Giving Up Stress for Lent

On the way to our church’s Ash Wednesday service, I was whinging about some issues and problems of the week that were stressing me out, when my friend humoursly said, ”So, are you giving up stress for Lent?” “Yes,” I flippantly remarked. And then, after a couple of seconds, I seriously responded, “Yes, I’m going to give up stress for Lent.”

At the Ash Wednesday service, when we sung one of my favourite hymns, “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind,” this stanza struck me:

Drop thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of thy peace.

Yep, I thought to myself, I’m giving up stress for Lent.

I’m the first to admit that I’m not sure how far I will get with this practice, but I will give it my best shot. I know God has been dealing with me for years about the way I handle stress. I know that stress is a part of life. Whether or not I’m living in Cape Town or Nashville, there will be elements of stress from time to time. Sometimes, there will be a lot of stress!

But I’m going to try to curb my stress load by practicing these steps when something is starting to cause stress in my life:

  1. Say a quick prayer: God help!
  2. Ask myself: What can I control about this situation? If nothing, I will pray for the strength and ability to hand over this situation to God. If there are areas of the situation I can control, I will start making a plan to control
    this little fellow knows how to make a plan
    this little fellow knows how to make a plan

    them, starting with baby action steps.

  3. Pray, pray, pray—asking God for peace and guidance and wisdom, regardless of whether or not it is a situation I can control.

This may be a simplistic approach, but I’m going to try it. It’s a start. Lent is a time of growing closer to God, and often we give up something or take on a spiritual discipline in order to grow in our faith. I’m giving up the “strain and stress,” and I’m giving it to God so that my “ordered life” can confess and receive the “beauty of God’s peace.” God can sort out the stressors in my life, as he assures us in 1 Peter 5:7 (NIV), “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

You can listen to “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind” at
http://grooveshark.com/s/Dear+Lord+and+Father+Of+Mankind/58uBxB?src=5

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Weary

I’m tired

  • Of people begging at the robots (traffic lights), asking for money, trying to sell me things or collect my trash.
  • Of singing worship songs in languages I don’t understand or can’t pronounce.
  • Of people having difficulties understanding me or of my having difficulties understanding them because of
    1st South African Cheesecake
    1st South African Cheesecake

    our accents.

  • Of the time it takes to bake any of my favourite things because I have to convert the measurements (sometimes twice) or hunt around for ingredients that are hard to find.
  • Of feeling pulled in many directions, from people, from projects, from commitments that demand my time. Sometimes I just want to do what I want to do. Sometimes I want space. God, could you please place me in timeout?
  • Of the use of archaic words, such as “whilst,” in everyday English.
  • Of trying to find the balance between a relational culture and the reality of time constraints and deadlines.
  • Of seeing the worst of American culture imported to this beautiful country, giving South Africans a warped view of my country and heritage.

I’m not unhappy. I still love my life and work in Cape Town; but even in the best of times and in the best of circumstances, cross-cultural living can be challenging.

Connected!

I finally have Internet at home, and I am excited beyond belief! I had to go through loads of paperwork to have a phone line in my name and to get a DSL service provider; but once all those things were in place, it didn’t take long for the companies to get me connected. Yippie!!! Can you tell that I am excited?

Boys Fishing in Gordan's Bay
Boys Fishing in Gordan’s Bay

I have been in Cape Town for nearly a month, and things are going well.  However, during the past few days, the mental stress of settling in has caught up with me. Each day I have spent loads of time trying to get Internet at home, a cell phone, a bank account, and a car. In a normal situation, these things can be time consuming; but as a foreigner, it seems to take triple the time. It can be quite exhausting. Plus, not having Internet at home has made me feel very disconnected from my family and friends. That feeling was definitely adding to my mental stress. I’m thrilled that my family and friends are now just a click away. Thank God for our marvelous technology.

I’m grateful, though, that my friends and colleagues at Growing the Church have helped me with all the settling in items that I named above. I can’t imagine trying to do this on my own. After experiencing such things on the “other side” as a foreigner, I will be much more empathetic and helpful to my international friends when I move back to the States. Moving to another country is truly like starting over. In a way, you have to rebuild your life—establishing yourself and unlearning a lot of things that may work in your home country but not in your adopted country. It is definitely a learning experience and not for the faint of heart.

Training: Week Two—Stress and Rest

When I first came to training, I didn’t know what to expect. I have been pleasantly surprised. Each day gets better and better. I’m being stretched and challenged to grow both spiritually and emotionally. But more than anything, I love the amazing sense of community among my fellow missionaries. Although we have known one another only for a couple of weeks, there is camaraderie, fellowship, and loads of fun. It’s a joy to talk with people who are experiencing the same things that I am. My new friendships are a gift.

Playing with new friends at the Olympic Training Park
Playing with new friends at the Olympic Training Park

We spent most of last week talking about stress and rest. We were challenged to look deeply into how we handle stress and were encouraged to cultivate healthy ways to cope with stress. The life of a missionary (especially at first) is one of elevated stress. In my new life everything will be new; and although that is exciting, it is also stressful. For example, I will have to learn how to grocery shop, bank, and drive on the left side of the road. Grocery shopping, banking, and driving are things I can do in my sleep back home (well, maybe not drive)), but even the most mundane tasks will become stressors in my life as I have to relearn them. I need to be prepared, and awareness is the first step.

We also spent significant time on the need to practice Sabbath rest. I was reminded of what we talked about in my huddle group (small group) at church—scripture teaches us to work out of our rest. Ironically, before I said “yes” to God’s call to serve in South Africa, I used to have a healthy rhythm of work, rest, and play. But the past two years have been filled with preparations, and I fell out of that rhythm. I am determined to create a new rhythm of work, play, and rest that will fit my new cultural setting. Living a balanced lifestyle will make me a better team member, a more in-tuned daughter, sister, and friend, and a healthier child of God.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”Rest by the Lake

–Matthew 11:28-29, The Message

Rejoice

When I can’t sleep at night, I know that I am super stressed or overwhelmed and that it is time to make a change. Last night was one of those nights. But around 3:00 in the morning, in the midst of tossing and turning, I heard a voice speak to my spirit, saying, “Rejoice.” As I continued to drift in and out of sleep, I would repeat to myself as a half-asleep breathe prayer, “rejoice” and “peace.”

I know the voice I heard was God’s, and I have been reflecting all morning on what God is trying to tell me. Why rejoice? 

Over the past few weeks, I have been trying to tap into God’s strength. In no other point of my life have I experienced what it truly means to be weak and to depend on God for total strength. But I’m still struggling to figure out how to be strong in God. I know prayer and scripture reading serve as the foundation of our relationship with God; but to be perfectly honest, I don’t exactly experience a bolt of strength when I spend time with God. Perhaps God’s working is more internal, strengthening me in ways yet unknown.

Joey
Joey isn’t my pet; he belongs to my sister. But he is teaching me loads about unconditional love and rejoicing.

A couple of weeks ago, I ran across this scripture verse: “The joy of the Lord is our strength” (Nehemiah 8:10, NRSV). I remember thinking, Hum. That’s interesting. How does that really work? After last night’s experience, I have decided to spend the next few days rejoicing in God’s goodness and not focusing on my endless to-do list. I am reminded of one of my favorite scripture passages (and Henry Purcell Anthems): “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”  (Philippians 4:4-7, NRSV). Perhaps the “peace” part of my half-asleep breathe prayer came from my subconscious memory of this scripture passage.

I’m going to give this “rejoice” thing a try, and I believe by delighting in God I will find the strength for which I’m looking. Won’t you join me?