Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton - December 4, 2005


Stress management is necessary from the cradle to the grave

          Thanksgiving until Christmas – this is the season when many of us reach our stress limits. We are more likely during these days than any other time of the year to say with a sigh, “I am stressed out!”

          What can we do about the great stress of these days?

          We can begin by analyzing what we mean by stress. The word has a negative connotation. In fact we use a string of negative words to fine stress: pressure, hassle, tension, trauma, strain, anxiety, and worry.

Stress, however, is not all bad. There is a sense in which we should be glad that we have issues that demand the very best that we can bring to the table. Final exams exert pressure on us but without that stress none of us would ever finish high school or college. Driving in heavy traffic is a hassle, but the tension keeps us alert and helps us stay alive.

So stress is actually a sign that you are alive! The only people who are free from stress are either dead or mentally insane. So never wish you had no stress. Simply look for ways to manage your stress more successfully.

          I still remember a lovely blond psychiatrist who was called in to help me by my physician. I had been hospitalized with a bleeding ulcer that almost killed me. As we talked that day I asked the good doctor what caused my ulcer.

          Her response still lingers in the corridors of my memory: “Ulcers are caused by many things but my best guess, in your case, is that you are not handling your stress very well.” I remember my response, as tears filled my eyes, “That is the understatement of the year.”

          She gave me some good advice. “Take some time to rethink your priorities. Then begin living one day at a time trying to be faithful to your priorities. Focus on what is most important to you and learn to ignore the meaningless things that sap your time and your strength.”

          I took her advice but added a little to it that sprang from my faith. Faith helped me realize two mistakes I had been making. The first was that I had tried to be Mr. Super Christian. And I had failed. I had tried to be a model pastor, a model father, and a model husband. In each category I fell flat on my face. I had failed to realize that public image is not as important as being a transparent, authentic human being who hurts and bleeds just like everybody else.

My second mistake was that I relied too much on myself and too little on God. I depended too much on my own cleverness and not enough on grace. I finally realized that I could never please God without God’s help. And I began to learn how to quit trying so hard and let God take over. It gets easier once you are willing to say, “I can’t but He can – if I am willing to trust Him!”

          Since that bleeding ulcer laid me low, I have stopped trying to please other people so much and to focus more on doing what seems right to me in the eyes of God. It makes a powerful difference to realize that God, not other people, is your audience.

          Pleasing people is a dead-end street. Sooner or later you will die trying to live like other people think you should live. Refuse to allow the expectations of others to enslave you. Get a firm grip on your own priorities and allow them shape your lifestyle. What other people think of you is not as important as what you think of yourself when you put your head on your pillow at night. What matters finally is being true to yourself.                   

An authentic preacher cannot decide what to preach about based on a survey of the “interests” of his people. Such information is about as helpful as knowing how many matches are in a box of matches. A preacher worth his salt must search his heart and depend upon the guidance of the Spirit to decide the focus of his preaching.

I am still working hard on ignoring little things, meaningless things that sap my time and energy. The key is to remember “not to sweat the small stuff.” Now there in a few words is a great key to managing stress.

So many issues are not worth our time or our thought, yet most of the fights we have at home are over insignificant things like forgetting to put the cap back on the toothpaste. So what? Forget it and move on. Life is too short to quibble about trivial matters.

It will help to maintain a very short list of issues that will trigger your anger button. Too many of us become angry about the least little thing when it would not take but a little effort to flush little irritations down the drain.

Laughter always helps. Learn to laugh at yourself for being so stupid as to fuss about where your mate put the Scotch tape. I did and now I have one less thing that upsets me.

Since stress can kill you or make you wish you were dead, find ways to manage it that work for you. When you manage it, you are the boss. Tell it to stay off your back so you can truly enjoy these CHRISTMAS holidays! +++