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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Are You Stressed Out for the Holidays?

I've seen tons of stress-relieving tips popping up all over the internet these last few weeks, but unfortunately I haven't seen anything to help the spiritual needs of stressed-out people.  I mean, telling people to cook and freeze an extra casserole for busy days is a good idea, but that solution doesn't address the deeper needs at present.  What is causing the stress?  How can God help us deal with it?

Obviously, the holidays are strongly associated with lots of activities, most of which require a lot of time to plan and lots of money to pull off.  Besides deadlines and finances, there are also the trials of dealing with difficult people (including visitors and people in the stores), work-related projects or even lay-offs, and generalized feelings of inadequacy.  When in the midst of all of these stress generators, we need comfort and refreshment--and God can do that for us.

God Expects Obedience, Not Perfectionism

We often miss the difference between obedience and perfectionism, and it can be a cause of some serious stress right about now.  When I write about obedience, I mean doing what is right by God's standards, whatever the personal cost.  On the other hand, perfectionism, especially at its holiday worst, is the pursuit of the appearance of goodness by following all the rules and pleasing people.  It is okay to want to please, but it's a mistake to lose sight of God's standards of goodness and perfection.  Social rules can sometimes be tougher to achieve, or can even lead us away from God's plan.

For example, the hostess who burns the turkey will not be barred from heaven for doing so, but social circles can remind her forever of her mistake.  God measures and values us by our hearts (1 Samuel 16: 7), not by our cooking, the way we dress, the way our house looks, or our choice of wrapping paper.  Anyone who is getting stressed out about these things should keep this in mind, and relax, because we cannot be justifiably held to a higher standard than God's.  If we are right with God, we are "good enough."

For those who are going to be guests rather than the host or hostess, it is also important to remember God's standards of conduct and treat the hosts and fellow guests with love at all times.  That includes when someone snaps at us while under stress, or when someone comes to a party looking to reopen old grudges.  If we let perfectionism take over, we will get stressed out because "nothing is going right," but if we focus on obedience and conduct ourselves with grace, God will credit it to us as wisdom and righteousness (Proverbs 19:11).  Things may not go "perfectly," but "love covers over a multitude of sins," (1 Peter 4:8 NIV) and "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger," (Proverbs 15: 1 NIV).  If there is any path to perfection during the holidays, it can be achieved through obedience to God.

God Has Time to Hear Us

Speaking of interacting with others during the holidays, I can say that frequently, when we get really stressed out, we bottle it up and blow up at others.  Unfortunately, that can be pretty stressful for those individuals, especially if they are going through the same stress we are.  That's why it's important to release our troubles to God, before they come out of our mouths as abuse of our brothers and sisters.  The Apostle Peter wrote, "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you," (1 Peter 5:7 NIV).

It's not just a trite phrase.  Letting God know what is bothering us is the first step toward overcoming the stress and anxiety in our hearts (Philippians 4: 6, 7).  It always takes away the stress to share our problems with a good listener, who is not in a hurry to go elsewhere, or ready to pass judgement before the whole story is told.  God is that listener!  Some of us try to perfect that skill, but I must say, God will take the call at 3 a.m. without grumbling or reminding us of the time.

God Can Take Away The Stress or Change Our Attitude

Besides being a good listener, God is also a good "fixer."  Sometimes we keep our troubles to ourselves, because we fear unwanted help that is more disruptive than helpful.  God is not the bringer of that kind of help; He hears our requests, and gives us what we need to receive (Matthew 7: 9-11).  He is our peace!

Now, I know that many would like to read here, "God will always take away the cause of the stress."  However, that would be a lie.  Sometimes God chooses to let us go through stressful situations without any relief in sight.  He's trying to help us grow in our faith that He is really in control, and really our strength, in every situation.  Otherwise, we could forget God and imagine that we can manage life on our own.

That said, God doesn't send us into a stressful or difficult situation alone. The Bible says, "I can do all this through him who gives me strength," (Philippians 4: 13 NIV).  The essential ingredient is God's strength, not our own.  Where we lack endurance, God can help us.  Where we lack patience, God can instruct us.  Where we lack stamina, God can give us a boost of energy or physical strength that helps us get the job done.  It is a comfort, even for the most independent soul, to depend on God rather than our imperfect selves.

These are some things to think about as we go into the busiest time of year, the Christmas season.  I'm praying for you that you receive God's comfort and that you are able to manage your stress through the grace of God, putting all things into their proper perspective and overcoming the obstacles in your path.  Until next time, stay savvy, talk to God, and rest in God's peace!