Thursday’s Column: Carlnormous Comments
Have you ever been afraid of your imagination? At times that fear can be so convincing that you truly believe that the worst case scenario is somehow inevitable. Try and make that opening question relevant to your life. Think about a specific event or experience where you were afraid of something that never came to fruition. The grip of anxiety can be debilitating as you wait for your medical test results to come in. You agonize over the poor quality of life you might have if there is ever an unexpected economic collapse. Your hairline might rapidly recede as you stress over the outcome of the war our nation is still involved in, and do I even need to mention the new global pandemic? You’re robbed of sleep as you imagine the potential horrible outcomes that may never happen. These things may never happen because the Lord could come. They may never happen because whatever you’re afraid of— it’s simply worse in your own mind. It may never happen because God has proven Himself to be one who calms the storm instead of letting you perish.
I believe we would all benefit from recalling those occasions in our past where fear proved unnecessary and we worked ourselves up for nothing! If the fear in your life has a big appetite and it’s devouring all your time and peace, maybe it’s time to feed something else. Sitting Bull once said, “Inside of me there are two dogs. One is mean and evil and the other is good. They fight each other all the time. When asked which one wins I answer, ‘the one I feed the most.’” How vividly this illustrates a daily struggle for so many. Fear and faith will scrap with one another until we decide which one will win. Do you think our faith would emerge victorious every day if we could physically witness God’s power, but in a miraculous way? If my own eyes could witness Jesus bring the dead back from the grave, cast out a demon, or walk on stormy waters, then I would never worry again. Or would I? Seeing Jesus perform miracles never made anyone perfect. His disciples were far from perfect and they stood feet from the Savior while He did things only God could do.
On one occasion, which was hinted at earlier, Jesus calms the storm after being abruptly awakened by His terrified followers (Mark 4). There are some details about this account that will help us feed our faith when fear threatens to win the day.
First, our cries to God, even in the desperate times, are heard. The disciples exclaim, “Don’t you care that we’re about to die?” Following this fearful plea, Jesus will demonstrate a fraction of His awesome power. After all, what is calming a stormy sea to the One who spoke every drop of water into existence?
Second, excessive fear of anything in this world is a foolish mistake. God is bigger and greater than our worries.
Third, God is not asleep. It may seem like He is when we don’t feel optimistic about the future, but it’s when we recognize that He’s the only answer to our peace that He will calm our storm.
I was watching a program from Japan in which the protagonist sighed. We can relate to sighing. I know I may find myself sighing quite a bit. (One researcher noted we all sigh about every 5 minutes. 1) In this program, however, another person, walking by, cautioned the protagonist not to sigh since that allowed happiness to escape. Later, I observed another Japanese show where the same idea was expressed. I know the Japanese have proverbs and idioms, but I’ve yet to locate the source for that expression. I presume it’s a cultural thing since it’s the only context in which I’ve seen it expressed.
Why do we sigh? A sigh serves as a reset, both physically and mentally, for the body. 2 As such, it’s an important biological function. Yet, we likewise tend to sigh when we’re frustrated. In fact, that seems to be when we become aware of our sighs. For this reason, most people interpret sighing with negative emotions. 3 If I sighed while we’re having a “vigorous discussion,” you might conclude I’m angry with or didn’t like you. However, the heated exchange might have simply stressed me, triggering a sigh to release the pent-up anxiety.
Despite being commanded to be “anxious for nothing” (Philippians 4.6), we’ve already observed people do sigh. Obviously, if we sigh every 5 minutes, our sighs cannot always be about anxiety. Yet, it remains amazing God provided for a means of regulating excess anxiety through that rush of relaxation one receives by sighing. This, is of course, in addition to the inconceivable peace received from prayer (Philippians 4.6-7). It may be that with one’s sigh, he is refocused upon his task. Thus, a burden is momentarily laid aside so one can get a better grasp of it to carry it further to the goal.
Jesus told us not to worry, but He also said each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6.33-34). One should try to practice mindfulness in connection with his faith. Since we do notice our sighs of frustration and anxiety more often, we ought to allow our sigh to signal us concerning our stress and take the appropriate measures to resolve it. If a sigh is prompted by a person, either you forbear (tolerate—NASB) them in love (Ephesians 4.2), or you talk to them about the troubling matter privately (Matthew 18.15-17; Acts 18.24-28). If a sigh is because we feel we’re a failure, let us remember the sufficiency of God’s grace (2 Corinthians 12.9). By walking in the Light, we have the continuous cleansing of Jesus’ blood (1 John 1.7). And if someone we’ve tried to reach with the Gospel frustrates us, after we’ve delivered ourselves of bloodguilt (Ezekiel 3.17-19), let us recall the sad truth that only a few find the narrow way (Matthew 7.13-14). Our sigh may be a sign that it is time to knock the sand from our sandals and move on (Luke 9.5).
Yes, rather than serving to remind him of something negative, a Christian’s sigh might also serve as an opportunity, an opportunity to reset his faith.
1 Heid, Markham. “3 Reasons You Sigh So Much.” Prevention, Hearst Magazine Media, Inc, 11 June 2019, www.prevention.com/health/a20508517/why-you-sigh-so-much/.
2 Lewis, Jordan Gaines. “Why Do We Sigh?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, LLC., 10 Apr. 2013, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/brain-babble/201304/why-do-we-sigh.
…Of concerns over the future–decisions to make, the specter of tomorrow, growing old, retirement?
…Of sin–fighting temptation and not always winning, beating one thing and then finding another cropping up in its place, and the guilt it brings?
…Of disappointment–both of what I inflict and what is inflicted upon me?
…Of fear–when it comes to my spouse, my children, my parents, my brethren, our nation?
…Of doubt–whether in the process of prayer, struggles with asking God “why?,” or especially doubting myself?
…Of neglect–leaving undone things central to my purpose as a Christian due to apathy, distraction, misplaced priorities, and the like?
...Of failure–trying and not succeeding, not trying hard enough, not knowing what or how to try, and of simply falling short?
…Of betrayal–whether through gossip, lying, broken promises, insincerity, or treachery?
…Of insecurity–that can result from any of these and other struggles?
We don’t always have days when we wonder these things, but they come around often enough that they can prey on our minds. Sometimes, we face these questions due to our shortcomings. Other times, it’s because of the failings of others. Both can lead to despair.
The wonderful news is that we can be free of them all. There is a day coming when none of these will weigh us down ever again. I love the encouragement of the Hebrews’ writer, who urges, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (12:1-3).
Whether we are struggling due to our sinfulness or if it is any other weight, we’re encouraged to hang on and hang in there. When the struggle might be the greatest, that’s when we’ve got to turn and fix our focus on Jesus. Watch how He won! See what He did! Remember that He helps make it possible for us to fight and win.
If you are in the valley of despair right now, for whatever reason, don’t give up! Look to Jesus. Hang on! The end is in sight. Through Him, we will overcome!
The rubber band’s a handy tool
If it but follows a simple rule
It must know how much that it can take
If it goes beyond that, it might break
It does no good inside the drawer
Or on a peg inside the store
It must assume its intended use
If sitting unused, it amounts to abuse
But when in working operation
It must guard against its ruination
Stretched too often or too far
It will not work or be up to par.
Just like that loop which holds together
That which needs a trusty tether
You and I must know our max
And not our limit to unduly tax
We’re not useful up on the shelf
We must work hard, extend ourself
But taken too far, we risk too much
We can hurt ourselves by doing such
Let’s prayerfully consider each opportunity
And realize none has complete immunity
From burnout, fallout, stress and strain—
Then we’ll be useful, happy, strong and sane!
A few years ago, the American Psychological Association named Denver the city with the most stressed out people in America. 75% of Denver residents are too stressed out about job and money, with half of Denverites saying their stress had significantly increased over the past year. Doctors and researchers have long connected a variety of health problems to stress, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol. The Harris Interactive polling group conducted this survey on behalf of the APA. Maybe the high stress levels are why so many Denver-area folks have such high octane workout routines, to counteract all of this.
In response, the Colorado Psychological Association provided some tips for coping with stress: (1) Set limits, (2) Tap into your support system, (3) Make one health-related commitment (cut back on caffeine, exercise, get more sleep, etc), (4) Strive for a positive outlook, and (5) Seek additional help. These tips are wise and useful, and especially is this true when we consider a “spiritual twist” on them. While I have found living in this area to be peaceful and enjoyable, I also know that life in America in general is stressful. There are so many uncertainties and that alone is a stressor.
Christians are best-equipped to deal with stress. Matthew 6:33 helps us properly prioritize so that we have a spiritual basis to determine what needs to be eliminated and what is more valuable. Further, we have the greatest support system possible through the church (cf. Rom. 12:15; 1 Thess. 5:11; Eph. 4:13-16; Heb. 13:1; etc.). Living the Christian life properly is a prime way to a healthier lifestyle, so long as we remember such principles as are found in 1 Timothy 4:8, Proverbs 23:2, and 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (I’d recommend your reading those). Who has a more positive outlook than one who can say, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21-24). That is essentially saying, “I’ve got it great, and it will only get better.” Finally, there is no better help than that which we have available in Christ. Having the help of heaven to cope with life’s uncertainties is the greatest stress-buster there is.
Whether you live in Denver or even Small Town U.S.A., you are not immune from potential stress. Yet, wherever you live, if you are a Christian you have the best coping tools imaginable. Being in Christ eliminates many of the worries so many face. May we not take this for granted. Even more, let us not neglect to take advantage of the peace found only in Jesus (cf. John 14:27).