Try as I might to avoid stress, I find myself more and more in the middle of very stressful activities and dramas lately.
This pandemic is enough to stress anyone, but yesterday our bigger dog got into a fight with the small dog (a dachshund, named biscuit) and I had to rescue the smaller one before a trip to vet or the pet cemetery. Pulling the big dog off the little one took all my energy and left me shaking in anger about the potential damage that could have happened. (Biscuit is fine and may have been over-dramatic during the entire episode, but how was I to know?)
In addition to the dog fight, one of my boys tends to mock and irritate the other two. If the two are having fun he is unhappy and wants to disrupt. If they are bored or unhappy he truly seems to be at peace! But last night his constant picking at them got under my skin and I exploded and said things I regretted. I went to bed admitting to all in the house that I was not a very good father, pastor or mentor.
On top of this we also had a friend of one of the boys visiting us. He does not know our rules or routine very well and is often in need of a lot of direction and “reminding” about things like turning off lights, closing doors, taking off shoes and not wrestling in the house. This should not cause stress, I know, but lately I have learned just how limited my “nerves” and ability to show compassion after I have said the same things five times…is.
Finally, the county health department was scheduled to visit today and last night they were on my mind. They can be cordial, but if you ruffle their feathers they can make life miserable for your camp, ministry, restaurant, etc. There’s always something we missed and one never knows what to expect when they come!
So all of this kept replaying in my mind last night as I tried to go to sleep and stay asleep! When I finally did get up my chest felt like it was being gripped by a vice and I had a hard time breathing. I got my shower, had my coffee and sat through the Bible study time and then prayed. I knew that something was wrong with me to feel the pain in my chest, but after making a few phone calls and allowing God to work through all my frustrations and stress from the preceding day, the pain left and I was back to work.
But it occurred to: Stress can lead to symptoms like a heart attack—-and too much stress can probably produce a heart attack. I know that I am redeemed, loved, and ordained by God to do what I do. I pray to Him, love Him each morning and pray to Him in the name of Jesus. But even though I am determined to be like Saint Francis, Brother Lawrence or Saint Paul, the stress of my work and life gets me down frequently.
But then it occurred to me: Francis of Assisi, Paul of Tarsus, and Brother Lawrence of France did not have three children, a business, employees and overhead with which to contend! I am not trying to be a smart aleck, but seriously, it’s a lot easier to be removed from the world and focus only upon ecclesiastical matters and not worry about communicating with the IRS, mortgage banker, health inspectors, auditors, parents of campers, your own children, etc.
Yes! It’s true: It’s easier to be stress free if you are a pauper, like Francis, or you work for an abbot, like Brother Lawrence, or have no family, like Paul! But the rest of us have to contend with these other things that can erode our focus and enthusiasm, at times.
I thank God for the spiritual giants that have gone before me to help me grow into a more devoted man for Jesus Christ, but I am most thankful that God understands the things in my life that He has added or permitted, that create a more complicated life than my heroes lived. He understands and He alone is my “stress remover”. Jesus never fails to deliver, if I am willing to be delivered……