“Learning to honor the body as a place where God makes his presence known becomes an important discipline for the spiritual pilgrim.”
Ruth Hayley Barton – “Spiritual Rhythms”
In my last post I touched on the topic of cumulative stress. I relayed two recent encounters with friends who have been dealing with multiple stressful circumstances as well as the example of an Old Testament prophet, Elijah.
I’ve received extensive stress management training, and I’ve loved the Bible since childhood, but I claim to be neither a psychological expert nor a theologian. With that disclaimer, I’d like to share some thoughts about stress and about Scripture.
First, stress isn’t all bad. The most non-descript color to me is ‘beige.’ I visualize ‘beige’ life colored ‘beige’ if there were no stress. A modicum of stress adds color and vitality to our days.
Secondly, not all stress is created equally. Positive stress is known as eustress. Negative stress is called distress. Sometimes the two intertwine. For instance, our daughter was planning her wedding and finishing up her Master’s degree at the same time. As I’m sure you can imagine, stress related to two of Sarah’s most wonderful lifetime events created some tense moments!
Thirdly, I’ve been told our body, mind and emotions don’t know the difference between positive and negative stress. Considering the children’s-building-block analogy from my last post, it seems that no matter if a block of stress is from eustress or distress, the tower keeps growing. Eventually, if not managed, it will topple. It seems human beings aren’t designed to be in a perpetual state of either good or bad stress.
`Re-reading the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 17, 18 & 19, I was aware it painted a great picture of cumulative stress and its impact. Both eustress and distress are described. In addition, chapter 19 captures wise stress management remedies applied in lovely, divine ways. I hope you’ll take time to read the passage considering this slightly different focus.
Elijah’s stress began before the dramatic and stress-filled encounter with the Baal prophets. He, as well as his fellow citizens, felt the impact of the long drought’s effects. Chapter 17 describes some of the stress-filled incidents he encountered.
Chapter 18, as we’ve discussed, describes the incredibly mind-blowing encounter on Mount Carmel. Talk about a mess of stress!
After all those faith-filled events, Chapter 19 tells us how this great man of God undoubtedly experienced a dump of Cortisol—the stress hormone which leads to ‘fight, flight, freeze’ responses—when the wicked Queen Jezebel threatened his life. Verse 3 says, “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.”
For a full day, Elijah ran to the desert until he finally collapsed. Before falling into an exhausted sleep, he prayed, “I have had enough, Lord,”…“Take my life…”
1 Kings 19:5 says Elijah fell asleep from sheer physical, emotional and spiritual exhaustion under a “broom tree.” I’m not sure if we saw a “broom tree” while in Israel, but we did see a lot of olive trees like these.
Have the stressors of life ever carried you to a place where you were convinced you couldn’t handle one more thing, felt useless and like life wasn’t worth the effort? I’ve been there, and it’s not a fun place to be!
The verses that follow are lovely to me because they show how much God cares when one of His children reaches that low point. How an angel interacted with Elijah provides some potent strategies for dealing with times when cumulative stress overwhelms.
One of the most important ways to manage stress is exercise. Running a full day sure qualifies as exercise in my book! Exercise forces us to breathe deeply and helps us sleep better.
Sleep! Sleep disturbance is common when a person is carrying a load of stress.
Rest was probably Elijah’s primary need. Souls aren’t designed to burn the candle at both ends. Recently, I read “Sometimes the most spiritual thing we can do is take a nap!” The angel assigned to attend Elijah insured this remedy
Next, the angel provided Elijah with good nourishing food and plenty of water. Healthy food and good hydration are essential when dealing with periods of high stress.
Finally, the angel told Elijah it was time to get back to work. Even though there may be the temptation during times of cumulative stress to keep sleeping or eating, returning to purposeful routine and activity as soon as possible is vital and beneficial.
In my next post I’d like to comment on the last part of Chapter 19, which describes the way in which the Lord spoke to Elijah. This is one of my favorite portions of Scripture. Until then, I encourage you to examine, along with me, the manner with which we manage stress by caring for the physical vessel housing our soul…
Blessings on your journey of ‘soul care!’
Perhaps one of the trees planted around these date trees was a “broom tree.”