Finding Contentment and Peace in the Stress

2014-08-03 21-14-37I’ve been a little stressed out lately and trying to get to contentment. The fact that I’m struggling with my emotions is frustrating in itself. Shouldn’t I be better than that? Shouldn’t I be fine all the time? Didn’t Paul, who had a pretty difficult life, say that he was content all the time? Why can’t I be like that?  Maybe it’s because Paul was some sort of “super-apostle” and I’m just an ordinary disciple of Jesus.

But then I reread this passage:

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.      Phil 4:10-13 NIV

Oh. Actually Paul doesn’t say that he is automatically and instantly content in every circumstance. He says that he has “learned to be content” and “learned the secret of contentment” I’m learning that too. People are emotional beings – me included. It’s not realistic to think that I’m not going to get tired, stressed, depressed, angry, and frustrated. The important thing is not to let my negative emotions spiral out of control, but rather to do something about them.

One thing I’ve learned is to reframe my view of events and focus on the big picture. Jesus is in charge. I’m alive and have many blessings for which to be grateful. How important is this or that issue, really? Often things that initially seem to be critical don’t seem all that important with a little reflection and a Christian perspective. Turning the problem over to God in prayer is an important step too. I can trust that God has a plan and it’s for sure better than mine.

God may also choose to calm our emotions directly. Paul acknowledges that his strength to be content comes from Jesus. In the last year I have experienced three episodes of angst where I just could not feel better by myself.  Usually I am pretty good at changing my thoughts to improve my emotions (essentially using cognitive behavioral therapy on myself).  Not these three times.  It’s hard to describe these episodes except to say that I felt depressed and also trapped in the negativity; it seemed that my own emotions were oppressing me.  I considered that I might be under spiritual attack (which is not something that usually occurs to me) and appealed to God to directly relive my anxiety and stress. My prayers were something like this, God please relive my anxiety, change my emotions. I cannot do it by myself. Help me. Please do it for me. Make me happy again. Each time I experienced relief within a short time frame. Probably I should be asking God for help more frequently.

The bigger the problems, the more God shows up for those who trust him. My mother is also having emotional ups and downs, having recently been diagnosed with gallbladder cancer. She’s not receiving any treatment because there really aren’t any that work very well for that condition, and life on earth is not her idol. Like me, she is having good days and bad days, but more good than bad.

Mom and me

Mom and me

One morning, soon after her diagnosis, I asked how she was feeling and she replied that she was “doing well,” adding, “God is helping me.”   “How so?” I said. Mom answered, “How could I feel so good if God wasn’t helping me?” True that. From a simply human perspective there wasn’t too much to feel good about. Yet her soul was well.

Since then her symptoms have progressed but she is staying active and engaged in life. Last week she was in a yoga class and concentrating on the movements when she had an unexpected, spontaneous thought of “My peace I give to you” which was both startling and comforting. Mom said that she recognized the passage from Jesus’ message in John, which goes on to say not to be afraid:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.  John 14:27 NIV

Her conclusion is that she can be at peace because Jesus is giving her his peace. She doesn’t have to struggle or work for it. That’s a good lesson for me. Ask more; work less; trust God. As she finished telling me the story, Mom laughed and told me that it also occurred to her that Jesus must be “okay with my yoga class.” She is at peace. Praise God.

Comments

  1. Hi Pete,

    Emotions are the passions which propels or stops us. They are such a mystery. It seems that very few people are able to look at them objectively. I, too, am one who struggles with them. Over the years I have sought to get real life answers about emotions from the Bible. Surprisingly to me there are some very important universal biblical principles for mankind in understanding and dealing with our emotions. The first in-depth biblical explanation of our emotional reactions is summarized in the account of Cain and Abel, found in Genesis 4:1-8. When God rejected Cain’s offering for sin he became angry with God and his brother Abel. In the process of helping Cain overcome his anger, God asks him three insightful questions which are the keys to helping us overcome our negative emotions. He says, “Why are you angry?”, “Why has your countenance fallen?” and “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up?” So from this passage we can surmise that under normal conditions that our emotions are directly tied to having right thoughts and right actions. God told him that he would be happy if he did the right thing. So in this case doing the right thing was sacrificing an animal from the flock instead of vegetables. In order to do that, Cain had to humble himself and accept God’s way as the way to go. Cain did not look at his circumstances objectively. He allowed his passion to control him thus causing him to become a fugitive and Abel’s loss of life. Simply put, Cain could have stopped a lot of grief simply by agreeing with God and doing the right thing. His emotions would have changed for the better and his countenance would have been lifted up. The hard part about this is being objective enough about it in the heat of the moment to react appropriately. For a more expanded explanation about this principle with other examples you can read my new book, Dirty Secrets, Dirty Lies: Escape the Web of Deceit that Holds You Back. Chapter eight specifically deals with this subject of faith, emotions and actions starting on page 80. Understanding this simple truth is truly liberating. Jesus said, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32

    • Peter Weiss says:

      Thanks Ray. I like your analysis of Cain’s emotions. And thanks for a copy of your new book. I am finding it valuable.