Stress Management: A Biblical Approach
by Dr. Jerry Terrill We live in time of great stress, personally and globally. The world around us is changing. ISIS wreaks havoc, beheading Christians and blowing up churches. In 2001 America began undergoing the longest war in its history in Afghanistan and Iraq. Recent events in America regarding evolving civil unrest are being compared to the tumult of the 1960’s era in America. Thankfully we have a biblical example of how to deal with stress in the person of Jesus Christ. In the events leading up to the Garden of Gethsemane, we learn how to effectively manage stress physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
We most often think of stress being negative. However, stress may be positive as in graduation ceremonies, what will I do next; a new career, a promotion, marriage, a new car, how will I pay for it, the birth of a baby. Stress may be real or in one’s imagination, one’s perceived reality, creating a sense physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually of anxiety, worry, fear, and pain. In this definition, an individual experiences mental and emotional distress. It is often borne out physically through symptoms of distress creating a need to retreat from the world, isolating ourselves from our families and communities of support.
The first step in stress management is found in Matthew 18:20. Here we learn that wherever two or three are gathered, together we create a family, a koinonia of faith and trust. It is important to never face a crisis by oneself. Jesus was facing one of his most pivotal moments in his life as a teacher, rabbi, and man. It was the night of the Passover meal in Jerusalem, less than twenty-four hours before his betrayal in the garden. When we are facing life’s trials and traumas, it is vital to gather family and friends around us to face the upcoming stressful traumatic situation. On the night before his betrayal, Jesus gathered his family of disciples around him in the Upper Room.
Second, it is important to take in nourishment, even if we do not feel like eating. Mark 14: 16 – 18 shares with us that Jesus ate a meal with his family. In breaking the bread together, Christ and the disciples shared a momentary time of fellowship and relaxation before going forth into the world with its procession of trials and stressors.
Third, a key component in dealing with stress is to get adequate exercise. After eating a meal with his disciples, Mark 14: 26 informs us that Jesus went for a walk. Jesus walked to the Garden of Gethsemane. Recent studies have demonstrated that walking improves our physical wellbeing. Modern day medicine informs us that walking helps our blood pressure, inhibits diabetes, reduces cholesterol, and helps us lose weight. It has been shown to improve memory, cognition, and self-confidence. It often is a key ingredient in elevating our mood psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Fourth, fight or flight is a classic response in dealing with stress. Does one stay and fight, making the best of the situation through fighting it; or does one take flight, running away? Flight may be physically running way, or it may involve denial through the use of substances such as drugs or alcohol. It may also mean standing firm and engaging in the defeat of the traumatic stressor. A young shepherd boy by the name of David stood firm when the lion and the bear threatened his sheep (I Samuel 17: 34 – 36). Our Lord Jesus Christ stood firm and faced his enemies.
Fifth, share your problems. In Mark 14: 32 – 33 we learn that Jesus was “deeply distressed and troubled.” In dealing with and facing stressful or traumatic situations, it is important to share your problems with persons you can trust to give you support and good counsel. Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him to focus on the problem. Mark 14: 34: “My heart is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” “stay here and keep watch”.
Sixth, focus on the problem. Jesus went to a quiet garden, the Garden of Gethsemane in Mark 14: 32. When facing a life-challenging, life-changing experience, a major time of crisis, it is good to go to a quiet place to have a personal time with God. Here in the garden our Lord did so.
Seventh, prayer and meditation. In Mark 14: 35 – 36, Jesus went, “a little further and fell down to the ground and prayed.” Jesus prayed, “Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Three times Jesus prayed.
Eight, take charge of your stress. After prayer and meditation, after discussions with your family and friends, eating a meal to experience nourishment and fellowship, going for a walk to clear your head and experience the kicking in of your endorphins for the struggle ahead, the gospel informs us to take charge of our stress. After doing all that you may humanly do, you take charge of your stress. Mark 14: 42: “[H]e said to them. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
Ninth, peace and calm. Once the decision had been made, Jesus felt a sense of tranquility. He did not recriminate by saying something such as, “I ought to have done something differently; I should have made different choices in my life.” Jesus felt an inner peace and calm. He got up and went forward to do His Father’s will.
Dealing with life’s stressors is never easy. Our military veterans may come home with symptoms of P. T. S. D. In times of great stress, suicide may even seem like the best way out. But our Lord Jesus Christ has shown us a better way to deal with the traumas that present in our everyday lives. We can make choices and decisions to move forward. Jesus Christ has shown us the way to do so, even in the moment when he faced the most profound pain and sense of betrayal.
Dr. Jerry Terrill (DSM) is Professor of Counseling at Houston Graduate School of Theology.