What is stress? Here are a couple of definitions.
1. Pressure or tension exerted on a physical object.
2. A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.
In our lives, stress is completely and utterly unavoidable. Some people handle it better than others. Some people live for these stressful situations and actually thrive in them. One might call these individuals adrenaline junkies. These would be the people who skydive and wait for the very last possible moment to deploy their parachutes, all for the added thrill. Others don’t do as well with stress. In these individuals, stress can cause the manifestation of physical symptoms. Stress might be something that these individuals avoid at all costs. Those are two extreme ends of the stress spectrum, but everyone falls somewhere on this continuum.
As difficult as stress can be for some of us, not only is it unavoidable, it is necessary. I remember when my 9th-grade weight training teacher taught us about muscle development. He talked about the principle of overload and how our bodies become stronger as a result of exercise. For a person to benefit from exercise they have to place an increased demand upon their bodies. For example, if a person can run a mile in five minutes with ease, they must find a way of increasing the demand on their body to continue to improve their fitness level. The person can either increase the distance that they run or increase the pace of their run. In weight training, we have to increase the weight or number of repetitions. This is a very basic fitness concept. As a result of this increased demand placed on the body, our body is forced to adapt. With heavy weight training, our body actually experiences microscopic tears in the muscle fibers. With proper nutrition and rest, those fibers grow back microscopically larger and stronger.
God has designed our bodies with an amazing ability to adapt to stress and increased demands. Think about a carpenter’s hands. The first time they used a hammer for an extended period of time, they probably ended up with some pretty nasty blisters. But after working with the tools of the trade for a while, their hands build calluses and become tougher. Eventually, the hammer is no longer able to injure the carpenter’s hand. I came across another great example during my last doctor’s visit. My last physical examination revealed that my heart had actually changed shape to adapt to the rigors of my daily workout routine. They called it athletic heart syndrome. So, in my situation stress has lead to a changed heart! It took a highly trained physician, cardiologist, and thousands of dollars worth of test for them to come to that conclusion about the effects of stress on my heart. Isn’t it amazing that scripture has been telling us this all along.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
The funny thing about my heart condition is that doctors who were not experts in the field thought it was something else. They thought it was a sign of some significant health problem. However, the experts said that it was the reaction of a healthy heart to an increased demand. It’s the same way when the world tries to tell us how to deal with stress. Apart from the Word of God, they can’t really be experts. Sometimes when they see Christians unphased by adversity, they may mistake our calmness as a symptom of some underlying mental health issue. But the experts know that calmness in the face of disaster is the natural reaction of a healthy Christian heart.
I think back to a time when I was physically attacked by a student. I had to restrain the student for several minutes while I awaited for assistance. The student was in the middle of a psychotic episode. He hurled a number of insults at me, ended up breaking an expensive watch, and damaged my suit. When the ordeal was over I dusted myself off and went back to work. I had a co-worker ask me how I was able to just go back to work after such a traumatic event. In that instance, I missed a great opportunity to witness. I simply shrugged and said it was part of the job. In reality, my walk as a Christian had so conditioned my heart that returning to work was easy. It was easy because I knew the reason why I do the job that I do. It was easy because I have a regular prayer life and the Word of God is written on my slightly oversized heart. When I think of stressful situations this verse comes to mind.
2 Corinthians 4:7-10
7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.
8 We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;
9 Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;
10 Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.
I pray that I will always look at stressful situations as an opportunity to grow in you. Please help me to seek out the scripture that applies to my circumstance and to pray that the Holy Spirit would strengthen my resolve. Please help me to remember that in my weakness your strength is revealed. Lord, the next time someone asks me how I stay calm in the midst of calamity please help me to point them to you.