The Ugly Mess of Stress
Without Jesus, life is a pretty ugly mess.
In my own life, my particular kind of mess is most often that of the stressed-out, anxiety-laden, and ultra-overwhelmed variety. It’s my sin bent, and some days I’m all too familiar with the ways my flesh rears its ugly head to steal my joy and harm my relationships in the process.
- I can be so impatient that I bury people in short and sarcastic comments.
- I can be so task-oriented that I bulldoze people and their feelings with my get-it-done-the-right-way attitude.
- I can be so lost in worry that I overwhelm others with a constant stream of fears that aren’t grounded on a single brick of truth.
- I can be so straight-up stressed out that when things don’t go as planned, a spew of bitter and criticizing comments flow directly from my selfish heart.
Then God’s Word helps me see the ugliness I’ve been embracing and shoving onto others. Before we dig up the roots of all that stress growing inside our hearts, let’s consider the rotten fruit those roots are producing: our reactions to stress. The bitter words, the eye rolls, the ranting text messages, the stomping feet, the angry tears, the despair—all of it. (I’m owning up to every single one of those sinful reactions, and more.) Like I said, doing life without Jesus is just messy.
If you’re feeling the gut-punch of “That’s me, too,” then we’re in this rocking, tipping boat together. Let’s grab the oars of truth and row to shore.
When You Get Bumped, What Spills Out?
We live in a culture that normalizes high stress. We perpetuate the idea that we aren’t accomplishing much if we aren’t stressed out. The reality is that life will bring stress; but for a Christian, stress shouldn’t be in control of our hearts.
This is the question we must ask ourselves: When I get overwhelmed by stressed, what gushes out:
Out of my mouth?
Out of my mind?
Out of my heart?
If you’re not sure how to answer, let’s think about it differently for a moment. I’m a raving fan of both tea and coffee, so each of these illustrations seem to be tailor-made for me.
If your heart were a tea bag, and the “hot water” of life (pressure and stress) is poured into the cup, what kind of beverage will be steeping? What’s coming out of the tea bag? A bitter, not-pleasant-to-drink concoction of anger and worry? Or a sweet, hopeful, comforting drink that’s flavored by the grace and truth of God?
Or . . .
When you’re walking along, carrying your coffee cup, what spills out of the cup when someone bumps into you? Is it a scalding mix of selfishness and frustration? Or a warm and forgiving sip of patience?
If we get brutally honest with ourselves to examine what’s steeping or spilling out of us, we can begin to pinpoint the areas of our hearts that are controlled by stress instead of controlled by the Holy Spirit.
Digging Up the Root
Just like a little bit of sugar or cream won’t truly fix a bad cup of poorly brewed tea or coffee, we can’t sprinkle some quick-fix solutions over our heart problems. Stress-relieving methods are fine (I’m a lavender lover!), but they won’t dig up the root of unbelief that’s ultimately controlling the stress and its reactions in our lives. The bottom line is this: We. Need. Jesus!
All of our ugly reactions to stress have a source that isn’t grounded in truth, but in unbelief. Consider this:
- When I’m frustrated and ranting because all my plans fell apart, I’m not believing that God knows exactly what’s happening or that He’s in control.
- When it feels as if I’ll crumble into a thousand pieces if one more task is added to my to-do list, I’m not believing that God is strong enough to grant me the grace, strength, and clarity of mind to prioritize and accomplish the tasks in front of me.
- When I get flustered and critical because things are spinning out of control and aren’t meeting my standard of perfection, I’m finding my worth in performance instead of my status as an image bearer of God.
If the responses that spill out of us aren’t pleasing to God, it’s because our inward beliefs don’t line up with the truth about God.
So how we start digging up stress at the root? And what if those roots of unbelief are strong and overgrown?
We run to Jesus.
Grab Your Shovel!
To dig up overgrown roots of unbelief, the solution is simple. We grab a shovel—God’s Word. And we begin to build strongholds of truth, brick by brick.
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Cor. 10:3–5).
Replace anxious thoughts with the truth of God’s peace.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:4–7).
Replace fears about tomorrow with the truth of God’s sovereignty and care.
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matt. 6:34). (I would encourage you to read this entire passage: Matthew 6:25–24.)
Repent of bitter, frustrated words and replace them with patience and kindness, for these are evidence (a.k.a. the fruit) of God’s work in your life.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Eph. 4:31–32).
Replace overwhelmed despair with gratitude and thanksgiving.
See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit (1 Thess. 5:15–19).
A great way to begin the replacing unbelieving roots with faith-filled fruit is to pick one of these passages to memorize. When God’s Word fills our minds, it begins to pulse through our hearts to remind us of the truth we’re trying to cling to.
As we run to Jesus and drop our stress at His feet, He is faithful. His Word sets our minds and hearts at ease with hope-giving truth.
Let’s lay aside the weight of stress and its ugly responses so that we may seek to love Jesus and others more.
How does stress tend to rear its ugly head in your own life? What steps will you take to dig up roots of unbelief and replace them with truth from Scripture?
By Samantha Nieves
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