Everyone reading this post feels stressed out. We live in a fast pace culture. We wear stress as a badge of courage. If we are not busy or stressed we are not significant or important. I am no exception. I remember a good friend of mine once told me that your ability to handle stress will determine how far you go in life and how much money you will make. I agree. So how do we get better at handling stress? I believe you have to 1. Recognize it’s source 2. Embrace the solution.
What is the source of stress? We live in a fast paced world with lots of things going on it’s very easy for us to point at things that our outside of us as the source of our stress. I have found that in me and those I know well stress is an internal problem with exterior consequences. Stress most often is a result of me wanting something to much. I want to have it all. I want to be thought of as a good worker, I want to be seen as a good father, I want to feel like a good husband. Stress is most often the byproduct of my striving to be what I feel that I need to be so that I will be significant. If we all are honest it is often times the by product of me getting good things the wrong way. It’s me trying to earn what I feel that I deserve. Stress is the byproduct of our idolatrous hearts.
One of the expectations of being a pastor is that you always know what to say, when to say it and how it should be said. The is even more true when the person who you are ministering to is hurting. In nearly 20 years of pastoral ministry to the same church family I have learned that when someone is hurting all they need is for you to “Just show up.”
When I was younger I would avoid painful situations and people who were hurting because I was so afraid of saying the wrong thing. I was afraid what I would say would only push them further into despair. The older I got, and the more people I went to see, the more I realized how wrong I was. I was reminded of the power of showing up when I asked one of the kids who grew up in our churches kids ministry what he remembered most about kids church when he was younger. I would have guessed he would say “the fun events” or “the powerful services.” You know what he said? “You came to see me in the hospital and gave me a video game when I got my tonsils out.” He didn’t remember what I said, he remembered that I showed up. I didn’t even remember doing that, and the video game I got him was a soccer video game – he played baseball. I didn’t do or say everything just right but I showed up.
One of the most powerful illustrations of this truth is seen in C.S. Lewis story of “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” Eustace a very frustrating boy who through the greediness of his own heart fell asleep on a treasure and was turned into a dragon. This caused tremendous amounts of pain and frustration for him and those who were traveling with him. Throughout the voyage a mouse named Reepicheep would call out Eustace when he would act selfish or unseemly, much to Eustace’s frustration. In this part of the story Eustace in the form of a dragon is in a deep despair as he feels that he will never be a boy again. Here is what Lewis says:
Given the current political season I thought I would share this prayer by our 16th president. A few years ago at a prayer breakfast one the persons at the prayer breakfast I attended read a proclamation by President Lincoln from 1863. It was such a moving declaration of our nations condition at that time and I believe of our present condition. It is a well-timed fresh reminder that our peace and security is not our doing by comes from God’s divine hand of providential grace. Lincoln says this line that is so profound and so powerful “in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!”
I was recently in a restaurant with all our kids and one of my kids needed some help so I helped her and gave her a hug then looked her in the eye and told her that she was my favorite. When other people overhear me tell my kids they are my favorite the reaction I always get is priceless. Most people are either shocked or offended because they counted how many kids we have when we walk in the room. If you have more than two kids you know what I’m talking about when you walk into a restaurant and people either pause or mouth the number of kids you have….apparently four kids is the new twelve. People who are shocked that I would have favorites and worse yet have the gall to say that I did out loud. Favorites
What most people don’t know is I tell all my kids they are my favorite. I tell them each they are my favorite and it never really occurred to me that this is counter-cultural it’s just something I’ve always done. I tell them each they are my favorite then I tell them not to tell anyone. It’s our little fun way of saying I love you more than anyone in the whole world.
I am happy to report that earilier this week I had a PET Scan done and my doctor said my scan was clear and I am offically in remission. I am so very thankful for those who prayed and supported us. In the fall when all this came about. People would tell me that it was going to be very hard and that I would need lots of help. I remember just staring back at them not knowing what to say. They were right. My family, Sam’s family and my church family stepped in to help us in so many ways. When I look back I have tears of gratitude and in mhy heart I feel full of true joy. Difficult seasons cancel out all the noise in our life to allow you to focus on what matters most.
I can’t imagine going through this without our families and our church families support. When you face something so profound I know that the reality is,when it’s over you feel a sense of relief. Often relief can be followed by grief and that pain sometimes can delay grief as you are gutting it out each day. In the next season as we rejoice together I pray that you hold me and my family up in prayer that the enemy could not use this next season as an occasion to bring fear, anger or sadness to rob our hearts of the true joy Christ can only bring.
Lastly I want to challenge you to obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit in your life. When you have a thought or feeling that you should pray for someone, stop by and see them, or show them some act of kindness. Don’t ignore it. Often times it’s like a whisper. C.S. Lewis famously said that God whispers to us in our pleasures and shouts to us in our pain. My prayer for you and for myself is that we become more aware of God’s whispers so we can comfort those who are in pain.