Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Oh boy, was I stressed.
See, my boss just got married. Obviously, that would be a source of stress for him, but you wouldn't expect it to be a source of stress for me, would you? Well, it was. See, where I work we are basically a two-man shop. I'm a Web site programmer, and although we do have one programmer that works for us part-time off-site, and we do have a number of terrific, professional coworkers in the office, as far as on-site programming and technical support is concerned, there's only the two of us. So when my boss went on a two-week honeymoon outside of the country and largely outside of range of anyplace he could check his email on his phone (smart man, that guy!) it meant that it was me handling any emergencies that cropped up. On top of that, I had several complex and high-profile projects to try and get a handle on. The result was that I wasn't far into the first week when I started to feel the pressure. I started to feel "stressed."
I don't remember the first time I ever heard the word "stress" used to describe an emotional state; as a kid I remember just knowing that it meant something that could happen to a bridge or something and make it break. And I may be wrong, but using "stressed" as an adjective for that state seems like a relatively new thing to me. "Stress" sounds like a kind of grown-up thing to have, doesn't it? It sounds very business-worldy. Something that high-rollers on Wall Street and the guys in the corner executive offices have. So when I have some "stress," it kind of makes me seem important. Like a president of a company or something. But one day I stopped to think about what stress is, and when it occurred to me what we're talking about here, it was a little bit embarrassing.
Let me let you down easy: like the poodle said, stress is anxiety. Let me give you a second to simmer on that one, because "anxiety" is kind of a grown-up word too, although it's not quite as dignified to be "anxious" as it is to be "stressed." "Anxiety" at least sounds like something important enough to rate an expensive therapist visit to get rid of. But let's unpack it a little further.
Stress is anxiety. And anxiety is just plain old-fashioned fear. Stress doesn't mean being dignified like a CEO: stress means being afraid like a little kid hiding under his blankets so the monsters under the bed don't get him.
What are you stressed about? Upcoming projects, like me? A complicated contract you have to decide on? A business deal that might not come to fruition? How about stress that comes from having people interrupting what you're doing all day long with another issue that legitimately demands your attention? Or stress from having someone in your workplace who seems to have it in for you? Those things are all normal parts of the work world, and there's no reason they have to cause stress. The reason they cause stress is because of fears. You may have a fear, bubbling just under the surface, that you'll make a mistake that costs you some professional pride, that causes you to lose face in front of colleagues or coworkers, or that even costs you your job. Maybe you're afraid that the coworker that seems not to like you will embarrass you in front of a superior. Maybe that person is your superior, and you're afraid that they're going to fire you or demote you. Maybe you're afraid that you just aren't capable of truly accomplishing everything that everybody tosses your way. But whatever the fear is, whatever is causing you anxiety, whatever is stressing you out, stress is really just a euphemism for being afraid.
What does the Bible have to say about fear? Well, essentially it's not God's plan for His people to live in fear. It's interesting that a number of times in the Bible, God and Jesus give a direct command to "fear not." Would God give us a direct command that contradicts what is possible? Of course not! So if God tells us that we shouldn't be afraid, it must mean that it's possible somehow for us to reject fear. But anyone who's ever tried to talk themselves out of being afraid knows that it's pretty much impossible to just put fear out of your mind by sheer willpower. I was never able to make those monsters under my bed when I was a kid go away, no matter how long I hid under the sheets.
You don't get rid of fear by talking yourself out of it. There's something I've realized lately about living life successfully as a Christian: it's not so much a matter of something that you do, as it's a matter of something that you let God do in you. Getting rid of fear is not a matter of using your willpower to talk yourself out of it: it's a matter of making yourself vulnerable and saying, God, I'm afraid of this thing that might happen, but I'm choosing to let You be responsible for causing a favorable outcome. I'm releasing my right to pride and bragging rights at the end, and however it comes out, I'm going to give you the credit. Of course, if you were stressing about something that you have a role to play in, of course do your best work. Don't think God's going to write your contract or report up for you. But if you release your stress to God and connect to Him in faith, you can do your work free of the stress that was hampering you from doing your best work in the first place. You can live free of fear, anxiety, and even stress. Unclench your emotional hold and let God intervene in the situation. What do you have to lose? Well... except for your stress?