My refuge and strength

Last week, my pastor asked whether any of us had ever played the game jenga. He showed us photos of a couple of buildings that resemble a stack of jenga blocks; it is amazing that they haven’t toppled over. Like an unstable stack of blocks, sometimes it doesn’t take much to unbalance us. The stresses of life can wear you down and make you feel exhausted, depleted, overwhelmed. When life gets overwhelming, what do you do? Where do you go for help?

Pastor Brad said that faith and anxiety occupy the same space in our heads. He spoke about the coping mechanisms people use to deal with stress and anxiety. Many of us cope with stress in unhealthy ways – losing our temper, withdrawing from other people, or by eating or drinking or shopping to excess.

When you have faith, you can turn to God for help. A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.

I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm 121:1

The scripture for the sermon was Psalm 46, one of the most familiar psalms. It begins, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” When I get really stressed, I wake up in the night and worry about things. I call on God in the darkness. I call on God when I am afraid. I call on God when I am overwhelmed and don’t know what to do. I call on God when I need courage. He comforts me. He builds me up. He gives me hope. He gives me peace. God is my refuge and strength.

I especially like Psalm 46:10. When you start to feel anxious, be still. Stop trying so hard to solve your own problems. Know that God is God. He’s got this. Put your trust in Him.

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

Psalm 46:10

Pastor Brad ended the sermon with Psalm 131:2.

But I have calmed and quieted myself,
    I am like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child I am content.

Psalm 131:2

Like a weaned child, David was content. He was able to calm and quiet himself because he put his hope in the Lord.

When the stresses of life are overwhelming, what should you do? Wean yourself from the coping mechanisms of the world. They don’t work. Don’t be anxious about anything. Instead, call out to God. Let Him be your refuge and your strength.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

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Photo by Bart Jaillet on Unsplash

On pins and needles

Before December even started, I was already feeling anxious about my  busy season as an accountant, which begins January 1st. There is so much to do! I worry about meeting reporting deadlines and I worry that something important will fall through the cracks. I have the kind of anxiety that keeps me awake at night.

In reading the Sunday paper last week, I learned a new word for that familiar feeling of agitation. In an article on the economy, Jared Bernstein wrote: “The stock market is clearly on shpilkes (Yiddish for “pins and needles”)…” Bernstein tried to explain what is going on with economy and not how to prevent shpilkes.  Nevertheless, I found some hints between the lines.

Just as the stock market is not always rational, my anxiety is not always rational. Sometimes I overreact to bad news or get upset by what someone else says or does. Sometimes I get distracted by all the noise. Sometimes I feel like l’m being pulled in too many directions.

With its highs and lows, life can feel like a roller coaster ride. It can feel like you’re on a merry-go-round, pointlessly going around and around and never getting any where. It can feel like you are on pins and needles.

Bernstein reminded me of the importance of having the right perspective. Sometimes we blow things out of proportion. Sometimes we worry too much about the future because things aren’t going smoothly now. Sometimes we can’t see clearly because we’re listening to people who don’t know what they’re talking about. Keep things in perspective. Don’t overreact. Check the facts.

A little article about the economy reminded me how important it is to filter out the noise. Bernstein writes, “Go ahead and watch the roller coaster if you must, but if it makes you sick, don’t say I didn’t warn you.” There is no point in worrying about things you can’t control. If you filter out the noise, then you can focus on what you can control. You can arm yourself with useful information. You can be rational and proactive not just reactive.

In my job, the best strategy for reducing anxiety is planning and preparation. I reduce my worries of missing something important by making checklists of my tasks and their due dates. I am doing whatever I can ahead of time.

Preparation is huge but I cannot prepare myself for everything. Unexpected things happen. In July, my coworker resigned. I had no idea he was thinking of leaving. We have a small office so I had to pick up half his responsibilities until we hired a replacement. Being flexible helped me make the best of a stressful situation. I looked at it as an opportunity to learn something new.

When I am trying to juggle too many things, I get frazzled and overwhelmed. Last year, I found it stressful when auditors interrupted my work with requests for information. As annoying as it is, being audited is part of my job. I don’t like to admit that I either need help or I need more time. I am learning that there is no shame in asking for help. It’s a lot easier to share the burden.

Looking back at the most stressful moments of last year, I can see that sometimes I forgot to take a deep breath and a moment to relax and refresh my mind. I was too focused on how much I needed to do. I didn’t take advantage of the power in the pause. 

  • Keep things in perspective.
  • Don’t overreact.
  • Check the facts and arm yourself with information.
  • Filter out the noise and focus on the right message. 
  • Plan and prepare for whatever you’re worried about.
  • Be flexible when life throws you the unexpected curve ball.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Share the burden.
  • Pause, reflect, and focus your energy on what is most important.
  • Breathe, just breathe.

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Photo credit: Photo by Lisa Woakes on Unsplash