A few months back, I proudly proclaimed to the world that I was going to temporarily say goodbye to stress.You can read about the reasons behind this decision in my post Why I’m giving up stress for lent. Well I did it, or at least I tried, and now that Easter has come here are three things I’ve learned:
1. Within this feeling I call stress are many sub-feelings
Giving up stress was not a time saver or a time of emotional numbness for me. Actually the opposite was true. During lent, since I didn’t have the easy out of just letting myself feel stressed, whenever a heavy feeling arose I had to spend some time pondering what was happening inside. Was it stress? Or something different? I discovered that sometimes the feelings I have typically slapped the general label of stress onto are actually quite different from one another. Beneath the stress I found fear sometimes, other times I found shame, and still other times grief.
Spending the time to acknowledge these feelings helped me figure out what to do next, be it facing the fear, apologizing, or taking time to cry. Before my journey into stresslessness, I think I would have spent much more time carrying the heavy burden of generic stress without a sense of what I needed to do in order to move forward.
2. Most things that feel stressful in the moment won’t seem stressful six weeks later
This probably won’t come as a surprise, but sometimes during lent, I felt stressed. There was no way around it, stress was the best label I had for the thing I was feeling. When this happened I wrote out the thing that was stressing me out on a little piece of paper, held it in my hands and I asked God to make Her presence felt in the situation. Then I crumpled up the paper and put it in a jar with the rest of my stresses.
When Easter came I dumped the contents of the jar onto my desk, and opened each crumpled paper. As I read about stress after stress, I noticed something pretty startling: most of what had seemed like pretty major stresses in the moment were no longer even relevant.
Remembering them no longer made my jaw tighten. The sermon I thought would never get written was written and done with. A conversation I was dreading went better than expected. An awkward situation was resolved. Of course, some things that stressed me out six weeks ago, still stress me out today, but when I piled the crumpled papers into “not stressful” and “still stressful” piles, the “not stressful” pile was a whole lot bigger.
As I sat there gazing at the piles of crumpled paper on my desk, I was reminded of something Jesus once said to his disciples on a Galilean hillside overlooking the sea :
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink,[a] or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?[b] 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? (Matthew 6:25-30 NRSV)
3. If you are going to give something up for lent and you want to stick with it, tell everyone you know!
Since I chose to write about my stress hiatus in such a public way, throughout the weeks of lent friends and family would often ask me how it was going. This made for excellent accountability. Thanks everyone! If not for your questions and encouragement, I would have given up long before Easter.