Genevieve Bothe, this month's author and a dear friend of mine, has said some controversial things. But what she has said is certainly not contrary to what our Lord teaches us through His Word. Her article points the way in adapting to the pressures to which we all are subjected in today's world that is filled with extraordinarily stressful conditions. We desperately need to know how to cope with these pressures of life.
Is it possible to triumph over destructive emotions? Is it good or bad to be flexible in our approach of life? Is running away from conflict the answer? What about rigid "uptightness"?
Whatever the stress of life, remember, God loves you!—Marie Spangler.
As a child growing up on a farm in Minnesota, I used to watch the whirl winds of dust skip around in our backyard and across the fields in the summer. Whether or not they gave an impetus to my life, I don't know, but it seems as though once I left the farm, instead of watching the whirlwinds come and go, I found myself caught up in whirlwinds that twirled me through school and around the world with breathtaking speed.
I marvel that God made us supple enough to withstand the pressures of our electronic age. In the past two decades we have moved so quickly from an industrial age into an information society that unless we can adapt to the megatrends of our day, we will find ourselves left in the dust and feeling very lonely.
How adaptable must one be? Adapt ability has different facets, but it seems to me we have to be able to adjust to the demands life places upon us with a flexibility that thwarts undue stress yet does not compromise conscience.
One of our first concerns should be to establish our security in the Lord. A wavering faith leaves us floating in indecision and insecurity. When we commit ourselves to Jesus and feel secure in His love and His plan for our lives, we can pursue our lifework without the unnecessary added pressure of an uncertain faith.
Once we are established and secure with the Lord, He can lead us by His Spirit to deal adequately with the other pressures of life. And we must face it, we are a people under pressure. We undergo pressures of all kinds at home, at school, at church, and on the job. We encounter pressures from our parents, children, friends, and enemies. We are pressured by circumstances we can't change, by pain and suffering we can't escape, by schedules we can't meet. And in this communications age the pressures we face are compounded in a greater way than ever before by what we hear, see, feel, and read. News of events is transmitted almost instantaneously around the world without the tempering effect of time or distance—the whole world seems to be right at our doorstep.
Stress certainly can produce a great number of negative effects on us—splitting headaches, upset stomachs, crippled thinking, dulled memories, stirred-up emotions, reduced efficiency, and weakened bodies. But it does have its positive side too. And if we can develop a right attitude, we can lessen the negative effects.
Let us contemplate for a moment how Jesus handled the pressure to which He was subjected immediately following His baptism. Mark tells us that the Holy Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness, into a face-to-face confrontation with the devil (Mark 1:12). Why? The book of Hebrews says that Jesus learned obedience through the things He suffered (chap. 5:8). Under the stress of that desert experience Jesus drew on the resources He had begun to develop in His childhood. Later He used those resources, refined under pressure and pain, in defeating His enemy.
If the pressures Jesus faced strengthened Him and refined the resources He had, preparing Him for the conflicts He faced later, then certainly the same must be true for us. We are like the raw deposits underground—we need to experience the intense pressure and heat of trying circumstances and painful discipline to refine the resources we have been given. Like the caterpillar in the cocoon, we remain spineless worms unless we are privileged to flex the "muscles" of our character against the "walls" of difficulty and hardship in this life.
Pressure aids our total development. Experiencing the pressure of temptation, we develop the will to choose God's will. Pressed by life's rigorous schedule, we learn the discipline of spending our time wisely. Burdened by pain and suffering, we come to sense keenly our need for God and for one another.
While pressure may have its profitable aspects, we still need release from it now and then. Even the strongest of us will break under the strain if we do not retreat periodically. In order to cope with the demands of life, all of us must find suitable ways to refresh our systems. But we must find suitable ways! People who seek escape through alcohol, drugs, self-pity, material indulgence, and so forth find more pressure rather than relief.
How did Jesus escape? He left the area of His labors and exchanged the noise of the crowd for the quietness of solitude. He opened His life to His Father in prayer and found spiritual refuge and refreshment. As excruciating as it was, even His retreat into Gethsemane brought Him strength to endure. Like wise, the pressures we face can profit us if they force us to seek relief in our heavenly Father. From Him we may gain the spiritual sustenance necessary to handle life's stresses and strains.
We may learn more about handling stress from Jesus' life. Like us, Jesus did not have unlimited energy. But Jesus did not waste His energy on destructive emotions. He did not permit external conflicts to become internal hassles even though He was surrounded almost incessantly with conflict and controversy. We would do well to focus upon three principles of His life:
1. Jesus renounced His rights. It is most unpopular in today's world of "assertiveness training" to speak of renouncing one's rights, but it is not all that healthy to struggle to assert our rights. The fight to secure our rights and get everything that is coming to us is one of the major causes of emotional fatigue. Both the Bible and experience teach us that this battle frequently foments resentment, bitterness, anger, hatred, and fear (the five destructive emotions depleting most of our energy). These emotions will ultimately destroy us if we continue to give vent to them.
Jesus triumphed over destructive emotions by renouncing His rights. He gave up His right to be king, His right to do His own will, and His right to live.
Jesus refused to let His enemies stir up resentment in Him. How? By renouncing His rights to privacy and fair treatment. In spite of the awesome display of power against Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, He was unafraid. Because He had renounced His right to live, He could not be hassled by fear.
And Jesus says to us, "Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow me" (Mark 8:34). Death to self offers the most liberating life style we can pursue. Jesus does not want us to stand at a distance and only admire Him. He wants us to follow Him; And He is not only our Example but also our Enabler: "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you, hot as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27).
Even though we renounce our own rights, Jesus does not ask us to be unconcerned about the rights of others. He summons us into the forefront of the struggle to secure the rights of people who are being misused. Corrie and Betsie ten Boom of Holland exemplify such death-defying ministry. Fighting for one's own rights differs considerably in its effect on us from fighting for the rights of others—the former calls forth the destructive, and the latter, the constructive emotions.
2. Jesus also renounced rigidity. Some one rigid is determined to be "right" at all costs and would rather express his convictions than his compassion. Mat thew 12 tells of Jesus healing a man's withered hand on the Sabbath. The Pharisees charged that in healing the man, Jesus had been working on the Sabbath. When cross-examined by them, Jesus showed these rigid people that their compulsion, to be right had actually led them into wrong. He renounced their rigid "uprightness" and presented the new wine of a new life style of freedom and compassion. People are drawn to people who emit vibrations of freedom, approachability, flexibility, and love.
3. Jesus renounced retreat. That sounds strange, but Jesus did not run away from conflict. He was not a people-pleaser or a peace-at-any-price person. He dealt honestly and sensitively with everyone, and He cared enough to confront—He "care-fronted" people. He confronted the boastful Peter as well as the broken Peter. These were painful confrontations, and we would probably have let them pass. Jesus, however, cared so much for Peter that He con fronted him honestly and sensitively. He also cared enough to confront Judas at the table that fateful night when Judas betrayed Him. And He cared enough to confront His cross, the worst conflict of all. "When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem" (Luke 9:51, R.S.V.). *
Jesus never ran away from His conflicts. And how much emotional and spiritual fatigue we would be spared if we practiced more "care-fronting" and less retreating.
As we endeavor to adapt triumphantly in this life, let us always remember the beautiful new life awaiting us with our triumphant Saviour.