My husband and I have two cats, and they stay inside most of the time. Unfortunately, our male cat (aptly named Little Chief) longs to be an outdoor feline. It used to be that every time we opened the door, he planned his escape. If we were outside he yelped to join us. If the window was lifted, he rested in the windowsill for hours.
Finally we felt so sorry for Little Chief that we took him outside and laid him in the grass. It was early spring—the lawn was clover green and there was a gentle, cool breeze blowing. The little guy kneaded his paws in the soft blades, lifted his nose toward the sky, and squinted his eyes as the wind blew the whiskers against his cheeks.
It was almost as if he was thinking, This is the way a cat was meant to live.
His struggle to be liberated was over.
I admit I was a little jealous. He was so peaceful and thankful and … free. That isn’t just the way cats were meant to live, but God also gave man a longing for peace and rest. Unfortunately, most of us maintain a life in constant anxiety. We don’t take time to stop and enjoy our surroundings, and it takes a toll on our bodies, our attitudes, and our relationships.
Dennis and Barbara Rainey, authors of Pressure Proof Your Marriage, share the dangers of stress in a marriage and family:
[We] are convinced that pressure is the silent killer of most marriages in this country. … A couple can have great communication, enjoy dynamic sex, and make plenty of money, but that’s not enough. Their marriage is still vulnerable to the relentless, constant force of pressure that threatens to destroy even the best of relationships (pp 19-20).
In order to have healthy marriages and families, we must reduce the amount of stress in our lives, particularly if it’s at an overwhelming level. Here are 10 ideas to help you reduce the pressure.
1. Assess your commitments. Take a look at your calendar and list out your monthly commitments. Are all of these necessary? Do any cause more stress than fun for those involved? One helpful tool is the Assessing My Priorities worksheet found in the booklet Priorities: Mastering Time Management by James C. Petty. This grid has room to list your activities, rank their priority, and calculate the amount of time needed to complete each one. This can give you a broad view of the commitments and challenges in your life and identify major pressure points.
2. Refresh daily with God’s Word. Psalm 1:3 says that the man who delights in God’s Word “will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water … and in whatever he does, he prospers.” Reading God’s Word will equip you with wisdom, peace, courage, and faith to help you in your daily battles. It’s a necessary investment in your life if you want to live stress-free.
Find a place to get alone with God. Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). You may be thinking, “I wish I could get away, but my children are constantly begging for my attention!” Susanna Wesley was mother to 19 children (including John Wesley). When she wanted to spend time with God she would cover her head with an apron, and that was a sign to all the children to leave Mother alone!
You may not even own an apron, but the moral of the story is that circumstances don’t have to be perfect to spend time with the Father. He can meet you wherever you are.
3. Take a day each week to rest. God thinks rest is so important that He made it one of the Ten Commandments (see Exodus 20:8). God himself even rested after six days of creating the world (see Genesis 2:2). If God needs rest, then you do, too!
While planning your weekly activities, set aside one day with no activities, plans, or meetings. Make it a night to sit down as a family and read together (see “Encouraging Children to Love the Written Word“), solve a jigsaw puzzle, or make some popcorn and ice cream floats and watch a movie.
4. Seek peace with others. Unresolved conflict can weigh on our hearts and cause a lot of anxiety. Proverbs 29:9 says, “When a wise man has a controversy with a foolish man, the foolish man either rages or laughs, and there is no rest.” As Christians, we are to be at peace with all men as much as possible (see Romans 12:18). Make a list of those individuals that you have conflict with. Then go through the list one-by-one and make restitution. Pray for a heart of forgiveness for those who have offended you and for a heart of grace for those whom you have offended. For a complete guide on how to resolve conflict, order The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande, president of Peacemaker® Ministries.
5. Learn to say no. Who hasn’t been in one of those situations when a church member asks you to spend “just a little time” each week heading up a project? He or she looks at you with desperate eyes, and you buckle under the pressure. Pretty soon, “just a little time” turns into an all-consuming monster eating away your precious moments during the week.
The next time this happens, be kind and sympathetic, but say no. Remember, volunteering for too many things doesn’t make you a saint; it makes you a workaholic. And it can be as taxing on your family as a full-time job. Jill Savage, author of Professionalizing Motherhood says, “Keep in mind that you alone know what’s best for your family.” If you know that extra activities will take over too much of your family time, then don’t do them.
6. Cut out ministries that are burdensome and stale. Many Christians feel obligated to sign up for any church activity that has an available position, but just being available isn’t necessarily the best way to accomplish God’s work. Matt Mosler, director of Beautiful Feet, Inc., a lay ministry intended to motivate others to fulfill their God-intended ministry, says, “People often do the work of God instead of the will of God.”
A servant heart is honorable, but Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” Pray about which activities are God’s will and which are just vain labor. End activities that are burdensome and stale, and concentrate on areas that are growing.
7. Take things one step at a time. Someone once said, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Facing a mountain of projects can be overwhelming, even paralyzing. Instead of thinking about the insurmountable amount of work, just concentrate on the first step.
God can help you walk through these busy days. As Job marveled, “Does He not see my ways and number all my steps?” (31:4). Remember that you aren’t going through these things alone. God will never give you more than you can handle, and you can do all things through Christ who gives you strength (see Philippians 4:13).
8. Plan ahead. Stress is often due to lack of planning. As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” If you know you’re going to have a hectic week, do some things to prepare:
- Finish work assignments ahead of time so you’re not rushing to finish them during your busy schedule.
- Make extra portions for dinner and freeze them for ready-made meals.
- Call to confirm next week’s appointments so that there isn’t a last minute mix-up.
- Select and prepare your clothing for the next seven days.
9. Take notes. By taking notes, you not only remember important details, but you also prevent worrying that you might forget. Often worry itself produces unbearable stress. Jesus said, “Do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). If you can live a more carefree life, you’re less likely to suffer mentally and physically.
One of the best gifts my husband ever received was a voice recorder. As he commutes to and from work, he leaves messages to himself. Then he checks the recorder each morning and at the end of the day to tie up loose ends. I personally like to leave notes on my bathroom mirror with a dry erase marker. That way I can see them before leaving for work. I also carry a small notebook with me to write down reminders throughout the day.
10. Trust God. The book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that God has set a proper time for everything under heaven (see chapter 3). He is the controller of the universe, so you don’t have to be. There will be mistakes, things that fall through the cracks, and misunderstandings, but you can trust God to work out every problem. As Solomon said, “He makes all things beautiful in His time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Instead of stressing over difficult circumstances, use this time as a faith-building experience, and trust God to take care of everything.
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