Stress is everywhere. The latest edition of my favorite magazine, “Experience Life,” has articles titled, “Overcome Anxiety,” “Relax and Renew,“ and “How to Avoid Holiday Overload.” As if we didn’t have enough stress with the economy and unemployment, here come the holidays, and all the commercials trying to convince us that this toy will make our kids happy, or that this piece of jewelry is the only way to show your love, or this technological gadget will make our lives complete.
I’m not the world’s expert on stress by any means, but after thinking for awhile, I came up with three ways I try to handle stress. They sound simple, but they can get really complicated. The Journey to Simplicity is frequently not simple.
Change and the wisdom to know
Go with the flow
The wisdom to know is from my favorite prayer, the Serenity Prayer. I’ve blogged about it several times and it never loses its power for me. “God grant me the ability to accept the things I cannot change, change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” If we sat down and made a list of things we worry about, and divided those up into “what I can change” and “what I can’t change,” already our lists would be shortened. And yet... there are some things you may realize you can’t change on your own, but integrity demands you follow through anyway (such as voting for a lost cause on election day). Of course, as admirable as it is to want to change society for the better, and as much as I would encourage it, the fastest and most productive way to effect change is to change yourself. “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Going with the flow is a tricky one. There are times you need to go with the flow, and there are times you need to fight your way upstream. Again, the wisdom to know the difference is the key. Our daughter, Rachel, has a tendency to be anxious, especially when her best laid plans go awry. I wrote letters to both kids until they were 18, when I had them bound and gave the collection to them. I included a final letter from their dad, giving advice to each child. For Rachel, he told her she needed to be more like the tree that bends in the wind, and less like the tree that is so hard and inflexible that it breaks in a storm. The expression, I believe, is that we make plans and God laughs. Things rarely turn out exactly as planned. And yet...integrity sometimes demands that you hold your ground or fight against the current. Ah, the wisdom to know the difference!
Let go, “Let go and let God.” Release the lifeline, open your hand, let go of everything you think you need for security. Let go of your need for control. Let go of your need for excessive material goods, let go of your need to please people in a way that violates your integrity, let go of expectations. That latter one is so hard. I gave a children’s Advent sermon once where I held up a sign with the word EXPECT in big letters on one side. I told the kids that the Jews expected the Messiah, they expected a king, they expected a glorious revolution. They wanted God to fulfill his promise to them. Then I turned the sign over. On that side was the the same group of letters rearranged - the word EXCEPT in big letters. The Jews got God’s promise fulfilled, EXCEPT it wasn’t in the way they EXPECTED it. Sometimes we have to let go of expectations. Yet....sometimes you have to expect a miracle, or expect happiness, or expect that things will work out. Some people call this release of positive energy, others call it faith. There are times we believe something utterly unrealistic, something others may mock or scorn, but we know in our hearts it can be done...it WILL be done. In those cases we have to hold on to our expectations with all our might. Sometimes you have to hold tight to expectations for yourself. I never would have given up Cokes or learned to tolerate flying if I had not expected so much of myself. I learned that I can accomplish more than I think - I now have that expectation.
So it all comes down to wisdom - to know when to hold your ground or give in, to know what you can change and how to change it, to know when to hold on and when to let go, to know when to expect success or to allow life to bring surprises, to know when to work toward your dreams, and when to let go of your dreams, or just change your dreams.
I used to think wisdom was knowledge, but eventually I learned the difference. Knowledge is easy to get. In fact, I know a lot of smart people who know more than I will ever know about anything, but I think they lack wisdom. It’s quite elusive. In the end, it is the one gift I hope we gave to our children, not just for the holiday season, but for all their lives - the wisdom to know the difference.