Psychological Perspective of Stress
“We were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life" (2 Corinthians 1:8).
No matter the economic, ethnic or social status of people around the world, stress is known and experienced by all. Paul the apostle confessed to the enormous stress of his own circumstances to the church at Corinth in such desperate terms that he even stated that he thought of giving up on life all together. Stress is universal, crossing the boundaries of nationality, gender and even history. It is a fact of life.
The topic of this article includes a word though that is not readily found in the scriptures which for some relegates the discussion to secularized thinking. In fact, some might even consider it having no real value to the Christian. I’m sure that some of you have read the title and wondered, “Why would anyone even consider putting an article on secular psychology in a decidedly Christian publication?”
But realize this before you move on to another article. The word “psychology” comes from the same root word as the word for soul (via Latin from Greek psukhe meaning breath, life, soul). In other words, our psyche is a part of our soul, created by God to relate emotionally to Him and one another. For the Christian minister and for the Church of Jesus Christ “soul care” is part and parcel to the message of the Kingdom of God. Understanding and caring for those who are bent under the stress of Satan’s attack and crippled by the cares of this world is one of the most vital and needed ministries in the church today.
How did Jesus care for souls? Was His ministry strictly to care for the sick, raise the dead and cast out devils or can we find in the Scriptures direct modeling of the Master caring for the emotional damage inflicted by sin?
Take for example the story of the woman caught in adultery (see John 8:7-11.) Preachers throughout church history have turned to this passage to display the Master’s compassion for sinners, but lets go deeper and discover His heart to not only forgive sin but also to remove the burden of shame from the heart.
Imagine the scene. While teaching in an alcove of the temple, Jesus and the disciples turn towards the sound of an angry crowd. The sounds of the busy morning are eclipsed by the vulgarity of the event that engulfs the Master. Beyond the robed Pharisees and covered with the dirt, spit, and hatred of the crowd lies a woman. She is clutching what little clothes she has and her matted and disheveled hair covers the tears that have dried to her now dirt-filled face. The men continue to throw insults, spitting at her and tossing the dirt over her as if she is no more than a diseased dog on the road.
“The law says...” the oldest Pharisee begins, “What do you say?” But what is challenging to us all is where Jesus is in proximity to others when sin is involved. No mention of the disciples is in the passage, only that of the religious folks and Jesus. They form a sort of circle, and arena around the sinner while Jesus is in the circle with her.
He is not only in the presence of the sinner but also notice the posture of the Savior. The Word says that He knelt down in the dirt, writing with His finger. Countless sermons have been preached concerning what Jesus might have been writing, but all miss the point. The importance of the passage has nothing to do with what was written (if it did, the scriptures would have told us!) but everything to do with where Jesus was.
Jesus was with the woman in the dirt. He was able to look her in the eye. The dirt that was falling on her was falling on Him. The feet that were kicking at her were kicking at Him. The words that were falling on her were falling on Him! In other words, long before He spoke, “Your sins are forgiven,” Jesus entered her world of stress, shame and condemnation and was simply with her.
Stress magnifies aloneness. It increases loneliness. It amplifies the lies of the enemy. It accentuates condemnation. Psychologically, stress is like rubbing the raw nerve of our soul so that, in the end, we despair even of life. Just like the woman shamed beyond measure and condemned by others like her, the stress of life makes us give up hope and lie in the dirt waiting for it all to end and into this picture, Jesus enters... meek, lowly and gentle of heart.
On another occasion, a man born blind (John 9) was confronted with the same attitude as is often found in the church today. The disciples, well meaning as they were, talked about him as if he didn’t even exist! Can you imagine how their conversation must have pounded the already raw nerves of his heart?
“Master, who sinned...?” (vs. 2) they began, as if he was not only blind but deaf. Often times people sincerely want to help someone in need but forget the first lesson of the counselor which is “people are first ALONE.” Jesus would have nothing of their condemning words.
“This has nothing to do with who has sinned but is so that My Father’s works (His love) might be displayed.” And with that, He makes mud, smears it on the man’s eyes and tells him to go and wash. Certainly, that day was the very best day of that man’s entire life. A miracle... divine, dramatic, and deliberate... happens and the man’s life was forever changed.
He goes to the synagogue, the church of his day, and is rejected. He goes to his family and they likewise disown him. On the best day of his life he is left alone by those who should have rejoiced with him. The lies begin to seep into his mind. Hope is overwhelmed by discouragement. Faith is supplanted with fear. The great miracle becomes a stone in his heart as the stress of aloneness falls over his heart like the blindness that once afflicted his eyes. But read on. In verse 35, the Bible records a wonderful lesson. In fact, it is one of the most understated yet important attributes of the character of Jesus.
“When Jesus heard (what had happened) He went and found the man....”
No one knows how many days had transpired before the Master heard what happened. It could have been hours or weeks, we do not know. But what we do know is that as soon as word reached Jesus, He stopped what He was doing and went to find the man who was now alone.
The man had already received the best that Jesus could offer. His blindness was healed! He would never be the same! But the miracle could not possibly do what the presence of the Savior could. That kind of psychological pain is something we can all imagine... loneliness, rejection, fear, and condemnation. Jesus did not come to correct his thinking or to remind him of all He had already done. He simply came to be with the man, to not allow him to be alone in his pain, to remove the rejection by being with him. How often in the church we miss the opportunity to “remove aloneness” by talking, correcting, challenging and sharing instead of just being with the hurting soul !
Stress is a fact of life, whether inside or outside of the church. It is found in the brother or sister you sit next to in church as well as the neighbor who lives next to you. It is as real in marriage as in singleness and visits children as well as adults. The soul can only absorb so much before our cup overflows with loneliness, shame, anger, fear and guilt. But beware! God’s answer is not always found in well crafted sermons or words of correction. Jesus’ example was to FIRST “be with” the hurting. Before truth was shared (“Go and sin no more,” or “Do you believe in the Son of man?”) He came and removed the stress of life with His simple presence. And maybe we need to do the same. Do you know someone who has the obvious and debilitating signs of stress? Yes, they can be difficult to be around but instead of trying to fix the problem, why not just “be with” the person? See Jesus in a new way in the Scriptures and do the same thing He so often did.
“Come unto Me and I will give you rest.” Not a sermon or a rebuke, but a safe place where we can lie down and listen to the love and concern of the Master. Now, go and do the same.