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Oy, the Stress!

Stress is the big catch word in business, medicine, and even grade school these days. Millions of articles deal with it: what is it? what causes it? how can we manage it? what happens if you don't manage it? And on and on. It's stressful just to hear so much about stress.

Everyone has stress. Without some stress, we would not be able to function. Stress is a good thing. Too much stress is not a good thing. It makes people bite their nails and get insomnia and be cranky, to name just three results.

But the problem is not to define what too much stress is. To ask when it was you went over your capacity for stress, as a Christian, is to question that God's grace is sufficient (2 Cor. 12:9). Would God give us more than we could bear?

The problem is what we do with what we are given to deal with. Do we lash out in anger? Do we drop into a funk? Do we talk about how awful we have it, bringing more stress to those around us? These responses are what cause the spikes in blood pressure, the sleeplessness, the crankiness. Not the stresses—the responses.

This all is not news. The psalmist bids us not to fret ourselves (Ps. 37:1, 7-8); Paul reminds us actually to “take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake" (2 Cor. 12:10a). When was the last time you took pleasure in someone holding you up in traffic or not coming through on a promise?

There is a famous poem, "If," by Rudyard Kipling that lists many common stresses. It begins

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating . . .

And ends

 . . . you'll be a Man, my son!

A parody of that poem starts the same but ends," . . . you don't understand the situation!"

Stress does not come from not understanding the situation so much as it comes from worrying that you do not understand the situation. And whence that worry? Fear that you will be out of control of things? That people won't react as you want? That God has lost interest in your affairs and you are on your own?

If only we could believe as easily as we can read: "for when I am weak, then am I strong"(2 Cor. 12:10b).

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