'Stop worrying' is never that simple.
Written by Cara Joyner
Years ago, Mad TV did a skit with Bob Newhart where he played a psychologist. A new client walked into his office and began to share her fears. He listened carefully, rocking back in his chair before saying that he wanted her to pay close attention while he told her two words that would solve all her problems. She grabbed a pen and paper and prepared to take notes. Newhart, who had been quiet and reserved up to this point, suddenly yelled, “Stop it! Just, stop it!”
As funny as the skit is, it can strike an unsettling cord. To someone who is overwhelmed by stress and anxiety, the well-meaning advice that is often given, particularly by Christians, is to simply “stop worrying and trust God.” It is almost never that simple.
I used to believe anxiety was a sinful sign of my lack of faith, so I ignored it.
For years, I tried to work around it. Constant stress eventually makes us sick though, and my body took the brunt of it. Emotionally, I felt fine. I was “handling it,” but the headaches would start by midday and last until bedtime. Nausea, fatigue, muscle aches and insomnia followed.
God created us as cohesive beings—mind, body and soul. We can only ignore the health of one of those parts for so long before it starts to affect the health of the rest.
High levels of stress and anxiety have significant physical effects on our bodies, such as stomach pain, muscle tension, chronic pain, headaches, weakened immune systems and the development of other mental health disorders.
God wired our bodies to give us signals when something is wrong. We notice symptoms of a cold and we respond accordingly. Stress is no different. When we see the signs that all is not well, here are a few places we can start.
Be honest with yourself and others.
As Christians, we believe that the truth is freeing, not only truth as in the person of Jesus Christ, but also the truth when spoken into the rest of our lives.
Imagine a relationship that is experiencing tension. The longer two people ignore the problem and try to work around it, the less healthy their dynamic will become. The same is true for our mental and emotional health. We won’t experience real freedom from worry unless we start by naming it. Be honest with God, be honest with yourself, be honest with your community, be honest with a counselor.
Let it go.
A group of researchers have found that worry is often used as a form of protection. Worry suggests that it is taking care of us by helping us brace for impact. Knowing how difficult it is to suddenly receive hard news, worry tells us that we can be prepared. Together, we can think through all the ins and outs before anything happens.
Like all lies though, worry doesn’t give us the whole picture. While worry would like us to believe we have something to gain by keeping it around, Jesus said, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? … So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:27-34)
When worry presents itself as the most reasonable way out, expose it for the lie that it is and let it go. Replace them with the promises of God instead by returning to Scripture to read what God has to say about your future and your security in Him.
Guard what goes in.
Jesus warned that whatever is stored within the heart would eventually tumble out of the mouth. (Luke 6:45)
What we fill ourselves with will shape the health of our spirits and our minds. Inevitably, it will spill back out in the way we think, talk and behave.
If you find yourself crushed by stress, how might you be able to better guard what goes in?
Examine your triggers for anxiety: Facebook? Particular TV shows? Answering emails before bed? Drinking five cups of coffee before lunch? Three glasses of wine with dinner? Saying yes when you should say no? A lack of boundaries?
Identify what’s going in that is adding to the chaos and then choose to keep it out.
Guard what goes out.
Paul ended his letter to the church in Philippi by speaking to what they set their minds to. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)
When we are working out of unhealthy ideas about ourselves and the people around us, it’s easier to keep doing what we’re doing than to choose to think differently.
Cognitive behavioral therapy has found that our brains develop highways for processing the same information repeatedly. With intentional practice, actively choosing to replace old thoughts with new ones will make the brain build new highways and our automatic thought patterns become healthier with time.
What we say matters. It shapes our brains as much as it shapes those around us. Let us guard what goes out as fiercely as we guard what goes in.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)
Anxiety is not a mandatory standing condition of life. Rather than viewing it as a sign of sin or mistrust, let’s view it as a temporary messenger, designed to slow us down and reorient our minds, bodies and souls towards the peace and the freedom that Christ promised.
This article was originally published by RELEVANT Magazine on January 19, 2017.
Written by Rebecca Marie-Jo Flores
The feeling of a fresh journal when you press your pen on to the first page. Ripping the tags off a new outfit you want to wear. Unpacking a freshly minted Apple product.
There’s something in the human spirit that naturally draws toward new things and fresh beginnings are no different. 2016 has been a doozy of a year for many (seriously, what was that about?) and the prospect of its end brings the hope of a new start.
Humans are pretty much engineered for fresh starts. Our brain is hardwired to respond to new stimuli as a part of our learning processes. This allows us to neurologically wire our understanding of life, ourselves and the natural order of things. It allows us to grow, to push forward into creating new stories, new inventions, to adapt. The unending opportunity for fresh beginnings and the new discoveries they bring are a part of what makes our humanity remarkable.
Even God seems to think new starts are pretty sweet. Here are 7 verses on what the Bible says about them to usher in your new beginning in 2017.
He's faithful in making the new reveal itself in your life.
“And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'”
— Revelation 21:5
God gives his people new songs of praise.
“He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.”
— Psalm 40:3
He is the author of a renewed spirit.
“I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.”
— Ezekiel 11:19
He makes new ways out of the wilderness.
“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
— Isaiah 43:19
Living in the new is our responsibility and privilege.
“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” — Ephesians 4:22-24
He's still creating things unseen.
“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.”
— Isaiah 65:17
And in Christ, he's given us a fresh start.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”
— 2 Corinthians 5:17
You don't have to wait until the new year for a fresh start because his mercies are new every morning.
"Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness."
— Lamentations 3:22-23
This article was originally published by RELEVANT Magazine on December 29, 2016.
Every challenge has a lesson in it.
Written by Kimberly Grunden
Who wants difficulty in their life?
I'm guessing I won't get many takers. I haven't met many who will volunteer for the things that might make them unhappy.
I knew this guy who prayed for conflict once. When I learned that guy was praying that God would allow some conflict between him and me, I grew pretty upset. Considering I went on to marry that boy, I’m sure that says something about me. The truth is my gut reaction to his prayer was anger because, at my core, I fear conflict will lead to sadness.
Happiness and ease is what I want most at any given time in my life.
I have experienced the kind of struggles that keep the tears flowing and peace distant.
After battling through several seasons of difficulty in my life, I have come to consider Paul’s words when he tells us to rejoice in all things and have asked, "Can trials really be a blessing?"
Can we really consider suffering to be an opportunity to build perseverance without faking it?
Here are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned from the many long days I’ve walked through these questions myself.
What we fear, God has already conquered
A few years into being married to my husband, our calendars were filled with baby shower invitations. We watched our friends grow their families and we dreamed of babies of our own.
And while they decorated nurseries, we saw infertility doctors.
While they took prenatal vitamins and learned to breastfeed, I recovered from four surgeries, took 20 nausea-inducing pills a day and threw out dozens of negative pregnancy tests.
And then finally—after five years of tears, medicines, hospitals, scheduled intimacy and two hearts holding on to thin threads of hope—we saw those two little lines. Just two lines that promised to end the longing of our hearts and the emptiness we felt in our home. We were pregnant!
And you can ask Christ to faithfully walk you through it, teaching you how to lose less of yourself within it.
We immediately told our family. They cried happy tears with us, screamed praises with us and rejoiced with us—thanking a loving God who had loving plans.
And then two days later, in a bathroom by ourselves, we lost our first child.
We cried bitter tears, screamed in anger and agony and rejoiced over this life gone too soon … yet still, we thanked a loving God who had loving plans.
And all the while, the sadness mounted.
As it became more difficult not to sink deeper into that emotion and my body refused to return to the surface, I reached out for help. I found a good doctor who I could discuss my physical symptoms with. I found a Christian counselor who would help me process my thoughts and emotions. And I dug into my faith for what it said about life and hope.
I learned about a man named Abraham and read, "Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations" (Romans 4:18). I then asked for hope against all hope to believe in the author of life.
I learned about a man named David who had a heart like God's and knew that "the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34:18) And I asked the Lord to reveal himself as the healer of hearts.
I read about a man blessed with wisdom who wrote, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life." (Proverbs 13:12) And like the faithful before me, I reminded God of what His Word said, and I asked for a heart that would be well.
And this time, this season of challenge and pain in my life felt different.
There were still days on the couch. And there were still inconvenient and plentiful tears. But there were also moments from another world that dazzled with joy and overwhelmed me with wholeness.
Depression, like grief, may never go away, but it can change.
It can sting less. It can control less. And you can ask Christ to faithfully walk you through it, teaching you how to lose less of yourself within it.
Although my reality may be marked with pit stops, I found a patient Savior who would cry big bitter tears with me in those valleys with me.
God's love is with us through our brokenness.
Not all seasons of challenge are caused by our own poor choices but many of my times in the valleys were a result of poor choices I had made. These moments of despair brought me back to Christ and led me to realize our loving Heavenly Father allows consequences to teach us about the depths of His love.
In those early years, young and headstrong, I chose all the things the world told me would make me happy. Self-destruction was evident. But the pursuit of the worldly led me to compromise that which was most dear to me. As a result, I sank into depression caused by feeling the devastation I had caused in the wake of my selfishness.
But in that space—where we had to depend on a loving God to care for us, where joy and sadness shared the same tiny breathing space—we were the safest we could ever be.
Friendships in tatters, my integrity lost, I was beaten up as much as I had beaten others, which made the sting of loss that much greater. My pain and sadness could not acquit me of my guilt.
What would God do with me now?
It wasn’t until recently that I began to understand the balance between consequences and love. I’m beginning to see what it looks like to come as a child to my Heavenly Father, heeding the wisdom of Solomon, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” (Proverbs 3:11-12)
Despite all the odds, God made me a mother of four. And these wonderful blessings occasionally, shockingly, learn through trial and error. Similarly, God honors our free will and the free will of broken, imperfect humans we’re in relationship with. Sometimes, that means we’ll encounter consequences and difficulty that is just brought on by our fallen world.
God’s still with us in that.
Difficulty helps us trust God unlike any other time in our lives.
When I was in college, I was deeply moved by Ephesians 1. Starting in verse 7 it says:
“In Christ, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will."
And I thought about the part that says "with all wisdom" off and on for years.
It never made much sense to me that Jesus’ revelation of himself to us, knowing what it cost, would be considered wise. Sacrificial. Benevolent. Merciful, sure!
And then the Lord led us delicately and convincingly to our daughter. A little girl born in brokenness, in need of a loving home, whom we were eager to lavish with love. We immediately adored her. In fact, we could not imagine our lives without her. And nothing about her circumstances could deter us from fighting to be hers.
We would not be legally confirmed as her parents for 14 long months. And in those months, when our hearts were on the line, I realized God's view of wisdom is not like ours.
Many would caution us away from the risk of heartbreak and loss.
But in that space—where we had to depend on a loving God to care for us, where joy and sadness shared the same tiny breathing space—we were the safest we could ever be. Living in the risk that love invites suddenly seemed like the wisest thing.
Had we not chosen what was hard, had we not chosen the risk of venturing out into the unknown, we never would have been in a position to grow in our trust in the goodness and sovereignty of God.
Through the depths, we have a choice to learn how to trust the Lord in the moments we can’t protect ourselves. We learn that giving of yourself, even at great cost, is a worthy thing.
Through it all, I learned that our God is the author of the grace that equips us to press on. He weeps with us, rejoices with us and through the lens of my trials, I learned that it’s sometimes when we are crumpled and crying that we can see His face more clearly than ever.
This article was originally published by RELEVANT magazine on November 6, 2016.
How expressing thanks opens us up to God's grace.
Written by Eric Demeter
It’s almost unbelievable that Jesus heals 10 lepers in Luke 17 simultaneously. Without fanfare, He simply commands the motley crew, “Go, show yourselves to the priest.” They exit stage-left and their skin is restored.
Jesus certainly missed an opportunity there to make a big, impressive scene. The Lord was never concerned with aggrandizement. What was unbelievable to Him, however, was the lack of thankfulness from the former lepers. Only one makes a U-turn to thank Him for His tremendous miracle.
As the Bible records, “When he saw he was healed, he came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan” (v. 15-16).
Jesus was shocked and asked, “Were not 10 cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
The unfortunate result was that 90 percent of the lepers missed the second, more important gift Jesus had planned for them. To the lone, grateful Samaritan He responded, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Even more important than physical health, this person’s spiritual life had been restored.
Scripture doesn’t tell us why the other lepers failed to praise God. Yet it’s clear from Jesus’s response that thankfulness was the only proper response to the miracle.
What About When We Suffer?
Gratitude flows easily when we’ve landed our dream job or just fell head-over-heels for a potential mate. And it’s easy to lift up some heavenly appreciation when we only receive a warning (instead of a ticket) for speeding. But what about when we don’t get our way? Or what about when tragedy strikes? Can we still be thankful then?
Indeed, life is not always a buffet of delicious circumstances where we get to pick and choose which items we put on our plate. Sometimes we get served a dish of lemons.
Fortunately, Christian gratitude doesn’t require us to “turn our lemons into lemonade”—a cliché that might be found in some cheesy self-help book. Certainly, painful events can shape us and build our character, but that doesn’t mean we have to simply smile through the pain and pretend everything’s fine.
A theology of gratitude that doesn’t allow for grief is at best misguided, if not downright egregious. Can you imagine a passerby saying to Jesus on Calvary “turn that frown upside-down”?
Ingesting life’s difficulties and tragic events can be overwhelming. Having a heart of gratitude, therefore, is not about looking at the bright side of things. And it’s not even acknowledging that things could be worse. Our thankfulness is never to be based on a set of circumstances. It’s based on a Person.
The answer to our pain and suffering isn’t new circumstances but God Himself. Jesus came, not only to suffer for us, but to suffer with us. Isaiah describes Christ as being: “Despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief” (53:3).
Jesus understands our pain and empathizes with us.
Practicing gratitude rests soundly in the assuredness that God will ultimately redeem every horrible situation in this life or the next. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
This promise allows us to “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
Yet it’s easy to miss God’s current blessings when pain overwhelms us, however. I’ve shaken my fist toward heaven more than once in agony. Even so, God will never take away His gifts. He’s that good. If I were in Jesus’ shoes, on the other hand, I’d probably replace the nine leper’s healings with nine nasty curses. Or, at bare minimum, I’d unheal them all. That’ll show ‘em to be thankful!
But it was love, not intimidation that drew one Samaritan to unwrap the gift of eternity. Saying “thank you” will always reveal unseen blessings. We can’t control the Giver, but we can always expect one gift: the power to hope.
Then, we’ll receive other common events like watching sunsets, eating dinner with a friend or sleeping in a comfortable bed as undeserved blessings. In practicing gratitude, every day is a treasure hunt.
This article was originally published by RELEVANT magazine on December 10, 2015.
This post concludes part 1 of our 3-part series based on Matthew 22:36-40:
The 12:12 Project is sponsored by Katy First United Methodist Church.