June 20, 2012 - Recently I discovered this little story from a speaker on stress management. To illustrate a point she raised a cup and asked, "How heavy is this glass of water?"
The audience called out answers ranging from 1 to 5 pounds. The speaker replied, "I don't know the precise weight, but in this case it is not the weight that really matters. How heavy it is depends on how long you try to hold it."
"For example, if I hold it for a minute, that's easy. If I hold it for an hour, my arm will ache. But if I try to hold it up for a whole day I might collapse. In each case, the glass is the same weight.
However the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes. And so it is with our stress. If we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later, the burdens will become increasingly heavy, and we won't be able to carry them. When that happens, as with the glass of water, we have to put them down or something even worse might happen."
We certainly are living in very stressful and difficult times. But does that mean we have to live as weighed down or stressed out people? Is there a way we can set our burdens down for awhile without simply avoiding or denying them, and have life restored to us?
There are many good stress management tools and techniques to help us deal with worry and anxiety. Getting exercise and a good diet certainly can help a lot with stress too. Finding others for support, such as in a faith community, is also very important. We were never meant to carry our stress and burdens alone. God made us to be "better together."
I believe that stressful times are also a call for us to trust God more and turn to faith. Jesus said, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30 NRSV)
Or as this passage appears in The Message: "Are you tired? Worn out? Even 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. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me, and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."
Jesus does not offer us a religion with more burdens and stress. Rather Jesus offers us a life-giving relationship based on God's grace and unconditional love. He desires to share with us an eternal perspective and a way of living today consistent with God's purpose and plan.
Our stress does not magically go away nor are our problems all immediately solved when we give them to God.
But we do get a rest from them, and we do regain our confidence and hope as we realize we are not carrying the weight of the world by ourselves, and that ultimately everything is in God's hands.. As the old gospel song reminds us:
He's got the whole world in His hands…
He's got my brothers and my sisters in His hands…
He's got the sun and the rain in His hands…
He's got the rivers and the mountains in His hands…
He's got you and He's got me in His hands…
He's got everybody, everywhere in His hands…
He's got the whole world in His hands.
The Rev. Jonathan Heierman is pastor of Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church.