Stress: The Disquieted Soul

Written by Stephen Ganschow - Pastor of Counseling Ministries

Over the last few weeks, I have seen a considerable uptick on a consistent counseling-related issue: stress.

Among continued concerns about the global pandemic—constant changes in the guidelines from state to state, economic instability, what schools and colleges are doing in just a few weeks—and continued racial tension, societal stress is at an all-time high. This combined with the normal rigors of life relating to marriage and raising children—stress appears to be infecting almost every area of life.
Published just a few days ago, Jeffery Kluger, writing an article in a TIME magazine June 2020 special edition, wrote: “75% of Americans reported having experienced moderate to high levels of stress within the past month.” 1 This is an incredibly high number. If his datasets are accurate, and they likely are, it would mean that some of that 75% would include the global church. In turn, this means that in our church body, there is a high probability that many are experiencing a high level of stress and could benefit from some relief.

Culturally, we associate stress with consistent tension, unease, and a general state of emotional distress and/or intensity. However, it is a fairly subjective experience. The stress of a child in a broken home is different from the stress of a student about to graduate high school with no college or vocational plan. And both of those are different from a single mom trying to work two jobs, or someone who has legitimate concern about contracting COVID-19. Yet, we subjectively (and rightly) call each of these things stress. This begs for a definition of stress, so we can understand what we collectively experience in such personal ways.
Combining a few of the readily available definitions into one harmonious statement, stress can be defined this way: a state or mindset of mental or emotional strain or tension, resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. The American Psychological Association has a different definition, and it warrants our attention. They define it this way: “the physiological or psychological response to internal or external stressors (any event, force, or condition that results in physical or emotional stress. Stressors may be internal or external forces that require adjustment or coping strategies on the part of the affected individual.).”  
This is significant. The APA, a secular-humanist institution that holds no Christian values, refers to stress as a “response.” This means that secular thinking recognizes that stress does not originate in our external circumstances, it starts inside of us, in how it is we are processing the issue that is a stressor. For the follower of Jesus, we know the internal place stress (and everything else in life) starts is in our heart and mind. While there are many that make this case throughout the Bible, below are a few passages to whet your desire for self-study on this…

In Psalm 14:1, rejecting God starts in the heart:
“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’    They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;    there is none who does good.”
From Proverbs 4:23, we find that everything we do in life flows from the heart:
“Keep your heart with all vigilance,    for from it flow the springs of life.”

See also Luke 6:45:
“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”
Stress begins in our hearts as the internal processing we engage in about the circumstances, whether internal or external, before us.

It would be very easy, at this point in the blog, to write something like this:
The Bible speaks to our circumstances and mentalities. It reminds us to: not worry about tomorrow but focus on today (Matthew 6:25-34); give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18); and pursue kindness, tender-heartedness, and actively forgive (Ephesians 4:32). It exhorts us to let love reign over everything else, specifically other people more than we love ourselves (Romans 14).

These and similar statements in Scripture are all true. They are verses that should be read, meditated on, and applied. But I believe there is a fuller treatment of counsel I can offer that incorporates the above, as well as further equips you to manage or overcome stress. To that end, there are three protections I want you to consider.
  • Protect Your Mind
  • Protect Your Body
  • Protect Your Soul

Protect Your Mind
For the sake of the blog, we will define the “mind” as the part of the soul where “thinking” takes place. The mind is where we make critical or affirming judgments, set priorities, consider our politics, and accomplish tasks such as math. Our mind is the part of us that needs rest after studying for a test, memorizing Scripture or data for a presentation, focusing on the geometry to build a circular-shaped porch, or helping our children with their homework.
The mind is the battleground of many of our stressors. As such, it warrants individual attention. Practically, it means things like the following…

  • Pursue truth (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12).
    Truth is not a political ideology. For the Christian, truth comes from God’s Word. We must pursue gospel truth primarily, and let it inform all of our other beliefs. Anything else is idolatry.
  • Refuse to exaggerate (Matthew 5:37).
    Deal with things as they are. Resist inflating a matter beyond the point of reason or reality. Address issues for what they are and consider how to respond accordingly. 
  • Live by biblical values (Matthew 6:24).
    Too often, our values and priorities are produced by the various forms of media we take in. Limit social media, gaming, and political intake. Biblical values must inform our opinions and perspectives. This will prevent us from being tossed to and fro by whatever media-oriented worldview is waging war for our minds.

    Turn off notifications. If your values inform your perspectives on life, the compulsion to desire new information or to “stay informed” will be much less because your values remain unchanged. I am not advocating that Christians should ignore current events. Quite the opposite. But we cannot stress about the moment-to-moment hype machine of global news (Matthew 6:25-34).

  • Priorities > Preferences
    Growing up, my parents would often use the phrase: “what you want and what you need are two different things.” In counseling folks battling stress, I see this often. People are living by their wants, preferences, and desires, and not their priorities. Instead, to make it easy on yourself, make a list of your daily priorities that need to be accomplished prior to your preferences and desires. Go through the list, check them off, and give yourself the peace of mind to relieve the stress of accomplishing the needed tasks of each day. 

Protect Your Body
  • This is straightforward. Get enough sleep. Eat right. Take time to breathe.
    Our bodies need enough sleep, in order that our minds function as they were designed. If we are not giving our bodies what they require for rest, we will be physically unable to battle stress correctly.

    Eat right. Avoid fast food, large amounts of processed food, and don’t eat an abundance of sugar before bed. Alcohol, when/if consumed, should only ever be in moderation. Don’t overeat. These are all very basic recommendations, but they all promote bodily health that will remove physical stress from your body and promote mental clarity. 

Protect Your Soul

  • Live a life fully devoted to Christ (1 Kings 8:61). 
  • Know Scripture. Live Scripture. Memorize Scripture (Deuteronomy 6). 
  • Pray about everything (1 Thessalonians 5:17). 
  • Remember this world is not our home, and nothing earthly can harm our eternal security (Matthew 6:19-21). 
  • Live what you say you believe. Too often, stress comes from cognitive dissonance; meaning we say we believe and live by one thing, but functionally do another. We must avoid pharisaical thinking and behavior as they cause the soul distress due to the inconsistencies associated with them (James 1:8). 

In closing, I encourage us to pursue the mind of King David from Psalm 131. He was writing on a quieted soul and a life not characterized by stress despite difficult circumstances. May we strive to emulate his example.
“O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
    my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
    too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
    like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
    from this time forth and forevermore.” 

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