- This week, and the weeks leading up to it, may evoke feelings of stress and anxiety in many of us as we all try to work our hardest to pull our grades up and finish off strong. But with the end of the semester approaching, it also becomes an opportunity for us to assess how we deal with the stresses of life. Do we deal with them in a healthy spiritual manner? Or do we deal with stress on our own and without God’s help and grace and decide to hang out with friends, binge watch shows, play video games, etc.? If our answer is the latter, we come to the realization that we must improve the ways we handle stress, fear, and anxiety, then let us look together at what Jesus and the Bible teach us about handling them.
The issue with stress and anxiety is that many of us think, Once I finish college I can relax or Once this hard semester is over, I won’t be this anxious. The reality is, we will continue to encounter stressful and fearful events throughout our lives and that they are not solely characteristics of college and graduate school. That can be an overwhelming thought though, can’t it? On top of that, oftentimes, these negative emotions may hinder our academic performance and even our health. So what’s the solution? Where and how do I find the ability to deal with this never ending stress that life will throw at me?
Fear not, for our Father knew that when we were placed on this earth, we would have to deal with such things. He didn’t leave us helpless, rather He offers us the solution for these very questions in the universal Life Manual- the Bible. In times of fear and worry, Jesus invites us to find comfort in Him and to most importantly, trust in Him. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says “Come to Me, all you 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.” You probably have heard this verse many times before. But have you ever stopped to truly ponder it. Jesus is imploring us, He waits for us to come to Him with open arms. He is not only willing to listen to us when we face these trials, but in addition to that, He tells us that He has the ability to help us in these times. His help can come in many different forms, such as granting us strength or peace. We find peace in the fact that God has a plan for each and every one of us. Nothing is a shock to Him -no failure, no setback, no disappointment, and no broken dream are ever a surprise to Him. He not only has the solutions but He is the solution. Therefore, Jesus’ form of help differs and far surpasses our ability to help ourselves.
That’s the thing. Sometimes, we go through life trying worldly things to relieve our suffering but what we don’t realize is that our own stress and anxiety comes from us relying on our own abilities to get us through difficult points in our lives. We fail to realize the counterproductivity of our own actions. We attempt to fix our problems on our own and in our own ways as if nothing will change unless we change it. However, our attempts to fix our problems do not always turn out very well due to our limited knowledge, wisdom, and strength. Sometimes, we are able to solve our own problems, but what happens when the solution escapes us? What do we do when we have done everything we could to pass a class but regardless of our best efforts, we just can’t do it on our own? Or when we’ve tried our best to change but we realize we are still chained to the anchor of our sinful ways? When we’ve worked so hard to pursue our dream, and it falls apart right before our eyes? During these points, we feel it, the darkness that overcomes us as the stress and anxiety begin to sneak in and take a hold of our thoughts. We begin to feel deeply anxious because we ponder day and night, yet we still cannot find the solution to some of these problems. But then what happens? When we don’t tame our fears and we let that darkness overcome us, we become paralyzed in fear, unable to take steps of faith with Christ throughout our life.
This is what so many of us sometimes fail to remember. God never intended us to live chained to our fears and worries because we were never meant to carry all of them. In fact, the Bible tells us in 1 Peter 5:7 to “cast all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” In Matthew, Jesus asks us to come to Him for He will comfort us. When we assess the meaning of this verse in addition to what Jesus said in Matthew, we should wonder, why do we run to that friend to discuss our worries with, or why do we go try to find any earthly way of comforting ourselves when here, Jesus is not only telling us that He will comfort us and help us but that He is willing, He is asking to carry all our burdens. This includes, and is not limited to, our stress (maybe about our exam grade?), fears (Will I account for nothing in life?), worries (Will I ever achieve my goals?) , and anxious thoughts ( Am I doing everything wrong? Am I enough?). Because it may seem somewhat vague, let us discuss what “casting our cares” truly means and how it relates to us now.
In essence, the action of casting our cares upon Him is encompassed by one word: surrender. Surrender is giving up our desire to control, and to trust in God and recognize that He is the only One in control. Surrendering can be extremely difficult for some. I know that for me, I experience the struggle of surrendering daily, or even multiple times a day. But I must practice the art of surrendering. Why do I push myself so? Because in fully surrendering to God, we become truly free from the innumerable things that can stress us or make us anxious. Now this does not imply, for example, to not prepare well enough for an exam and then say “Okay Lord, I didn’t even crack open a book but I surrender this exam to You. I know You will bless me and help me.” This is incorrect. What is correct is to do our best to improve ourselves in every circumstance and to surrender the outcomes and solutions to God. The key is not in necessarily never having stress or anxiety anymore- that may be unrealistic for many. The key lies in recognizing that when we feel ourselves hit with these pangs, we submit our worries, our fears, and the outcome to God.
This can obviously be easy to say, but in reality, it is not always that easy for us, especially when we are first called to surrender important areas of our life. So what’s a practical way of putting this in practice in our life? Try the following: “God I am very stressed/scared about … but I will do my best in everything that I do, and I will ultimately leave the outcome to you because I know that you are good and you know what is best.” How else can we realistically surrender what stresses us?
We can first try asking God to renew our mind and thoughts. Romans 12:2 says “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” The crucial point I’m trying to make is this: we all experience stress, but what varies is how we handle it and God does instruct us in the ways in which He wants us to do so. The correct spiritual way to learn how to surrender and be freed from stress is to renew the way we think. Obviously, we cannot do this on our own, we must pray and ask for God’s grace to help transform how we think. Patience is something we also need to keep in mind.This change does not happen overnight. So it requires a daily commitment to fighting these stressful thoughts. Whenever a fearful thought comes to your mind, immediately respond to it with God’s truth. Write down a couple Bible verses that speak to you and your situation, and whenever those anxious thoughts creep in, immediately pull out those verses and repeat them whether out loud or quietly. Continually feed your mind with the truth of God’s word and request transformation of your mind when you pray, and God will help change you. Don’t be discouraged, but stay persistent and keep fighting. Once God renews your mind, you will no longer be chained by your stress and by your fears. With God’s help, you will then be able to surrender your cares to Him . Instead of living in stress and fear, which will only hinder your personal and spiritual growth, choose to surrender those stressful thoughts to Him. It is too heavy for us to carry alone. Our loving Heavenly Father is waiting with open arms for us to come to Him for comfort when we are afraid. He is a loving Father who does not want us to live chained to our stress and anxiety. Only through Him can we truly have a new outlook on how we view our lives. Once we see life through a new perspective, we will begin to surrender every aspect of our lives to Him. All our burdens will be lightened because we will be filled with His peace and strength regardless of what challenge we face, and we will no longer be bound by our stress and anxiety. So, go to Him and I guarantee, regardless of whatever outcome occurring in your life, you will find rest and peace for your soul.
2 Thessalonians 3:16 “Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way. The Lord be with you all.”