Lean into stress

Run toward your fears.  That’s some billboard-variety advice I get while driving past the local university.  And as we all know, multicolored roadside signs are the most reliable source of life advice these days.

Lean into it.  That’s how the same basic sentiment was expressed in an article I read recently.  Except this wasn’t written by a nameless, faceless intern.  This was from an expert in the field of stress management who woke up one day struggling mightily to manage his own stress.

Sources of stress are rarely original.  Typically it is something — child-rearing, money management, the job — that you deal with every day, and typically with minimal effort.  So the reasonable thing to do is, act like nothing is wrong.  Forge ahead.  Lean into it.  Let your muscle memory get you through the terror, and eventually you realize there is little to be terrified about.  The experts call it exposure therapy.  Performers call it “fake it ‘til you make it.”  But at it’s core, it is making a determined effort to take control of your own emotions instead of letting them control you.

From a spiritual perspective, this works even more effectively and consistently.  We want to serve Jesus, but we can’t kick the nagging notion that we are falling short.  We feel inadequate.  We feel stressed.  So, what’s the specific cause?   Identify the stressor, then lean into it.

Weak Bible knowledge.  Let’s start with an easy one.  Faith comes from reading God’s word (Romans 10:17).  It stands to reason that we would not be strong spiritually if we do not read our Bibles well or often enough.  So lean into that.  Adopt the plan we are pursuing here at East Hill this year, or come up with your own.  It will certainly bring your shortcomings to the forefront.  But that’s where we do our best work.

Mediocre prayer life.  Prayer is more difficult to quantify.  Perhaps we have been content with prayers at mealtime or bedtime.  Perhaps we even struggle to stay focused during public prayers in worship services.  In any case, we do not see ourselves in the Bible pictures of close fellowship between creation and Creator.  So lean into it.  Work on your prayers.  Even enlist the help of partners.  Hold yourself accountable.  Pray until it seems like you are praying “without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  Then pray some more.

Jealousy.  We know we should see brethren as allies in the common fight.  But sometimes it is easier to measure our blessings with theirs and find ourselves wanting.  Bottom line, we just don’t love our brethren like we should — otherwise we would be happy for them in their blessed state, not resentful.  So lean into that.  Find ways to express love.  Watch loving Christians in action, and mimic their behavior.  Put apples of gold in settings of silver (Proverbs 25:11).  It may sound fake in your ears at first; in truth, it may sound fake in others’ ears as well.  But loving brethren will give you time and space to grow.  They will see your efforts and hold up your hands.  In time, genuine love will blossom — and with that, jealousy will fade.

The key is emphasizing our weakness instead of ignoring it.  The apostle Paul says to honor “those members of the body which we deem less honorable” (1 Corinthians 12:23-25).  That may call for a bit of extra effort — but then, isn’t serving Jesus more perfectly worth it?