"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
~Matthew 11: 28-30
~Matthew 11: 28-30
As I said in PART I of this series, how we think is how we feel. A lot of what creates stress and anxiety for us is internal, not external. The things we say to ourselves. And when that internal dialogue is predominantly negative, we become predominantly negative in our view of the world. If we want to reduce our stress and our anxiety, we have to work first on that internal voice. And as I said before, I used to be an expert at finding clouds rather than silver linings. And there were three things that always seemed to drag me down that road of negative thinking that was at the root of my anxiety.
Things We Can Control Vs. Things We Can Not Control
As I mentioned previously, I used to spend a great deal of time worrying over things I couldn't control. There's things you can fix, and things you can pray about. But if you worry about everything, including the things you have absolutely no control over, you're not even going to be able to focus on those few things on your list you can fix--because you'll always be overwhelmed.
So here's a few examples of things you can and can't control:
Your car has a flat tire? That's you! Change it, or call somebody to change it!
You look out across the field, and see a tornado coming towards your house? That's NOT you! Take shelter and pray!
Somebody is being mean to you for no reason? That's both you and God! Try and find out what's bothering that person and try and work it out. Often, you'll find that person simply doesn't like you, and in those cases, you earnestly pray for them. You may be surprised at how effective that can be.
You forgot to pay your car payment, and you got a big late fee added to your payment? That's you! Pay it!
You're worried you're going to lose your job because of the economy? Do the best job you can, but that's not something ultimately you can control. Pray!
I have spent more time than I care to admit worrying and anxious about things I can't control, events that never actually happened, fretting over arguments I thought were coming and never materialized, or the actions of people I can't control. Learn to fix what you can fix, and pray about what you can't. For many of us, this one is the most difficult.
Too Much On Your Plate
We do it to ourselves. We have the best possible intentions as we agree to be involved in all these various activities. It feels good to be so involved, and to be so busy! But at some point you realize there's so much on your calendar you can't possibly do it all. You wind up stress all the time. You're running constantly. And what you manage to get done is not your best work because there's just too much to do.
I've got a wallet full of membership cards, and for years I've done more and more and more with these various organizations. It gets to the point that I go to meetings just to find out what it was I was supposed to have gotten done and wasn't able to finish. Then the pandemic hit, and my calendar was suddenly clear!
Over those first few weeks, I began to realize the things that mattered to me on my calendar, and the things I really didn't get much out of anymore. As the restrictions have loosened up more than 100 days later, I'm being very careful about what I add back onto my calendar. I'm guessing it will be less than half of what I was doing before, so that I have ample time for work, for family, for church, for writing, and for my studies. Some people will be upset with me when I don't go back to being as busy and involved as I was before, but what I am able to do I will be able to do my best work on going forward. I won't be running every evening. I won't be stressed because I didn't get something I promised to do (knowing at the time I'd have trouble getting it finished) completed. I won't be up at midnight trying to finished in a couple hours a piece I should have spent several evenings on.
Find a level that's comfortable for you, and stay there. If there's something new you want to take on, figure out before you commit what you're going to give up to make room for it in your life. You'll save yourself a ton of stress later. It's easier to say no in the beginning than to say yes and either do a poor job or stress yourself out over it.
Forgive And Forget
The Bible talks about forgiveness a lot--letting things go. Reconciling. Not carrying around anger and bad feelings towards each other. Those feelings turn into hatred, and jealousy, and anger. We carry those bags around with us, and they wind up making us bitter and resentful people.
There's some things people don't understand about forgiveness.
1.) you're forgiving as much for your own peace as you are the other person.
2.) forgiveness does not require an apology from the person that wronged you.
3.) forgiveness doesn't require reciprocity. They can stay mad!
4.) you don't have to tell the person you've forgiven them--sometimes that'll just make them more angry. Just tell God, and pray they'll get to the same place.
5.) there is no wrong on this earth that can't be forgiven. If the father of a murdered girl can forgive the man who murdered his child, you can forgive Aunt Margaret for embarrassing you at the family reunion in 1982.
Don't carry grudges around with you. Let them go. I come from a family that can stay mad at somebody for decades! I don't exaggerate! And I struggled with that also for a long time. But that's no way to live your life. It was wisely pointed out that carrying a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Anger and resentment is just as harmful to the person that carries it as the person that committed the wrong to begin with.
It takes a great deal of effort and character to let some things go, but that's what you'll have to do to have peace in your life. And the other side of that equation is realizing when you're wrong and apologizing and asking for forgiveness. When it becomes habit to forgive and to apologize you'll find a peace like you've never known before.
The goal in the end is to change that internal dialogue. Quiet all those thoughts that are causing us stress and anxiety. The best way to go about this is to pay attention to the things that we spend our time thinking about. You might even try writing them down. Once you do that, you can see the things you can fix, and the things that fall outside your influence. It will seem impossible in the beginning, but as you go about the task of addressing the issues you can fix, and accepting the things you can not, you'll find increasing peace of mind. You'll be able focus on the things that matter. You'll be able to think more clearly and see things more clearly when you aren't in a constant state of nervous anxiety and stress.
Set a little bit of time aside each day to think about the things that occupy your thoughts so much, and come up with solutions to them. Come up with strategies for dealing with them.
And why is it so important to control that internal dialogue? I'm going to tell you next week . . .
What do you think? Leave a comment, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org