Monday, March 13, 2017

Linking Stress, Health – and Faith

In Adrenalin and Stress, Dr. Archibald Hart discusses the link between stress and physical well-being. A series of high-stress events – including good stress, like getting married, the birth of a child, moving into a new house – as well as negative occurrences, such as the death of a loved one, losing a job, or dealing with financial setbacks, can have a cumulative effect on one’s health.

A couple weeks ago I experienced this. Over the span of days, in addition to my usual writing and editing routine, I faced an unusually demanding schedule of mostly good things: numerous lengthy business meetings, five long-distance phone interviews, two family birthday parties, church activities, a small group gathering, and an intense, four-hour consultation with the staff of a small company. Leading up to this, my car was hit by an SUV as I was entering a grocery store parking lot, prompting numerous phone calls to insurance companies and a visit to the auto body shop.

Individuals that relish constant human interaction and non-stop activity would see such a schedule as delightful. Not me. As an “extroverted-introvert,” I enjoy people and activities – in small doses. As experience has shown me, overdoses of people and activity tend to move me into stress mode.

This flurry of meetings and events left me mentally, emotionally and physically depleted. According to stress tables in Dr. Hart’s book, I had unintentionally put myself into stress overload, making an adverse physical reaction highly predictable.

The prophet Elijah understood well
the toll excess stress could take.

(Illustration by Paul Moses)
I share this not to evoke sympathy, but to introduce a favorite biblical character who’s often wrongly accused of lacking in faith. I call him the “maxed-out, pooped-out prophet.” Elijah, according to 1 Kings 18 and 19, also had a stressful series of events. While mine amounted to a flurry, his was the equivalent of an avalanche.

Elijah had prophesied a drought in Israel – and it had not rained for 3½ years. One day he confronted 450 prophets of the false god, Baal. (Maybe the very first prophet-making organization.) He suggested an unusual duel: Both sides would carve up a bull, lay it on an altar of wood, then summon their respective deities to consume the sacrifice. Outnumbered 450-to-1, Elijah graciously said, “You guys go first.”

Their false god did absolutely nothing, despite the prophets dancing, screaming and mutilating themselves to evoke a response.

When his turn came, Elijah built an altar of 12 stones with wood on the top, then dug a trench around it, filling it with water. Placing the sacrificial bull upon the altar, he decided to leave nothing to chance in proving his point. He had the sacrifice, wood and altar thoroughly drenched with water three times. Then he prayed.

Immediately the Lord sent fire that consumed the sacrifice, wood, stones, soil, even the water in the trench. Witnesses, including Israel’s king Ahab, knew without a doubt who served the true God.

Next, at God’s direction, Elijah commanded all the prophets of Baal be executed. Finally, after more than 1,250 consecutive days with no rain, the prophet forecast the drought would end – suddenly. Despite much skepticism, soon a torrential downpour sent everyone scrambling for cover.

After all this, one might have thought Elijah was on an emotional high, but when someone informed him evil queen Jezebel was out for revenge, he fled.

On this point, preachers and writers have chastised Elijah for not having strong enough faith. Balderdash! He had participated in a series of miraculous events, and even though God had performed them, the prophet’s stress hormones must have been maxed out. His energy depleted in every way, Elijah wasn’t up for another clash. So he ran.

How do we know this wasn’t due to disobedience or weak faith? Because God sent a ministering angel that caringly provided Elijah with food and allowed him to rest for many days before He gave him the next assignment. There was no word of rebuke during this recuperation period.

Moral of the story: We’re spiritual beings, and as followers of Jesus have new life through Him. But we’re also physical beings, and at times we encounter more than we can handle. We require renewal and refreshment. Even Jesus would withdraw at times by Himself to rest after miraculous demonstrations.

God gives us the privilege of joining in what He’s doing. But when we’re felling tapped out, that our physical, mental and emotional resources have been used up, the Lord understands. He says, “Take a break!” It may mean heading for the coffee shop, taking a day off, going on vacation, or even spending a day or two in bed.

Then, after we’ve had time to recharge, God says, as He instructed Elijah, “Okay, now get back into the fray!” 

No comments: