Her name is Stress. She kills people. She destroys relationships. She annihilates your self-esteem and sucks happiness out of things faster than an Arizona sun melts a forgotten popsicle.
We're led to believe that we must have whatever it is we want and if we just work hard enough we'll become a chunk of coal that became a diamond. It's nearly impossible to operate under stress like a heavy fog.
How do you respond to pressure? I don't do well. It sits on my chest until I have passed the deadline and suddenly - WOW - I can breathe again, I can feel again, I can smile again. I've been working on a project for the last few months, kept putting it on the back burner and avoided feelings its urgency. Meanwhile it was still cankering up inside me because I knew it was due, I knew I should be working on it, but I had other things on my mind.
Tip 1: Just the thought, the commitment, that I'm going to finish it today brings peace to my mind. Today is the last day, no matter what state it is in, that I'm going to let it have control of my life. Do you have an end in site for the dictator of Stress in your life?
How we deal with stress, worry, anxiety, confusion, depression, loneliness - does it have anything at all to do with our prayer life? Fruits of the spirit are love, joy, patience, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control and gentleness. Endurance is not the same as stress. We need hope - like a Cubs fan and sometimes an Iowa State fan - and hope means that you don't let failure upset you.
What if you're praying as much as you usually do but you still feel these emotions? Stress depletes our quality of life. It isn't God's will for us. But I know a lot of people who live with it, every day, because they're in an abusive relationship with something.
Tip 2: Take Galatians 5:22-23. Memorize it. One of my good friends did this and he has an incredible prayer life, and incredibly stressful professional responsibility (across the globe, no less.)
When you're stress, repeat what is important. Not an A grade. Not a perfect boyfriend. Not a marriage by the time you're 27. Your goals - I'm very sorry - are not the first priority to the Holy Spirit. Your current state of mind and presence in Him is the first priority. So repeat how He manifests Himself: love and joy. Peace and patience. Kindness and goodness. Faithfulness and self-control. And ah, that enigmatic gentleness. It's like water on coals. Gentleness.
Maybe it's your expectations. Maybe it's your job. Maybe it's other people's expectations. You want to be the "Renaissance woman." My boss, and pastor, told me gently that perhaps I lose my keys (and my sanity) because I'm trying to do too much. Not everything is your responsibility. Only a few, wonderful blessings are really your "job." You're not on this world to make everyone happy; you're here to make One happy, to do what He told you to do, and the rest is a distraction.
I have pressure from a lot of different directions - 500 different people with their opinions of what sort of youth minister should be, and it is my fault the Church is failing because I did not send an e-mail, wear a pair of shoes, share the Gospel the way they think I should have. How do you tell the difference between God's voice and the voice of unhelpful critics? Who do you listen to?
Tip 3: Listen to them all. Be courageous enough to take the voice of everyone. A brave, Christian warrior doesn't worry about what they hear. They live in the sieve of Christ. Nothing can touch you. Take the criticism. Try not to counter it.
If it offends you, perhaps there's a tiny seed of truth in there that hurts you like a lego under your bare feet. Because you're stressed. Because you forgot. Because you spend your time - knowingly - on things that don't matter as much, so you forget sometimes the things that really do. Guess what? You're human. So is the person who is criticizing you. Ask them if they can give you another chance. If they say No, move on. If they say Yes, move on. Gentleness just keeps going downstream to the Father. Hope just keeps moving. Love endures.
Manifest gentleness, goodness, knowing that most people have good intentions. You might get an apology in a hundred years but notice... self-righteousness is not a fruit of the Spirit. Kindness, and patience are.
I'm not sure how married people do it. I'm sure stress takes its toll on marriages but I see it already taking its toll on the family. I honestly don't know if I'll ever be able to get married until I change professions. I've tried to change my attitude, my approach, my day off, my delegation skills, and it all comes down to one thing: Anna the Youth Minister doesn't seem to be compatible with anything else. It's like having my cake and eating it, too. Ministry and motherhood, ministry and wifery, are not easy to mix together and I never had an interest in doing both. But lots of people do. I wonder if they're happy, or if they're just terribly exhausted. They say that you choose the life you want. I don't really want to be a workaholic. I want to be good at my job. I want to do my duty. I don't want to get fired. But if I operated a little less out of fear and a little more out of trust, I wonder if I would be any happier.
Tip 4: Remember the cross of Jesus. He endured a lot of stress but it did not eventually kill him - His enemies did. He still accomplished His mission through non-violence, non-hatred,
Finally, here are a few little things I do that help me deal with the stress of my job.
- Beat it out. Exercise. Running beats the stress off my chest and makes me feel like I did something right. I also really, really love Zumba as a way to literally Shake it Off. The more I listen to the news or other people about something I "should have done," the more stressed I get. Taking care of your body is one thing only you can do. The rest can pretty much be delegated (if need be.) 10 minutes a day isn't going to ruin everything, nor is it vanity.
- Cook. I make myself a good meal once a week and take it to work so I have something good to look forward to. Maybe you need to make a date with a friend for Friday for a fancy meal out or just a fun night in.
- Light at the end of the tunnel. Every 2-3 months I have to have something to look forward to which is typically 3 days straight of not working. It could be a vacation, or visiting some children in your life, something that has nothing to do with your future goals or current stressers. This reminds us that we're more than the Pressure of the Day tells us we must be. We have a future we get to live in, and this too shall pass.
- Say No to Perfect. I'm a Catholic version of a feminist in that I get very sick of pressures for girls to be everything and boys to just be whatever they want. I don't complain about it often because most guys I know spend their life responding to societal pressure of manhood and - more specifically - becoming a better version of their father. Ouch. For us girls, however, and I say this with a smile, we almost always become a version of our mother. For good, mostly, because our mothers were pretty darn amazing. Regardless - there is a pressure to do everything with a smile on our face and our hair perfect that maybe guys don't have. The female saints I now didn't have time for that. Sometimes when I have to give a big presentation or lead a new meeting I would go buy a new shirt just so I would feel confident. Fine, go for it. But you don't have to look like College of Fashion Design Barbie to make God happy. Your margins don't have to be perfect for your professor to be content.
How things look is professional vanity. If the people you work for, or with, are so stuck on appearances just know that their particularity is not something you have to bend to - it is the last item on your list. The appearance is sometimes the fun part and so we can get distracted on fonts and style, rather than arguments. People want things simple. They respond to simplicity because they can understand it. Remember who you're leading and who you're speaking to; someone stuck completely on appearances isn't going to be lead-able unless you speak to what's below the surface.
Yesterday was just the first draft of whatever you're working on. You can usually go back and make it better. Today is just the revised edition - it doesn't have to be perfect. I once read that you feel stress when you don't have enough Time or Skill to accomplish something. Guess what? Each day you're given more time. Each day you're given more information. In the end, Spirit trumps Skill.