By Karen O’Connor
I remember well the day my sister called to say our father was near death. And the day my best friend told me she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer. And the afternoon my son screamed with pain from a dog bite to his face. And the morning I broke out in shingles just before I was to leave on vacation.
Stress hits us where we live. Emotions swing, stomachs rumble, hands perspire, heads ache. How can we manage all this? We might ask, “God, do you care? If so, please tell me what to do.”
God does care and he has a lot to say about managing the stressors that come from work, family, health, and friendships. We can’t avoid stress, but we can face it and deal with it when we walk with the Lord and follow his guidance.
Here are some of the promises God gives us in his Word. If we turn to them often, memorize them, and repeat them in situations that threaten to overtake us, we’ll be able to manage stress and even learn from it.
A Promise of Rest
“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 my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). When I first read this verse I felt like jumping for joy. I had become a Christian a few months earlier and was still getting acquainted with Scripture. I was weary and burdened all right—from divorce, sad and angry children, parents who questioned my decisions, and the need to find work and a place to live.
But then I discovered that when I sat quietly and meditated on these words, God humbled me. He gave me the rest he promised and before long, the burdens I believed were mine alone he shared with me.
I found a Christian counselor to talk with, a church family that welcomed me, and a Bible study that threw light on God’s Word in a way I’d never known before. I came through the most stressful season of my life. God met me where I was and he’s never left.
A Promise of Security
“They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built” (Luke 6:48). My husband and I stood in front of the house where he’d lived as a child in Paducah, Kentucky. “It looks as sturdy as ever,” Charles commented. “I can almost see Mom, my dog Billie, and me sitting together on the stoop as we often did on those warm summer evenings.”
Tears filled his eyes. “I remember the year of the flood,” he added. “The river water got so high that Dad had to take us out an upstairs window into a little rowboat. I believe his hair turned white over night. I’d never seen Dad so stressed and worried. He knew he could replace the house, somehow, some day—but never our family.”
Charles and I stood a little longer and then whispered a prayer of thanks and returned to our car, grateful for God’s protection over the years, and reminded again that when we walk with the Lord and build a solid foundation by digging deep into the soil of his Word, we’ll be at peace no matter the circumstances. It had been true for his parents and now it was true for us.
A Promise of Peace
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). “The day your father walked in the door and told me he’d been fired, I dropped into a chair and burst out crying,” my mother told me years later. “He was 65 years old at the time. Most people retire at that age, but he couldn’t. We still had two children to raise and there was no pension in those days—at least where he worked. How could he find another job when most employers would consider him an old man?”
Then Mom lightened up. “We did what we had to do. We took out a loan. I remember my heart pounding through the entire process; $40,000 seemed like a million in those days. I prayed and your father prayed. Then I enrolled in a secretarial course and Daddy turned the den into a home-office. He started reading The Wall Street Journal every morning, looking for opportunities to match companies for sale with businessmen who wanted to buy. He became one of the first business brokers of his time. Gradually, one deal after another came his way. Before long your father was earning more in commissions than he had in his salaried job.”
Mom took a deep breath. “I’ll never forget the day we walked into the bank and paid off the last dollar on that loan. I nearly skipped out the door. No more stress. Just peace and gratitude.”
A Promise of Confidence
“If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). The woman with the curly brown hair ignored me, acting as if I didn’t exist. She chatted and giggled with the other women just inches from where I was standing at the wedding reception of a mutual friend. “How dare you treat me like a phantom,” I wanted to shout. “Who do you think you are?”
But I didn’t. I just sucked it up. Sort of. This wasn’t the first time she’d been rude to me. I felt the hurt in my stomach and in my head so I went for a walk. Then I called a friend. She was out so I left a message. She called back later and said she had prayed for me. Still I couldn’t shake the hurt, the anger, the dismay. I barely knew this person but it was obvious she was shunning me. Even my best friend noticed. The stress of it all was about to do me in. I called my daughter, a counselor, and she listened patiently and then advised me to let it be. “Such people retaliate,” she said. “They hurt inside and they hurt back. You don’t need it. You’re not likely to see her ever again.”
My daughter was right. I knew it. God was guiding me through her. I remembered that God is always for me, and if that is true, then who can really be against me? No one. Not this woman. Not my husband or children or friends or strangers. God is for me––and for you.
A Promise of Perspective
“Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). In a recent sermon our minister quoted the popular saying, “He’s God and I’m not.” It’s worth remembering because we’re prone to control others—whether parents or friends or coworkers. One woman I know claims her lifelong habit of giving unwanted advice is about to separate her from all the people she loves and cares about. “I can’t resist,” she says. “I feel so strongly about the right and wrong way to do things. But then it’s like God slaps me on the side of the head and reminds me that he is God and I’m not! I wonder why I feel stressed out most of the time. I’m trying to manage the world when the only person I have any control over is myself and I’m not doing a very good job of that!”
Recently I heard some wise words from a new friend. “We bring a lot of unnecessary pain (stress) into our lives in order to avoid the necessary pain––looking at our own lives and what to do about them.” How true.
Maybe all that is required of any of us is to be still, know that God is God, relax, take a deep breath, trust his promises, and allow him to help us manage our stress as only he can.
Karen O’Connor is a freelance writer in Watsonville, California.
Fighting Back Against Anxiety, Worry, and Stress