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Understanding and Taking Responsibility for Stress

 “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience
various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces
endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you
may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.”

James 1:2-4 (HCSB)
by Julia M. Bruce, MSPC
CEO, Wellspring Christian Ministries

James told us that we are to consider the various trails we face in life not just a joy, but a great joy. Why? Because through them we are able to see how Jesus conquers them and then our faith grows and we are ready for the next thing He would have us do. But as James teaches us, increased faith only happens when endurance does its complete work in us. Endurance begins in understanding stress better, and we’ll start with explaining what stress is.

Defining Stress

The best definition of stress comes from combining two online dictionaries to create a solid understanding of stress. Using these two dictionaries, stress is, “A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances that disturbs or interferes with one’s normal physiological equilibrium. A physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension.” (Google) (Dictionary.com)

Stress Leaves its Mark

If you think about a rubber band being stretched, then you can see how stress can affect you. Either of two things happens: one can stretch and stretch until the rubber band slips and then it sling shots across the room leaving a stinging mark on whatever – or whomever – it hits or it is stretched and stretched until it reaches its breaking point and leaves a stinging mark on the person who is stretching it as the rubber snaps and breaks.

The more stress we feel the more we can be like the rubber band and leave our stinging stress marks on those around us and on ourselves. The only problem is that stress and the marks it leaves can also hurt our testimony and therefore the very ministry we have been called to. The more we ignore stress or let it pile up, the more we are stretching that rubber band. We have to be able to both recognize what is causing stress in our lives and our most capable ways of dealing with stress.

Identifying your Stressors

The first step to dealing with stress is to identify what your stressors are. Major stressors can be easy to identify. They loom before us like giants, and keep us awake at night. However, areas of chronic stress may not be as easy to see. There are also stressors that you might not think of as stressors…areas of life that can be exciting such as receiving a promotion or getting married.

To identify your stressors, first take a moment and answer the following questions:

  • What parts of your ministry are stressful?
  • What part of your home and personal life is stressful?
  • Do you have any financial stress?
  • Are there any health stressors?
  • Add any other stressors in your life.

As we continue to learn about stress, you might find you need to come back and add to what you have already listed.

Getting control of stress

It’s one thing to identify the areas of stress in your life, but if you want to begin to get control over your stress, you must also take responsibility for the role you play for the stress in your life.  You have to examine your own thoughts, feelings, habits and behaviors that might be contributing to your stress. For example, meeting an important deadline might cause a high level of stress, but you also need to examine if there are any habits or behavior that may have contributed to the stress of meeting the deadline. If you procrastinated until the last minute, then your procrastination would be the bigger stressor rather than the deadline itself.

Ask yourself the following questions to help you identify any role you might be playing in the stress you have. Remember to consider your habits, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Take a moment to answer each question below and list an example of a recent stressful experience that comes to mind for each question:

  • Do you see stress as just part of the nature of your ministry or home life?
  • Do you tend to explain away stress as temporary?
  • What habits do you have that contribute to or increase levels of stress?
  • Do you see stress as just part of who you are?
  • What beliefs do you have that might make stressful situations more intense?
  • What attitudes appear when faced with stress that can add to the stressful situations?
  • Can you remember the last time you were able to rest and take a break?
  • What behaviors exhibit themselves when you are stressed?
  • Do you tend to blame stress on other people or events?

What marks are your stressors leaving?

Think back to the example of a stretched rubber band that leaves its stinking mark on whomever it hit once it snaps. Just like it leaves a stinging mark, so do we when we are stressed. Consider each of these questions above and evaluate if the stressors you identified above are leaving their marks on others, yourself, or your ministry. Go back and write the names of people that have been affected by the stinking marks left by the stress you experienced. Very likely, you either identified yourself or someone else that was affected by every single one of them because it is just about impossible to experience stress without it leaving a mark somewhere.

The questions then become: Are the marks your stress is leaving negative or positive marks? Are the marks negative or positive on those around you? Are they negative or positive to your ministry? If there are positive stress marks, place a positive sign next to those stressors. If it is negative, then place a negative symbol next to them. You may find that there are both positive and negative marks. If there are negative marks, you might want to stop here and take some time to seek those persons out and ask for their forgiveness.

Finding Rest from the Stress

Jesus said in Matthew 11:28, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” No matter what stress we are experiencing, we can bring it to Him and find rest, comfort, strength, and wisdom. Spend some time and look up a verse in your Bible that would speak to each one of the stressors you identified. Begin working on memorizing these verses so when the moments of stress come in these areas, the Holy Spirit can recall them to your mind and you can speak Words of Life over your stress.

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017 trials great joy

The quote above is from Part 5 of a blog series on Self-Care for people in ministry.
Read the blogs here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.

 

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