I started a new job in January. Same role – editor – but for a different company. Two weeks earlier, however, I injured my back, so I started the new job in pain.
Though I’m decent when it comes to handling pain–probably the result of being nourished by western movies as a boy: cinch up the belt a notch and cowboy on–this injury would’ve sidelined even the Duke; it was bad. I couldn’t sit in my new desk chair, couldn’t raise my right arm to the new keyboard, could hardly even sign my name with a new pen.
Eventually, I broke down and got the prescriptions filled, walking around the company halls in a Vicodin-induced haze. I couldn’t remember names and felt on edge every second of the eight-hour workday. While I believe each workplace, like each day, has enough trouble of its own, throw in some extra stress, a back injury, for example, and it’s, well, hard.
I am a man of prayer. I don’t do it very well, but I believe in its efficacy regardless of me. Needless to say, I was a praying son of a gun the month of January and February and dipping over into March. My initial petitions were along the lines of Jesus, please snap your divine fingers and get me out of this mess. Make the pain go away so I can at least smile at my new co-workers.
You know what happened? Nothing. In fact, things seemed to grow worse.
In one of my favorite scenes in the movie, The Dark Knight, a frustrated Bruce Wayne is confronted by Alfred his butler:
Bruce Wayne: People are dying, Alfred. What would you have me do?
Alfred Pennyworth: Endure, Master Wayne. Take it.
Endure. Not one of the more popular words in our culture. Not much of a favorite in Christianville either. When stress pops up (and it will), our initial reaction is to find a quick fix. We double up on prayers. We amp up our Bible reading. We quote chapters and verses. We create extensive praise-playlists on our iPhones so we can saturate our mind with what’s true. All of these are good practices. But contrary to what you hear at conferences or see on Facebook, many times nothing happens. Sometimes it gets worse.
The witness of Scripture in those moments is that God does indeed care, so much so that He’s right there with us. But rather than whip up some magic, God prefers to cultivate some maturity. He wants us to get a little stronger, for our roots to go down a little deeper so we won’t be so tossed about the next time stress pops up (and it will). Be real careful here or you’ll hear me saying God just wants to toughen us up. No, God wants us stronger, a strength more often than not perfected in the crucible of stress and trouble, a strength that very well may cause us to live softer, like mercy.
To last the winter you must
longsuffer. Your ancestors knew this.
They sailed in wagons from Tennessee
to the New World (Texas),
settling there in a crevice of
mediocrity, their vision daily
whipped by an ever blowing wind.
They look on you now calm-eyed
from the fair banks of Canaan,
your own cloud-burst of witnesses.
They claim you. But they’re worried
about your core: you’re wobbly.
You’ve put too much stock in ease
when the call of the days is to endure.
Your ancestors knew above all else
you must have this center.
The winter can be long.
Thriving Through Stress
Stress is an inevitability of the 21st century, and opportunities abound for simplifying our lives and changing our circumstances. But for most of us, the better change comes from within. As we deal with the stress in our lives, are we just trying to manage all the variables, mitigate the damage, and survive? Or is there actually a way to thrive through stress? Join us for another High Calling series where we discuss how our faith in Jesus and the resilience that develops through difficulties can help us thrive even in difficult circumstances beyond our control. If you know someone who is going through a particularly stressful time, why not encourage them by emailing or sharing one of the articles in our series.
Image by Darlene Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.