a brief moment of time. She just had to make the best decision and that choice would be taken care of.
We aren’t in control of each of the items in our lives because while we may like to think we are the executive producers of our lives, it’s too often not exactly like that.
We need to put our lives and our stresses in their place by putting out lives, decisions, relationships, dreams, etc. where they belong: In God’s hands and care. In other words, let the real executive producer, God, do God’s job.
You see, the thing is we are made up of constant requests, spiritually speaking, that is. Spiritually speaking and emotionally speaking, we turn our lives into requests. This is what Paul said when he wrote in Philippians, “…let your requests be made known to God.”
The problem is we don’t ask God. The result of wanting your son to get a job, or hoping your wife isn’t really sick, or wishing you and your neighbor would get along again, etc., etc., etc., but not asking God for help in these matters is that our lives build up in side of ourselves. They build up on top of ourselves.
Scripture isn’t anything but repetitive when it comes to the idea that God is willing to carry the load and keep us moving forward. We get overwhelmed as a direct result of not keeping God by our side, and letting God pull his weight in our lives.
Jesus tells us he’s ready to lend a hand. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
In the language of the New Testament, the word “labor” carried the idea of working to the point of utter exhaustion. The term “heavy laden” indicated a great load had been placed on a person. Together, the terms described a person who was exhausted from trying to carry a burden.
Now I want you to hear this: There’s a reason why we don’t bring our lives to God—but it’s not a good reason. We believe if we can’t carry all this on our own, if we can’t manage our lives, then it means we can’t measure up. We are really hard on ourselves.
We will suffer strained relationships, depression, anxiety and stress in order to try to prove we can manage—in order to prove we are not inadequate—in order to prove we should have the approval of others, of God, of ourselves.
The two-fold burden of working so hard to gain approval from God, others, and ourselves and doing this all on our own proves to be the one-two punch that delivers the anxiety and stress knockout.
Stress is the condition that occurs as the result of a spiritual misapprehension of who we are and who God is. Let me put it biblically: Because we haven’t accepted God’s love of us nor God’s help for us, we live under tremendous stress.
Lean on the Lord’s love for you. Come to trust that God will help you.
Now I know most times when you hear about stress and want to learn how to get rid of it you’re going to get instructions about things like deep breathing. It does work. That’s because when you breathe deeply and slowly you activate a special nerve, the vagus nerve or the relaxation nerve, which runs through your diaphragm. You want to relax instantly, absolutely do some deep breathing.
You will also hear about how your body will relax and feel better if you move and sweat, run, dance, ride, swim, stretch, and get into yoga. This is also very good advice on ways to burn off stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.
There are lots of little wise ideas and actions you can take. You should definitely do them. But ultimately prayer is really what will give you the most comfort and strength. It’s all about connecting our emotional and spiritual lives to the one who can do something about it—and relieve us of their tremendous burden.
By prayer, I simply mean talking to God about anything and everything, anybody and everybody, anytime and every time.
Prayer occurs when we take our lives three p’s—people, purposes, and problems—out of our hearts and minds where they weigh so much, and hand them to God to carry for us.
This is true of the people and problems we aren’t thinking about or truer yet, trying to ignore. Ignoring a person and what they’re going through and how much it means to you, or denying a problem and how much it matters to you, or belittling a purpose you think is yours doesn’t make them any lighter or less stressful. It certainly doesn’t make us any stronger or healthier or happier or better off. In fact the opposite is true.
The more of our lives we bring to the Lord in thought and prayer, the more you will place your whole life in God’s love and care. The more you place your life in the Lord’s love and care, the less stress and anxiety you will feel.
Bring your life to God. Realize you don’t have to carry everything. Understand that you can’t bear it all. Let the Lord free you for peace-filled, joyful living.
Can anybody say Amen?