By: Elizabeth Jean-Marie
Stress, according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, is “a state resulting from a constraining force or influence of bodily tension resulting from factors that tend to alter an existent equilibrium.” This definition takes the physiological approach to define stress; if you lift a heavy weight, you will put stress on your body and the energy you exert will no longer be at equilibrium. But as far as explaining the way we experience stress mentally, this definition really doesn’t do it justice. Stress is such an abstract concept; is it an emotion, a feeling, an unavoidable fate? As I tried to find a way to define stress, all I could conclude was that it is merely a representation of reality. The reality that you may have just failed your orgo midterm; the reality that you have less than 24 hours to write your 20-page final paper; the reality that you have no idea what you’re going to do once you graduate from Brown. However we experience it, being a college student lends itself to the experience of constant stress. This week, as all of my schoolwork started to pile up, I found myself at a breaking point. All I could think was, how am I going to get through all of this?
But now that that moment has passed and I’ve managed to get through all the work that I have to do for the week, I’m laughing. I’m cracking up because I honestly cannot believe that I allowed myself to be so doubtful, when I serve the God who created the universe. The first verse of the Bible states, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” I mean, who am I to doubt Him? And it’s not just a matter of this one time circumstance; I stress out everyday. My usual route back to sanity is found in Matthew 6:34, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” It’s a great verse — it’s even on a poster in the Rock. But if I really took the meaning of this verse to heart, I know I would never stress out again. As I pondered on this, all I could feel was a wave of disappointment. I allowed myself to slip away from complete trust in God. The only logical solution to my dilemma was to delve into the Word.
I turned to Psalm 23, a psalm of David I memorized in childhood, and for the first time verse four really hit me. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.” David’s not walking through some “dark” valley, he’s walking through the valley of the shadow of death. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t get any scarier than that. And yet, he has no fear; he faces Goliath with courage and bravery and defeats him. David seemed to be in tune with a concept I have yet to fully embrace. His trust in God was so strong and full that he was fearless. In modern times, I guess that translates to stressless. I looked up the word “stressless” in the dictionary too and, yes, it is a real word. Not only is it a real word, but it is also a real concept — something that can only be experienced if you fully trust in God.
I flipped over to the New Testament to the Pauline letter, Philippians. Paul wrote this letter from a prison cell, and even in the midst of torture and starvation, Paul still had some encouraging words:
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4: 4-7)
Those verses speak for themselves; I could end the article right here. But there’s more. In Jesus’s sermon on the mount he tells the crowds “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:31 -33)
It’s really easy for me to read the living Word of God and just have a rush of emotions. I feel joyful and euphoric; for a moment, I forget everything I have ever worried about, and I’m laughing again. But the sad truth is that it doesn’t take long for those emotions to subside as I come back to the reality of stress. So as I read these texts, I stopped myself from getting too emotionally overwhelmed about what I was reading and I thought about what I needed to do to stop this cycle of short lived euphoria followed by complete lack of faith. For now, I will focus on living out my life the way that Jesus instructed, by seeking his righteousness first. I know that sometimes I will fall, but as long as I land on my knees, I know I’ll be okay.
Photograph by Lydia Yamaguchi