Ten things I've learned about stress this last year:
1. It doesn't always come connected to a specific event or moment. It has a mind of its own, is what I'm trying to say. I always thought it was directly related to an inciting incident or an anticipated tension. Not so.
2. It can manifest in the physical even while you feel like you're having a great time. Like people will be laughing around you and you'll be telling a joke all the while your chest cavity is burgeoning like an over-ripe watermelon. Weird.
3. It doesn't always go away even though you're telling yourself that things are "settled now" and "you're alright". Your mind might be doing just great, but your body keeps telling you that you're running for your life. Which brings me to the next point...
4. It feels every bit like you're falling backwards on a ladder from the second story of your house. The feeling under your sternum is the same as if you just experienced a close call that was life or death. You can cognitively know it's not so, but your innards aren't so convinced.
5. It doesn't back off even when things supposedly or seemingly "get better". After so much time living in this space, the body has created a new default of dread. You are in the clear, but it feels like a sniper is in the woods getting ready to pick you off. In fact, you're convinced they are.
6. Its present doesn't mean you don't like your life. In fact, if you would ask me how I'm doing, I could honestly say I "love my life" more now than ever before. I always thought joy and fulfillment couldn't coexist with stress. I feel blessed and stressed...isn't that messed? hehehe...
7. It does get better in time, but I'm surprised how much time it takes to feel like it's getting better. Stress isn't like a skin rash that you put some cream on and watch dry up and vanish in 5 days. No, stress is nuanced and layered in such a way that you can't apply remedial, medicinal cream to touch it. It's not a local and topical disease...it's more like a cancer than a cough.
8. It is caused more by people than projects. Projects are more static and predictable...people are more dynamic and capricious. They vacillate and change with free wills and free spirits. This makes it quite exciting, but when they don't follow-through it's like you hear the 'reverse beeper' on the dump truck and it isn't long before a mother load of stress is piled on top of you. People are the catnip and the kryptonite of life, aren't they?
9. It is addictive to be stressed. You want to get rid of it, but you've found the adrenaline to be quite compelling and your body doesn't want to go back to a life of peace. Managing mental chaos makes you feel important, like something huge is at stake and you're the one who needs to pull it off. Living this way makes you feel like Nash in "A Beautiful Mind". It feels good to be a central character in the story. It feels good to know that the pressure you're feeling is telling you that something depends on you, someone relies on you.
10. It is a refiner's fire that breeds humility. To the person who thinks they are above anxiety and the ills of common man, this blight...this plight demolishes pride causing you to see your need for God and your fragility without help of some kind. You need people. You need God. You can't pull it off on your own. It helps you to have compassion on those who are weak, thinned out by the rigors of life.
I'm sure I could sit here and list thousands of revelations about stress. Since taking the lead pastor role at Impact, I've experienced a level of pressure the likes of which I had never know before. It has been the best year of my life...but the journey has been fraught with inner perils I could have never anticipated. The attack I experience from the demon of dread at times can be paralyzing.
But here's the thing...in the last month, I've witness it lifting a bit. Not to the degree that I'm back to my jovial and juvenile self, but enough so that can smell hope in air, like the first whiff of spring. I can look back and see what it forged in my spirit. I can feel the confidence that comes with pressing through pressure. I can see the refiner's fire and the gold it purifies. I can feel the hope that comes with conquering. I can feel the joy that comes with knowing you are "weak", but through that God makes you "strong". He flexes his muscles when I stop flexing mine.
So for anyone who lives in the "valley of the shadow of death" (aka - stress), take heart. The Lord is doing something in you. He is using this tension to make you tender. And that is hope.
I had to get that off my chest.