This contribution was written by dr. Elisabeth Leembruggen
The 37th Psalm identifies how stress can affect our body, mind and spirit. We know that stress and mental fatigue has long-term implication for our health. “Over time, continued strain on [the] body from routine stress may contribute to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses, as well as mental disorders like depression or anxiety” (NIH).
Mental health literature is filled with suggestions for coping with the stresses and strains of life. Stress is real. It effects on our bodies, our minds, our spirits. It’s palpable.
The National Institutes of Health notes five items about stress:
1. Stress affects everyone. Whether it’s a short-term pressure to pass an exam or a longer-term illness, all of us experience stress.
2. Not all stress is bad. “Eustress” is good stress, stress that motivates us, challenges us to accomplish goals. Stress increases heart rate, blood pressure, actively engages our body’s systems in a fight or flight situation so necessary to survival. Some stress IS good. But excessive stress is detrimental, particularly excessive, long-term stress.
3. Longer-term stress can harm our health. Many have experienced this: We become ill. Someone we love dies. We move to a new country and have difficulty adapting. Our job changes, demanding longer hours and immediate responses which we feel inadequate to perform. That new-born brings new life and light AND stress to the household: No sleep, constant nappy changes! Elderly parents slip and fall, endangering themselves. Age-related dementia sets in for those senior family members and friends. WE GET STRESSED!
4. We can cope with stress AND we must. Long term, continuous, unrelenting stress will affect our bodies negatively producing medical ‘diseases’ such as diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. Stress affects our mental well being causing depression and anxiety over time.
5. There are ways to cope with stress! An entire spectrum of coping mechanisms exists including regular, daily exercise; meditation and prayer, maintaining healthy relationships; eating a balanced diet, sleep and much more!
[Never underestimate the power of a good ‘snooze!] There is professional help when we cannot cope; there are those who will share the burden when we cannot bear it alone. [NIH]
Scripture, too, provides a model for the anxieties and stresses of modern living. Psalm 37 (NIV) provides a wonderful regimen and antidote for stress. In this Psalm, several commands and imperatives are given the believer; commands that help relieve life’s stresses. This is religious coping at its best!
The Psalmist David—who was no stranger to stress and strain—enjoins us to do the following:
1. Do Not Fret! Thrice we are commanded not to fret. This is no simple literary device. Three times we are instructed not to ‘be constantly anxious’ or in a state of ‘continuous anxiety’, ‘nervous and worried’. Easier said than done you say? The Psalmist offers a “how to” plan.
2. Trust in the Lord. How do I do this? Recount the times in your past when prayers were answered. When things, despite how they looked in the moment, worked to your good. Build yourself up with these past experiences in God’s love & grace demonstrated toward you.
3. Delight Yourself in the Lord. What do you find delightful about your relationship with God? What experiences have delighted your soul, made you glad you believe? Why is it you love God? Think on these things.
4. Commit your way to the Lord. This command is linked to trusting God. If we cannot trust, it is difficult to commit. Life experiences can make it tough to trust and commit. We’ve been hurt, lied to, deceived, abandoned. Yet we know we serve the one “who’ll never leave us, never forsake us”. We can trust Him and commit our way to him because he has proved Himself trustworthy.
5. Be still, wait patiently for the Lord. This is tough! These are phrases not often associated with 21st century living. Yet we know that things take time to mature and develop. We wait with anticipation a baby’s nine months in the womb. We marvel at the giant sequoia which may take 50 years to reach full growth. And, so, it is with us. We, too, must often wait, patiently, in stillness before God for things to develop; for His way to become clear.
6. Refrain from Anger, Turn away from Wrath. There are times when we feel fully justified in our anger, our righteous indignation. However, the Psalmist notes that, as we trust in Him, He will make our righteousness “shine like the dawn”; the “justice of our cause” shine as the noonday sun. God is the vindicator. Therefore, we are to refrain from anger. It will only harm us. God is on our side, and “fretting” yet again, only leads to evil. [for more on responding to our anger click here ]
7. Trust in the Lord and do good. This is the imperative. As we trust, as we do good—as we leave our anger, our impatience, our indignation and our fear of abandonment behind—we meet the God who is there. At just the right moment, completely “on time”. His time. For our good!
We see that stressing and fretting about the cares of life only brings anger, impatience, worry and anxiety. The antidote is to trust. God will do the rest as we commit our way and ourselves to Him. Relax. Don’t Stress: God’s on your side. He’ll fight for you!
Leembruggen-Kallberg, Lecture Notes. Webster University, 2012.
Scripture taken from NIV. Used by permission of International Bible Society.