‘Too blessed to be stressed’: I’ve seen it on coasters, on pretty little pictures, it’s probably even on tea towels and mugs if you happen to be looking for it. But, and I realise I am probably being a bit controversial here, can I just say this wee quote has pretty much the same effect on me as nails down a blackboard, loud chewing and slurping hot drinks (I know, pity the people I live with!!). In short, the sight of these 5 words together in this particular order makes me want to shut my eyes, stick my fingers in my ears and just curl into a little ball.
Not because I think being stressed is a good thing. Not because I don’t feel blessed, but, quite simply, because I feel that despite its apparent up-beat message, it has the potential to pile on the guilt and, in addition, add to the stress levels.
I believe that there are very few people, if they are being completely honest, who have not experienced stress at some point in their lives. According the the Oxford English Dictionary (yes, my friend, contratry to what the young people in your life would have you believe, it still exists ;o) ), stress can be defined as: ‘A state of mental of emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.’ What it does not say, is that it is a state of being ungrateful or of not appreciating what you have.
Undoubtely, there have been stressful times in my life that have been horrible and have adverse effects and I’m sure I’m not alone in this: perhaps for you it’s been work related or an unexpected change in circumstances. An illness of your own or a loved one. Maybe it’s been a tough time at home or events that are totally beyond your control but which have impact directly on you. Whatever the cause, I’m sure we’ve all been there. And, those times take their toll on us: health can suffer; relationships can be affected; our daily life is no longer what it was. We long for those times to be over – since turning back time and changing its course isn’t an option. It doesn’t mean we stop appreciating the good things in our lives, it can just make our vision a little blurry as we try to see the positive amongst the negative. Difficult times make us weary and upset the normal rhythm and flow of life, so it’s not surprising that we find it hard to look for the good that so often is right there with us, but it doesn’t mean we’ve totally forgotten that it’s there; we just need to wait till the fog clears a little to see the lighter, brighter aspects of our lives.
But, there are times of other stress, too. Stressful sitatuations where pressure is applied, when we do feel under strain, when it seems that life may never feel any sort of normal – old normal, new normal or otherwise, ever again – but I believe that very often, those are in fact times of greatest blessing.
Tell the young couple planning their wedding and preparing to begin married life with all its new demands and expectations that because they have the blessing of each other that they shouldn’t feel stressed. Or what about the new mum? A tiny person has arrived in her life, turning it around forever. She’s tired, emotional (maybe that was just me?), she’s getting to grips with a realising that life will never ever be the same again, all while dealing with the demands of a tiny little person whose every need she must endeavour to meet. In amongst the fluctutating hormones, blessed is something a new mum is most likely to feel at some stage or other, but does that mean she won’t feel the stress that comes with it? I doubt it.
Or, on a smaller scale, what about those preparing for Christmas a season which, while for some is a high point of the year, for others is a time of dread? They want to be there for loved ones and friends, to provide what they feel is needed, to get from one part of the season to the next without letting the mask slip, because they want everything to be ‘ok’, perhaps even for the children in their life – the points of greatest blessing can, in some ways, actually add to the stress that we can put ourselves under.
Maybe you’re reading this and you think it’s wrong for me to admit to stress, that we should allow the blessings in our lives to cancel out any feelings of pressure or strain. If that’s you, I’d love or you to get in touch and tell me how you are able to do this all the time.
I believe strongly that there is hope and there is always a way to ‘lift our weary heads’, but, I know from personal experience that it is hard work. We are all completely different people and so, what works for one person may not work for another, but, as we approach what can for many be an intensely stressful time of year, here are a few wee ideas that have worked for me ( Disclaimer: I am no expert, nor do I claim to be one, I’m simply sharing a few thoughts from my own personal experience.)
- Don’t compare yourself to others and how they appear to be coping: Just becuause it looks like someone has it altogether doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling privately or on the inside. Also, we are all different and what enables one person to cope may just be what drives you to distraction – don’t forget that you are an individual, as are the people you may be looking at – only we know how each of us truly feels.
- Avoid lengthy periods on Social Media: This is defintely linked to point 1, but I think it’s a separate issue as well. Social media can be a great way to keep in touch with others and in some ways, to get ideas and even find help. But, beware the false persona it creates – let’s face it, we all do it! In that moment before we upload the photo or make the comment, do we not think about presenting the best of ourselves? Unlike life in real time, we have the option to hit the edit button, to delete and start again, or take the extra minute to add the filter that is best at hiding our double chin(s). I know that for me personally, despite knowing all these things in my head, there have been times when I’ve had to step away from or restrict my time on social media, because regardless of what I know to be true, the images and messages we are exposed to there take our eyes away from ourselves, removing our individuality and, at times, almost making us think we need to be clones of those we follow. You are you – don’t be blinded by the power of ‘edit and filter’ – life would be rosy all the time for all of us if this was an everyday option, but it’s not. Don’t become so lost in someone else’s shared moments that you forget to live out your own.
- It’s not all about you: This is a lesson I’ve been slowly learning and I think it probably came as quite a shock the first time I truly realised this truth for myself. Many years ago I learned the Shorter Catechism: ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever’ but, I think that if I’m being honest, the truth of this really only cut through my stubborn heart recently. Despite the fact that I have to battle daily with wanting it all to be about me ( and like every battle, some you win, some you lose), I need to remember that I was put on this earth for a purpose – as were you – and we are here to bring glory to the One who created us and put us here. We are here to serve Him, in whatever way He has created for us as individuals to do this. We are totally different as people and so, we have totally different purposes to match that individuality but, the one thing that unites us all, is that we are created beings and just as children look to their parents for direction and guidance and help ( when they’re not being totally stubborn of course – wonder who they take that after?!), so we too should look to our Heavenly Father, our Creator, to help us. As we turn our eyes to Him, we lift our eyes above our situation and circumstances and, dare I say it, our self-centredness, and in so doing, we realise that we need a Higher Power to lead us through life. It’s tricky, it’s tough at times, but we’re not expected to go it alone – ever. The Bible reminds us that: ‘His strength is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Cor 12 vs 9) ,’the Lord hears… He delivers them from their troubles’ (Ps 34 vs 17), ‘When hard-pressed I cried to the Lord … the Lord is with me’ (Ps 118 vs 5-6), ‘Come to Me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest’ (Matt 11 vs 28), ‘Cast your cares upon Him because He cares for you’ (1 Peter 5 verse 7) These are not verses that condemn those who feel the pressure of stress. They don’t tell us to feel guilty about it – that’s something we mere mortals have managed to do all by ourselves. The One who made us doesn’t want us to feel that way, but He does tell us we don’t need to battle alone if and when we do. Maybe part of your individual plan is to reach out and help someone else, or maybe, if you look around, you will realise that someone with that very purpose wants to draw alongside and help you. We can’t all do everything, so don’t be afraid to look for help – sharing our burdens eases the weight we carry and makes the journey of life even just a little less wearisome.
Maybe you’re feeling stressed right now and, to make matters worse, you feel guilty because you think that means you don’t appreciate or understand the blessings in your life – whatever they may be. Don’t do that to yourself. This life can be tricky enough without putting extra pressure on ourselves. Instead, remember, ‘I might be stressed, but I know that there are blessings hidden in the fog too, even if I can’t see them right now, but there is help – I don’t need to do it alone.’ It might not be catchy enough to print on a tea towel, but I reckon it might just be a little more honest. And, after all, ‘honesty is the best policy’ – now that one’ll do the tea towel nicely ;o)