Grateful and (a little) Stressed

photo of trees at golden hour
Photo by Elias Tigiser on Pexels.com

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.  Romans 15:13

This morning barking dogs disturbed my semi-peaceful slumber…at 4:15 am. 

Sometimes I wonder why sleep remains so elusive for me. I found myself asking God, “Really Father? 4:15?”

I know God created me to need sleep so why can’t I have some? 

This morning after trying to ignore the noise, I decided to just get up, take a shower, make some coffee, and have my quiet time. 

I grabbed my journal and unfortunately my first thought was to begin to list my complaints, and just a few in I felt this overwhelming sense of God saying, “Trust me.”  

I stopped writing, looked up, and thought, “God, do I trust you even in this? Not getting sleep? Feeling unhealthy, exhausted, and overworked?”  

I had to say, “Oh Father, I’m so sorry…not completely.”

I trust God with a lot, but there is a fair amount I keep in the “really God?!?” pile. It’s full of the things that seem so unfair, so frustrating, so out-of-my control, so relentlessly difficult and complicated…does anyone else have this pile? And I think maybe I’ve given up a bit on that pile..resigned myself.

On top of the difficulties and struggles is this knowledge that God could easily make everything better. It would take nothing for the Creator of the world to let me sleep all night, to bless my children in all the ways I desperately want them to be blessed,  to let my house not have one more issue, to let life calm down ever so slightly so I could take a breath and get healthy…I have so many “I just don’t understand why, God” moments.

Years ago while discussing challenges in life and the questions that come with them, one of my friends asked, “Why not us? Why do we deserve a life of no difficulties?”

I get it. I even agree. But ugh. It doesn’t seem to help in the thick of things to recognize  that I don’t deserve anything or that I am blessed so much or I should be thankful for where I am, not always longing for where I want to be…I truly do believe that, but I have to live this life…survive this life. And sometimes those truths are just hard.

Recently while discussing the stress in my life, I was challenged to list what I am thankful for…it’s a challenge I’ve accepted many times, but this time I wanted to say, “That isn’t the same thing!” Having stress and being thankful for blessings are not two opposing teams. I can be grateful for many things and still stressed by my circumstances. Can’t they exist together?…if I don’t allow my stress to overwhelm my thankfulness?

I guess in truth it is easy to get overwhelmed right out of thankfulness…particularly at 4:30 a.m. I’m tired, but part of the reason I’m tired this morning is because, just as I was going to sleep last night, my 17 year old son came up to chat. We stayed up having a great conversation for over an hour. I am so very thankful for that…blessed and grateful…and also sleepy.

Do I trust that God has a plan even when I’m beyond tired? Do I trust God when things just refuse to go smoothly? Do I trust God when my children are hurting? Do I trust God when I know He could alleviate the stress, hurts, fears, and challenges, but He doesn’t? I’m asking myself again…Do I trust Him?

Honestly, it’s too easy to say yes. After all, I know it is the correct answer.

I’m just not sure.

But oh how I want to say yes. Yes, Father, I trust you! I do. I do. I do.

In my head I do trust. I trust He loves me. I trust He will do what is best.

Maybe where I’m struggling is I know that trusting Him doesn’t mean that my prayers for rest will be answered. That things might not get better even though I know He could very easily make them so.

That old standby – Philippians 4:6-7 – Do not be anxious…couldn’t it be rephrased, “Do not be stressed”? Anxious means “to be troubled with cares” – sounds like stressed to me, but lack of sleep and difficult challenges add an element of stress that isn’t necessarily anxiety…it’s just stress. Nevertheless, I know that the answer lies in this verse…because the answer is always to involve God.

God’s advice – pray, ask, be grateful – lay it all before Him and let Him give you peace that you can’t even understand. I know most of you probably already realized this, but it doesn’t say that He will fix the situation that made you anxious. It says that He will give you peace that you can’t comprehend. That kind of infers that your peace will be despite your circumstances and struggles. So I can further infer that I’m supposed to pray, ask God for what I need, be grateful for what I have, and trust Him that He will do what is best…hard truth.

There are a few other things in Philippians that speak to this…right after this exhortation, Paul says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (4:8) And if that wasn’t enough, Paul shares this, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Two things I take from that…

  1. What I think about makes a difference.
  2. A peaceful life comes from trusting God to give me strength to be content in my circumstances.

Part of my struggle is that the things that give me stress are all around me…I can’t really get away from them no matter how much I try. I’m surrounded! Maybe that is why God says to pray without ceasing…just continually give it to God.

Lord, I just desperately need sleep and it seems so impossible to get…thank you for time with you in the morning and for your sustaining even when I’m exhausted. Lord, you are always with us, I know that. And Father, I know that you love my children and me. Please Lord, would you work mightily in our lives? Show us that you care. I know you do.

Maybe that’s where I start…remind myself that God cares.

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Luke 12:6-7

He cares about it all.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

Through Christ, I am comforted. Lord, please help me understand what that looks like. Please allow me to feel comfort even in my stressed and grateful state.

 

Are you ready to stop wrestling and start resting?

This was eye-opening for me. In the throes of a deep conversation with a dear friend, I was asked by him to stop and be thankful.  To spend the rest of the conversation thinking about things that we could be grateful for…instead of things that we struggle with…

Can I tell you…it wasn’t easy.  

And I was surprised.  No I was shocked.  

For a few moments I could think of nothing positive to say.

Not. One. Thing.

My eyes welled up with tears, not because I was frustrated with the conversation but because I had allowed myself to reach such a point that I could only see the struggle, only feel the fear, only know the challenges.  

What had happened to me?  How had I gone so terribly astray in my thinking.

Ironically, that very day I had responded to someone’s question about how to be thankful…how could I possibly have given someone else advice when I couldn’t figure out how to be thankful myself.

So I sat on the sofa staring at the floor wondering what I could possibly say.  Thankfully he jumped in and shared…just talked one thing after another…nothing earth-shattering, just daily stuff.

And I thought to myself, “Just start talking.  One little thing.”  It was like trying to change the direction of a freight train speeding forward…without stopping…just whipping that thing in reverse and going for it.  I truly felt that I was  wrestling to regain and turn around my thoughts and my emotions and my whole attitude and perspective.  Good gravy it was hard!

I said, “Well, I’m thankful it was a beautiful day…and for devotional time with Ally that was good this morning…and that my bangs were not cut too short when I got my haircut today…:”  

And then it all changed…

One step…a few words…a whole new perspective.

Fifteen minutes earlier I was frustrated, afraid, and even verging on angry.  Now?  Well, now I’m thankful.  I’m peaceful.  I’m hopeful.

All because he asked us to stop and be thankful.

In all things, give thanks.  1 Thessalonians 5:18

It was an end the madness moment.  And for me…it was more.  It revealed..no, it threw a spotlight on a way of living I have tiptoed around for years.

I talk about choosing joy.  I talk about being thankful.  I talk about peace.  But I keep having to remind myself that I can choose joy, be thankful, live peace, because I haven’t made a decision to do those things consistently for myself.  It’s like I say, “Look at this possibility!  Look at what we can do if we try!”  But then I never really try…I mean try hard.  I have spent so much time taking comfort in the possibility and haven’t experienced the lasting beauty of choosing joy, peace, and gratefulness as a lifestyle.

I realized…actually I remembered something I’ve known to be true for quite a while.  The fruit of the Spirit God talks about in Galatians are already mine.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  Galatians 5:22-23

God has ALREADY given me joy and peace and a mess of things to be thankful for!  I truly need to choose to live it.

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you:  not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.  John 14:27

When I’m begging for joy and peace, I wonder if God smiles gently and whispers, “Dearest, I already gave those to you. You have all you need.”

And I still request them as if I’d never received them…ever.

Sitting on that sofa, I realized it truly is a choice.  I can choose to see the beauty around me  I can choose to be thankful.  I can choose to stop pouting and start praising.  I can choose to stop trying to be in control and start trusting that God already is.  

God has blessed me with all that I need to live this life joyfully, gratefully, and peacefully. He has given me the Holy Spirit and He has given me friends.  And He has given me this loving friend who is willing to risk my ire to say that we can choose gratefulness in the midst of challenges.

I like it.  I love it.

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.  Philippians 4:13

Let’s stop wrestling with things, and start resting in Him.  

I know now that choosing to be thankful is all within my power.  It isn’t easy…it can be super challenging to change the way we think, but God gives us all the strength we need to choose well.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Romans 15:13