There is a good kind of stress.
If you’ve always thought of stress as a four letter word in the plural, then this may come as a surprise. But it’s true. It’s even reasonable, once I stopped to consider it.
An environment with absolutely no stress is an environment void of stimulation or purpose. As human beings we need something to engage us. That something, to the scientists among us, is called “eustress” – a beneficial stress in just the right dosage to give a feeling of fulfillment.
Too little and we get bored. Too much and we get overwhelmed.
Balance is the key.
Unfortunately, life seems to try everything it can to send us in any direction except the one that leads to balance.
Take as an example of extremes these past 12-18 months. Not many people have been spared. You may be one who has had far too much to do: front line workers, parents juggling work and at-home schooling, caretakers trying to navigate a system that has been completely upended. Or you may be one who has not had enough to do: quarantined and alone with no visitors and limited chances to venture out. There has not been much middle ground.
I hope and pray along with everyone else that the slow return to a middle ground keeps progressing. And along the way, I am trying to learn what it means to find my own middle ground when the world around me is completely crazed, or completely not.
Either extreme can feel like a prison, and I’ve been in both. I’ve spent time strangling under the tangle of my to-do list and panicked over things left undone. I’ve also battled waves of crushing lethargy that come in the dark nights of an isolating depression. Once the scales start to tip one way or the other, it’s easy to keep spiraling in the same direction. Freedom comes only when I move back against the tide and seek balance. Recognizing where I am is the first step.
One of my favorite Bible verses is 2 Timothy 1:7: For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of self-control. This tells me that when I start to feel trapped, powerless, and afraid, those feelings are not from God. God has given me the self-control and the strength to make any necessary changes. I can do it, even when it doesn’t feel as if I can.
The amplified translation drills down into the meaning of that last word “self-control” even further, to say it includes a calm, well-balanced mind. Do you see that word in there again? Balanced. No matter what is going on around me, the Spirit within me has the capability of maintaining a calm, well-balanced mind. My mind in turn can direct the self-control needed to keep from leaping to extremes. Exercising myself in this way is freedom – freedom to think, be and act how I choose regardless of what swirls around me.
This past year has been a severe example, but much of life will tip us one way or the other. If we aren’t careful, we can feel trapped under the confines of our own days. It’s up to us to discover the freedom God has waiting for us, back in the balance, even in the midst of extremes.