S T R E S S
THE KILLER OF SOULS AND BODIES
A great amount of literature has been written concerning the subject of stress and one thing remains clear, stress is undesirable, being harmful to both body and soul. Endless reams of articles, speeches and books have proclaimed the need to get rid of stress. There are many recommendations published as to how to deal with stress, to minimize its effects. Some proclaim the use of chemicals. Others come up with certain disciplines. Some are taken from pagan religions and practices, and may seem to offer a small degree of help, but no one has offered a lasting and permanent cure. As in any ailment, it is good to establish a diagnosis, find its source and the best type of treatment, as well as the hope and assurance of a cure.
THE MANY SOURCES OF STRESS
Many things contribute to stress., among them being the sickness or death of a spouse or loved one, marital difficulties quarrels, arguments over children, separation, divorce, personal injury or serious illness, loss of job or income, moving, entering the work force or retirement, serious illness of a family member,
unexpected pregnancy or inability to become pregnant, change of job or profession, death of a close friend, legal action over debt, problems with employer or employees, or with in-laws, arguments over money, various problems with children or parents. Losing a customer or a lawsuit, or a job, as well as trouble with collection agencies or tax collectors. Property, houses, automobiles, bills, and much more all are waiting on line to contribute to the stress burden which we carry. Death also is constantly hovering over us like a vulture waiting to pounce.
Many techniques have been recommended to combat or reduce stress, such as breathing and relaxation exercises. In medical journals people are advised to recognize stress with its physical and psychological symptoms, and to recognize the source of stress. The various techniques at times help to slightly reduce stress and often produce a measure of tranquility. There are certain stressful situations, which if removed, will also remove the stress they caused. But many other things constantly arise causing renewed anxiety and leading to increased stress because life is unpredictable. Great security can suddenly lead to terrible anxiety and stress, such as in wars and accidents and in our times the terrorist attacks such as the tragedy of the twin towers in 9-11.
TO WHOM THIS IS DIRECTED
This article assumes that those who read it will be baptized Orthodox Christians because for them there is a permanent cure for all stress. We are blessed with the greatest of all physicians, able to cure both bodily and spiritual ills/ However, this physician who alone is able to cure us of every stress, physical and spiritual is extremely demanding. He charges no fee, but guarantees a permanent cure. To begin treatment has a single requirement. That requirement was expressed in the meeting of the Lord Christ with the Paralytic man at the Sheep Pool who was seeking a cure. He expressed it in these words: “Do you want to be made well?” (John 5: 6)? The Lord asks all of us who are stressed out and unhappy the same question: “Do you want to be made well?” If our response is yes, we will soon witness the wonder of the blessed and permanent cure, and will joyfully sing praises to our Lord.
WE ARE THE RICHEST OF ALL PEOPLE
We are Orthodox Christians and we know and sometimes forget that we are unique, belonging to the historical Church that we confess as the “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.” We do not recognize any Head other than Jesus Christ the Son of the Living God, nor do we consider ourselves capable of establishing a religion in accordance with our imagination. The reason for this is due to our firm roots in the Church wherein we were baptized into Christ, and having put on Christ, were sealed with the gift of Holy Spirit. Whether we remember it or not, this is an inescapable fact of our Orthodox identity and life. This is who we are, even if we do not know it. We are heirs of all the wisdom and wealth of the God who created all things, and it is His ardent desire to bestow everything good upon us. No one on earth has the extreme wealth which we possess!
It is of our own free will that we confess at least each Sunday: “He will come again to judge the living and the dead, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” (In the Creed or Symbol) These are powerful words, which if ignored, will have terrible consequences. We testify that being the Body of Christ, each of us will be judged by Him upon leaving this world. So we are proclaiming that our destination will be either eternal life or the terrible second death, as we choose. We are frequently reminded, either by tragic events, sickness , sudden death, or other calamities, that our own deaths could come suddenly and without warning.
THE PHYSICIAN INTRODUCES THE CURE
With all these things in mind we will now turn to the Physician who can wipe away all our fears and all our anxieties, for these are the cause of all stress. Eliminating stress in our lives, means a healthier and happier and peaceful life. This will enable us to deal with all the problems of life in an objective organized proper manner, with wisdom and discretion which is pleasing to God. We will live more productive and virtuous lives, benefiting our spouses and children as well. Fora peaceful and unstressed father and mother are a blessing to each other and to their children.
The Lord begins, saying to His people: “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble in my heart” (Matt. 11: 29). The Creator who formed us is an infallible teacher. His words are not idle, nor are they without consequence, for every word is filled with divine wisdom and love for us. “Learn from me, for I am meek,” and the opposite of meekness is unreasonable anger. Anger stokes the fires within us of anxiety and the stress to get even, be avenged, punish or even kill the one with whom we are angry. Anger is a killer of both the soul and body, and it is our enemy for it makes us children of wrath. The meek Christ tells us to learn from Him by His example. Further then he says: “I am humble in my heart.” The Living God, who is above all and ruler of all, who is the most High Creator and Providers of the universe, is speaking these words, He who came down from the highest heaven, who is higher than all creation, and to Him alone we sing: “Glory to God in the highest!” This God tells us: “Learn from me, for I am humble in my heart!”
AWAY WITH HYPOCRISY
THE NEED FOR SELF ABASEMENT
Humility is having a very low opinion of ourselves, especially before the Most High God. Humility is available to all who do not live hypocritical lives. The Lord despises hypocrisy, which means the wearing of a mask pretending to be something that we are not. He cried out to the arrogant Pharisees, “Woe to you Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel over land and sea to make one convert, and when he is made, you make him twofold the child of Hell than yourselves” (Matt. 23:15). The Orthodox stance before Christ has always been the same. Of all the sinners in the world no one is more corrupt than me. I alone offend God and never keep His commandments. I alone am responsible for all the evil things I have done. God be merciful to me a sinner! No one has ever committed the deeds that I have done and continue to do. Behold, Lord, I come to You seeking repentance and Your great mercy. Give me your peace and tranquility. Give rest to my soul in You, Lord.
PROGRESS OF THIS THERAPY
If one has reached only this stage of therapy, many things are rapidly occurring in our souls. In extinguishing the fire of anger and wrath, we become comforted, peacefully crying out in repentance before God. Then a wonderful thing takes place, a miracle from heaven. Like dew descending on fleece, divine grace arouses tears and sorrow for our sins. The darkness and destructive power of stress is now fleeing rapidly and disappearing like Judas Iscariot into the darkness, for the cure is quick and without the use of chemicals or the spending of money.
The Lord goes even further, for He commands us to have no stress at all, for He knows that all stress is our own sinful passion being truly a disease of the soul. Foolishly we imagine that we know better than God and assert that bad things should not happen to us, to our family, to our friends, and this is a principle reason that arouses anxiety and stress when such events occur. If we really acknowledge our own sinfulness, then we also know that we deserve death, “for the wages of sin is death.”
If we think of every sinful thought, of every harsh word spoken, of superior attitudes, of every argument and insult to others, of lack of benevolence and kindness toward everyone, even our enemies who would kill us, we would easily admit that we deserve any punishment or even death. But when any punishment arrives, we cry out, why is God doing this tom me. We do not with Job say: “Blessed is the name of the Lord, now and for ever more.”
We fail to remember that God is in charge of events, some of which we are unable to change. So it is not the event that causes stress, but is our reaction when things do not go the way we would choose. This is natural for sinful men, for we seek pleasure without pain, happiness without sorrow, always preferring to rejoice at all times. In fact this desire to rejoice at all times is the life of God Himself, and it is precisely what he wants for us.
OUR FORGETFULNESS OF GOD BEGETS STRESS
Few of us have experienced even one of the tragedies of Job recorded in the old Testament. Job was rich and pious, reverent toward God. He was blessed with many children , servants, crops, animals, good health and his wealth was immense. He did well with these blessings, generously giving to the poor, and to every one he found in need he bestowed what they lacked. His generosity caused his fame to go abroad throughout the land. Suddenly, disaster struck! All of his children were killed! All of his servants were killed! All of his crops gone! All of his animals were dead! Then boils and pussy sores appeared from his feet to his head.
As he sat on a dung heap, scraping the sores seeking relief. But, he was not all stressed out. His wife urged him to curse God and die. He replied to his wife: “You have spoken like one of the foolish woman. If we have received good things from the hand of the Lord, should we not endure evil things? In all these things that happened to him, Job did not sin with his lips against God” (Job 2:10). Because all his faith and trust and love was in God, and he surmised that there had to be a reason known only to God, why he must endure these things. He endured without grumbling as few men endure.
In this apparently deplorable condition he became a philosopher. He had many conversations and uttered many wise things. Anyone who reads the Book of Job will learn much about God and man and the relationships between them. One of Job’s sayings has been immortalized, being used at the very end of our Divine Liturgies. For we repeat His words: “Blessed be the name of our Lord, from this time and for ever more.” (Sung three times) In all his suffering, Job did not sin against God, was not overcome by anxiety, stress, complaint, anger nor did he seek death as a possible escape. Do you see how he defeated stress by defeating anxiety its very cause.
Job fully recovered his health, sired more children, gained more wealth than before, more animals, more servants, and became even more generous toward everyone and finally left this world to be with God and to constantly sing out to Him: “Blessed be the name of the Lord, from this time and for ever more.”
THE TREATMENT CONTINUES
The Physician of our souls and bodies prescribes treatment to avoid all stress in the following words. First neither despise or hate anyone: “I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who deal despitefully with you and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). Ridding ourselves of all hatred and replacing everything within our souls with love for God, for our neighbors and for our enemies, vanquishes a large source of stress, replacing it with tranquility and the peace from above. Accepting every thing good or bad that occurs, blessing God for both, rids us completely of all anxiety.
DO NOT BE ANXIOUS
Concern over money, property, business, employment, which is the source of our sustenance breeds anxiety the mother of stress. The Physician who is the Wisdom and Power of God applies this medication: “Take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or With what shall we be clothed? (For after these things the pagans seek) for your heavenly Father knows that you have need of these things. But seek first the Kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore, take no thought for tomorrow, for tomorrow will take thought for the things of itself” (Matt. 6:31-34). Is it not clear that this includes every aspects of our lives, so why do we take thought in anything else, except to praise and glorify God for all things?
Putting these things into practice in our daily lives will gradually diminish and eventually destroy the demon of anxiety and cause of all stress. Are we asked to become indifferent concerning the needs of our families? By no means! The Lord teaches us to understand that: “With God’s help I will do this or that, accomplish this or accomplish that.” Education and work are necessary and we certainly should be good providers, but we need to first place Christ in charge of our lives seeking His advice and help in every honorable endeavor. Taking thought of anything coupled with anxiety, will take us down the dark road of stress, which not only causes many physical ailments, but also descends into the very depths of despondency and self-destruction. This is the road to avoid with all our strength as it leads to eternal destruction.
STRESS ATTACKS EVERYONE
Everyone in the Church deals with stress for it affects Bishops, Priests, Deacons, Psalters, and very few escape. Our lives must be rebuilt upon a firm foundation which will prevent all anxiety and stress. That firm and perfect foundation is Jesus Christ the Son of God who is risen from the dead and will never die again, but will raise up all of us in the last day. Let us not say, “Of course I believe and have hope in Jesus Christ, for if we really did, we would be free of stress, so let us not deceive ourselves.
These are the steps to accomplish this.
1. Firm repentance and sorrow for our sins, with the desire never to sin again.
2. Humbling ourselves before the Most High God and asking for His mercy and peace.
3. Eliminating all anger from within our souls, by thinking: “There is nothing in this world worth becoming angry about except our sins.”
4. We need to love our enemies and hate no one.
5. We need to confess our sins before God’s Priest and receive total forgiveness for all the evil things we have done. The Priest has the authority from God, to say these sweet words: “Go forth in peace; Jesus Christ has forgiven your sins and I am the witness to assure you of this.”
Then we need to come to Church on time, prepare for the Holy Mystery of Communion, wherein we will receive Christ Himself, who willed to dwell within our souls and bodies. Then never failing to give thanks every day of our lives for this great and divine gift from our Most High God. From this time on, dramatic changes will take place in our lives. We will give thanks in prayer to our God, night and day out of pure joy and thanksgiving. We will cry out in ecstasy, Lord, How wonderful are you in your saints! How glorious are you in your magnificence! How generous are you and kind to us sinners! O Lover of man, glory to you.!
THE END OF STRESS – PARADISE ON EARTH!
Christ acting invisibly within our minds and heart, abolishes all stress just as we asked, and in listening to Him, we are no longer anxious about anything but rejoice for everything that occurs in our lives. This is the magnificence and beauty of genuine Christian life, a life that only the Orthodox Church can bestow. It is filled with sweetness and beauty, and being enlightening and dynamic, helping us to accomplish everything. This is life as the Creator and Lover of man willed that we live. Remember, that because of sin we were cast out of Paradise. Gradually, the Godman, with our cooperation, will begin the process of making us holy as He is holy. We in turn bear the responsibility to constantly struggle keeping His great commandment: “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect!” How blessed are we to have such a treasure, such a wonderful destiny! How blessed we are to have such a Physician and Lord who alone is the Lover of man. Let us marvel at these events for even in this world we will return again to sweet Paradise, for Paradise is when the entire Kingdom of God is within us, when we are in God and God is in us! May this be so for all of us!