When a bad driver almost runs you off the road, how stressed do you get? When a child is repeatedly screaming in your ear while you try and talk to your spouse, how stressed do you get? When you realize you don’t have enough money in the bank to pay the next bill, how stressed do you get?
The answer is: it depends. Stress is subjective say two prominent physicians in a radio program I just heard on NPR. Each of us handles stress differently. A situation that might result in panic attacks for one person might not bother someone else. How we respond to these situations is determined by our past—both the genes we inherited and the way we were raised determine how we handle stress. How we respond to stress is the result of both our nature and our nurture.
The good news is we don’t have to succumb to nature or nurture nihilism. We aren’t stuck for the rest of our life with our current “stress handling” ability. Our past isn’t determinative of our future. If you are like me, and you haven’t handled stress (or anxiety) well in the past, you don’t have to resign yourself to one of the following:
- That’s just the way God made me!
- Those are my genes and I’m stuck with them!
- Why am I so broken!
According to both of the doctors interviewed on the program, our physical identity is much more dynamic. Through healthy eating and an assortment of quieting self-disciplines, we are able to change our genes! Through meditation, yoga, religion and exercise we can effectively turn off bad genes and turn on our good genes. We can shut off the disease producing genes and turn on the good genes that help us deal with stress and anxiety.
This is tremendously hopeful, and I can’t help but think about the implications for Christian living. We can engage in a set of spiritual disciplines that help us to manage stress and anxiety. We can’t realistically eliminate stress out of our lives; every life will always be subject to some stress. However, as Christians I am hopeful about our capacity to deal with stress and anxiety. Jesus showed us how.
In the midst of life-threatening stress, Jesus exhibited peace. He was able to engage in a hectic public ministry. People were constantly crowding around him. They demanded signs and healings. Leaders in his society were always on the look out for ways to arrest and kill him. And yet, he seemed to exude a sort of preternatural calm. He was able to stay focused on God’s mission and respond with love and grace to sinners, indignation and anger at the oppression of the poor, and grief and sorrow at the hardness of peoples’ hearts. At the end of his ministry Jesus offers this peace to us.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
(John 14:27, ESV)
Jesus offers us peace in our stressful world. He offers us a way to stay rooted and connected with God, with others, and with ourselves. Stress is not necessarily a result of our situations. It’s subjective. Stress is inside us. Therefore it is something we can grow better at handling. Jesus invites us to grow into his way of peace-full living regardless of our circumstances.