Cumulative Stress…

A Modern-day and Ancient Concern

     The other day I ran into an acquaintance at the coffee shop. He told me about troublesome times he’s experiencing. His adult son has been struggling with cancer treatment for months. A little grandson was recently hospitalized with a severe infection that may require surgery. On top of all that, his elderly mother took a serious fall and is clinging to life by a fragile thread.

     A tinge of sadness was etched into his weary countenance, but In spite of his difficult circumstances, it was obvious this man’s faith is intact. Strength much greater than his sustains him.

     Following my last blog post on ‘soul care,’ I heard from a reader who said, “I’ve experienced so many frustrations in “2016” that, at times, left me questioning why do these things happen to good people…However, in my daily prayers (morning and night), I decided one day that all of this is “beyond my control” and I’m going to “submit” and put it into God’s hands and continue to have faith…I have to honestly tell you, from that day, the problems are still here, but I feel less frustrated and more at peace with God and others.”

     In spite of my friend’s difficult situation, strength much greater than hers brings peace.

     Both of these dear people are most likely dealing with what stress management “experts” call cumulative stress. When I first learned about cumulative stress, the picture that came to my mind was the block tower children construct. As I thought about tiny hands stacking one little wooden block on top of another, I envisioned each block represented a stressor. One block of stress piled upon another.

     Some children have better eye-hand coordination than others, and their block tower grows fairly high, but eventually, the tower topples, and blocks scatter every which way. Some adults manage stress more effectively than others, but eventually, the ‘soul’ says, “Okay, I’ve had enough.” (Perhaps you’ll recall from my last blog post John Ortberg’s definition of ‘soul’ as “the deepest part of you…a synonym for the person.”[1])

     Health, emotions, relationships, cognitive clarity and even a sense of spiritual well being are impacted when the cumulative-stress tower tumbles. During such times, our souls need to be cared for well in order to rejuvenate.

     One of the places we visited while in Israel was Mount Carmel. This lush, green area is the site of a Carmelite monastery. It was on this site that Elijah challenged 450 prophets of Baal to prove their god was more powerful than his God. The encounter ended poorly for Baal’s prophets, and as a result of Elijah’s daring faith, rain came, a terrible drought ended, and the faith of the Israelite people in the one true God was restored. (See story in 1 Kings 18)

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A stone statue on Mount Carmel depicting Elijah with sword drawn.

     I can only imagine the blocks of stress Elijah experienced during this time! In 1 Kings 19, we read about the impact Elijah’s cumulative stress had on the great prophet of God. But, when we read this remarkable account, we see that in spite of Elijah’s difficulties, he found strength much greater than his own.

     In my next blog post, we’ll look at how God—the same God who sustains my friends’ faith and peace—helped Elijah rally. The same stress-management remedies God provided for the Old Testament prophet continue to be applicable today.

     As I conclude this post, I’m praying for my two friends, and I’m also praying God will give you, Listening on YOUR Journey reader, strength for whatever stressors you are dealing with today…

Sue Reeve

  1. Soul Keeping, John Ortberg, Chapter 2, What is the Soul?

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What Does Soul Care Mean?

     While I plan to write a couple more blog posts about my Israel experience, today I want to explore the meaning of ‘soul care.’ I recently told you I’ve chosen those two words to guide me in 2017. This theme emerged while I was reading John Ortberg’s book, Soul Keeping, one I recommend highly.

     My friend, Jackie, and I are able to get together only occasionally. Jackie spends most of the year doing mission work with her husband in Ethiopia. Their time in the States is packed with both ministry and family activities, but we’re usually able to carve out a couple coffee or lunch dates when she’s home.

     When Jackie and I met for coffee before Christmas, I told her my focus for 2017 was going to be “Soul Care.” After the New Year, we met for lunch, and while sharing a gyro and small quinoa salad, she asked, “So, what exactly does ‘Soul Care’ mean?

     That’s such a “Jackie question!” One of the reasons I value our friendship is because she makes those types of probing inquiries. During the years of our friendship, Jackie has challenged me to think more about why I believe what I believe.

     In matters of faith, I tend to be intuitive in contrast to Jackie’s more intellectual approach. Often, my imagination is triggered, and I ‘sense’ something is true in my spirit before my head confirms it. More than once, Jackie has shared with emotional exuberance something she realized after studying a portion of Scripture. My emotional intuition often leads to intellectual confirmation, while Jackie’s intellectual logic often elicits an emotional reaction. Considering our unique perspectives, it’s no wonder Jackie writes Bible studies and my God-designed focus is in the arena of care ministries.

     Imagination, intuition, intellect, study and emotion are important components of the soul, which John Ortberg explains, “is the deepest part of you…simply a synonym for the person.”[1]

     My quest to learn more about caring for my soul isn’t new. It began early one morning several years ago. I was having a devotional time, and these words grabbed my imagination:

 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 NIV)

     Halting, I murmured, “God, I believe this is true because I believe Scripture is true, but what does this look like where the rubber of my faith meets the road of my life?” For me, this question is open ended because I’m convinced bits and pieces of the answer will keep emerging throughout my lifetime. Since I first asked the question, though, I believe God has shown me that our Divine design is not to live a compartmentalized life.

     When Christ is at the very center of my being, all areas of my life—physical, emotional, relational, intellectual, professional and spiritual—will be controlled increasingly by His Spirit. Because God designed me with a free will, I can choose to submit and become more and more Spirit controlled, or I can keep on trying to navigate life with my self-control. The first option appeals to me more than the second.

     One of the most influential people in John Ortberg’s life was Dallas Willard. Ortberg quotes him frequently in Soul Keeping. Of the soul, Dr. Willard says, “The soul is the capacity to integrate all the parts into a single, whole life.”[2]

     John Ortberg concludes, “When you are connected with God and other people in life, you have a healthy soul.”[3]

     I like that—like it a lot. During 2017, I’m asking God to help me become a woman whose soul is healthier than it was in 2016. I want to connect more closely to God, and with other people—people such as you.

     As I share some of the lessons I’m learning in this process, I’d love to have you in turn share some of the lessons you have learned or are learning. Together, let’s keep growing while Listening on the Journey…

Sue Reeve

  1. Soul Keeping, John Ortberg, Chapter 2, What is the Soul?

  2. Soul Keeping, John Ortberg, Chapter 2, What is the Soul?

  3. Soul Keeping, John Ortberg, Chapter 2, What is the Soul?
    C:\Users\Sue\Desktop\Ron Photos\Potential Card folder\04142015_18187-1.jpgI’m imagining I’d be able to practice better ‘soul care’ if I could hang out at this little church we discovered while vacationing in Kauai in 2015. Perhaps we could plan a ‘soul care’ retreat in Hawaii! I smile as I type these improbable words, but it sure does sound nice, don’t you think?