“Ouch,” Joan cried as she hobbled painfully out to her car. It was happening again…stress-related eczema. From the time that she was just a little girl, Joan had been subjected to these periodic bouts of painful blisters popping up on the bottom of her feet. During her childhood, the doctor had assumed that it was athlete's foot. But as a college student, Joan herself realized that the attacks came during high periods of stress. Just after exams, she could count on limping for a week.
Now, after wrangling with the church Finance Committee for nearly a month over the next year's budget proposal, Joan knew exactly what was causing the latest flare-up. The more she dealt with incredibly frustrating situations, the more subjected she was to these physical symptoms. And this year's budget debate had been a real doozy.
The closing of a local technology plant had cost the church five tithing families in the last six months, but the fellowship was healthy and everybody knew that they would recover eventually. But that didn't help their short-term income projections. Joan was urging the committee to have faith in the focus on the church's ministry vision. But there was a slim majority of fiscal conservatives on the committee that were determined to cut programs drastically.
Joan felt her body sink into the car seat. “I hate feeling this way,” she told herself when she pulled her car out onto the street and headed home. “I'm tense. I'm not sleeping. I'm irritable with my family. I've got to learn to manage this kind of thing better. I'm really going to get sick.”
Distracted driving with only half her mind on the road as she fretted over the meeting that she just come from Joan failed to notice the car just ahead of her braking suddenly. Her sense of danger kicked in. She hit her brakes, slowing her momentum…but she failed to keep herself from sliding into the Chevy ahead of her as its driver was waiting for a confused dog to get out of the road.
Fortunately, her seatbelt held. “Oh no,” Joan said as she shakingly got out and began to inspect her car. “What's my husband got to say about this?”
Over the last few weeks here at Melbourne Heights, we've spent a lot of time thinking and talking about stress. We've spent time talking about why it's important for us to deal with this practical issue in our lives. We've spent time talking about how you can deal with financial stress in your life, and how you can deal with stress related to your work.
But there's one thing that we haven't talked about at all when it comes to stress. And that's the toll that stress takes on our lives and on our bodies.
That's why I just told you the story about Joan. It's a story that I heard a while back from a colleague in ministry. And I thought it was worth sharing today because of what that story teaches us about stress.
In this story, Joan is completely stressed out…and it's taking a toll on her health. In Joan's case, blisters literally appear on the bottom of her feet when her stress levels get too high. Now, that’s a symptom that she can't ignore. But for most of us, the physical illnesses and ailments that are commonly associated with stress are things we try to ignore.
But just because your feet may not break out in blisters, it doesn't mean that stress isn't taking a toll on your health. Stress can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease. Stress can aggravate asthma and cause our bodies to store even more excess fat around our abdomens. Stress can worsen diabetes and trigger headaches. Stress can cause higher rates of anxiety and depression. And stress has been linked to the acceleration of Alzheimer's disease as well as premature aging.
So this is serious business that we're talking about. But since most of us can't see the direct effects that stress has on our health, is there anything that we can do to understand how stress is really impacting our bodies?
Well, at the beginning of today’s service, we introduced you to the Holmes and Rahe stress scale. This scale was developed back in the late 60s, by two psychologists named Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe to help you see if your current stressors might lead to future serious illness. So at the beginning of the service, we encouraged you to take a couple of minutes and fill this survey out. And, hopefully, you’ve had the time to do that…but, if not, you can still visit our website at mhbclouisville.com/stressed and take this survey.
Now, as you were working on this survey, you saw there are 43 life-changing events that are listed on this scale and there's a numerical value that's written out beside each event. The numerical value tells you just how stressful each of these 43 events are. So, as you were taking the survey, you were supposed to note how many times each of these events have happened in your life in the last year. Then, when you got to the end, you could total up all your numbers and see your total stress score.
Now, your total stress score works like golf…not like bowling. What I mean is, that the lower your score is the better. So if your score is under 150 points, you have a low susceptibility to having a stress-related breakdown or illness occur over the next two years. If you scored between 150 and 300 points, you have about a 50/50 chance of becoming ill due to stress in the next couple of years. And if you scored over 300, there's a 90% chance that your stress levels will lead to an illness or a breakdown in the next 24 months. That's how seriously, your stress can affect your health.
But at least you know where you're at now. And if one of my favorite TV shows when I was a kid taught me anything it’s that, “Knowing is half the battle.” But the other half is actually doing something about it.
So what can we really do to manage our stress? After all, we live in a frantic and chaotic society that pulls us in 100 different directions at once. Financial stress has caused millions of Americans to pick up second jobs. And even when they get off of work, there's still another shift of housework that they have to do or childcare waiting for them when they get home. And at the same time, when we finally do have a minute where we can sit down and relax and flip on the TV or catch up on Facebook, we’re bombarded by images and advertisements that urge us to spend even more of our money, which only means that we have to work that much more.
It's like the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ellen Goodman has famously said, “Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to a job that you need so you can pay for the clothes, car and the house that you leave empty all day in order to afford to live in it.”
And all of this means that none of us feel like we have time to deal with our stress in healthy ways. So we end up vegging out on the couch, or overeating, or drinking, or smoking, or engaging in some other unhealthy behavior.
But there has to be another way. And believe it or not, there is. And this way has been around for a long, long time. It’s been around almost from the beginning of time. You remember the story of what happened in the beginning right?
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And according to Genesis 1, over the course of six days, God created everything. God created light from the darkness, and day and night. God created the sky and the water and the land and everything that lives in them — from the plants, to the birds, to the fish, to the beasts of the land, to mankind itself. God created it all.
But on the seventh day, there was one last thing for God to create. On the seventh day, God rested from all the work that God had done. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because, on the seventh day, God rested from all the work of creation. On the seventh day, God created the Sabbath…a day of rest.
But that's not where the concept of Sabbath ends. God goes on to command us as people to keep it. This is how Exodus 20 puts it.
8 Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. 9 Six days you may work and do all your tasks, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Do not do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you. 11 Because the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them in six days, but rested on the seventh day. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Exodus 20:8-11 (Common English Bible)
But that's not all the Bible has to say either. Again, in Deuteronomy 5, we're told:
13 Six days you may work and do all your tasks, 14 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Don’t do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your oxen or donkeys or any of your animals, or the immigrant who is living among you—so that your male and female servants can rest just like you. 15 Remember that you were a slave in Egypt, but the Lord your God brought you out of there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. That’s why the Lord your God commands you to keep the Sabbath day.
Deuteronomy 5:13-15 (Common English Bible)
But here's the problem. Most of us have no idea what remembering or keeping or honoring the Sabbath means. For most of us, when we think of the word “sabbath”, we think about the rules and the regulations that the people of Israel were expected to follow. Like the people of Israel weren’t allowed to bake bread or even light a fire on the Sabbath. The people of Israel couldn't butcher an animal or work out in their fields on the Sabbath. The people of Israel couldn't even walk for more than a mile on the Sabbath day.
So for many of us to understand and receive the gifts of the Sabbath, the first thing we have to do is get rid of the idea that the Sabbath is all about rules and restrictions. The truth is, the Sabbath is really a time for rest and reflection.
The Sabbath is really a time for rest and reflection.
We see this play out in both commandments to remember the Sabbath. In the Exodus account, we're told to remember the Sabbath because God did. And why was God able to rest on the seventh day? God was able to rest on the seventh day because the work that he had done through the first six days was good. There was nothing left to be done.
Now in our lives, there's always something else to be done. I know that reality well. Tomorrow morning is going to roll around and I'm going to be right back to work in my office. I’m going to be putting together another sermon or preparing for an upcoming meeting or working on something else. But what I've come to understand when it comes to taking a day of rest, is that even though there will always be more work to do, I can be content with the work that I've just done. And the same thing is true for you, even though there will always be more work to do, you can be content with the work you have done.
Even though there will always be more work to do, you can be content with the work you have done.
Plus, keeping the Sabbath helps us keep our pride in check. If God could rest and take a break, it's pretty vain for any of us to think that the world needs us to work seven days a week in order for the world to keep going around.
And in the second story, we're told to keep the Sabbath in order to remember what God has brought us through. The people of Israel were delivered from slavery — where they never had a day off. So in the commandments, God gives to the people of Israel, God tells them to rest and to remember that they're free.
When we find time to rest and reflect, we'll also see what God has brought us through. And sometimes the only way to cope with the stress that we're facing today is to remember how God brought us through the stresses that we faced yesterday.
Now I know what you might be thinking. All of this talk about the Sabbath makes for a nice message…but it just isn't practical. Let me tell you, this isn't some theoretical sermon that I'm preaching. I'm telling you this from my own experience.
As many of you are well aware, I take every Friday off from work. And I treat that day as a Sabbath because, for some reason, y'all think I need to work on Sunday. And on Friday, I rest from all my regular work. I'm not writing a sermon while I'm sitting at home. I'm not making any church-related phone calls. I'm resting and reflecting and trying to take care of myself.
But occasionally, those Sabbath days get interrupted. The truth is, my Sabbaths have been interrupted a lot lately. And that’s because Ashley and I just completed a major renovation on our house. This renovation took months to complete. And once the work was finished, we still had to settle back into our house. So I’ve spent a lot of my Fridays unpacking boxes and reorganizing our house.
And when Sundays roll around, I’ve been exhausted. But I haven’t been exhausted because of the physical work. I’ve been exhausted because I haven't remembered the Sabbath. I haven’t taken the time to rest.
So what I want to encourage each and every one of you to do is to find time during this week when you can rest. It might be this afternoon. It might be tomorrow. It might be one evening. It might be a Friday, or a Saturday, or some other time. But take that time and forget about the stresses of your job, your finances, your stressful relationships, and even your health.
Find time to focus on God.
Find time to focus on God. Remember how God has walked beside you through all the stresses that you faced before. And trust that God will walk beside you through the stresses that you face today.
Now, that's not going to help wipe away any of these stressful events that you wrote down on your form that you faced over the past year. It's not going to help lower that stress score at all. But it is going to remind you, who is really in control of your life and our world. Because it doesn't matter how much we worry or how much we stress because God is always in control.