Focus on the Family

Stress

by Edward R. Dayton

We all need relief valves. They can save a lot of time that we would normally take cleaning up the mess caused by personal explosions.

When we installed a new hot water heater, I discovered a local ordinance that says there has to be a relief valve hooked up somewhere in the water system. If for some reason the thermostat doesn't turn off the gas under the boiler, and the boiler is so hot it is ready to explode, the valve will pop off, and pressure will be relieved. Things may stay just as hot under the boiler, but at least it won't blow up all over the house.

One of the most effective, long-range relief valves is to recognize what causes the buildup of pressure. If you see by your calendar that you are in for a few heavy weeks or too many late nights, block out some relief-valve time. This might be a half-day, whole day or extended weekend. Take yourself out of your normal situation. Place yourself in a situation in which past experience has shown you can forget what is going on. This may mean a day alone at the beach or the mountains, a day with your family, or a weekend away with your husband or wife. It's a big help if couples will discuss their future schedules together to identify where the overload problems are and schedule in breaks in the routine.

In addition to the count-to-10 pressure reliever with which most of us are familiar, there are some others:


Helping Too-Busy Teens Beat Burnout

Concerned parents want to know how to help their stressed out, overworked, too-active kids.

by Tim Geare, Tim Sanford

Today, more than ever it seems, teenagers are at no loss for involvement in activities. Family, school, church, friends, neighborhood sports leagues and clubs. But can anyone — even an energetic teenager — do it all?

It’s tempting to look at young people as having unlimited energy reserves, but they don’t. Concerned parents want to know how to help their stressed-out, over-worked, too active kids. And with good reason: Stress, lack of sleep and constant emotional and physical overexertion can wear on teens, just as it does on adults.

Maybe you’re asking yourself what many parents have asked: What can I do about my teenager having too many activities that can lead to burn out? How do I deal with emotional distance as a result of fatigue? How can I help my teen who is just plain stressed out from being on the go too much?

You’re not alone. Other parents want to know how to help their kids slow down, too. Noticing there’s a problem and asking for help is a good place to start.

Too Many Activities

Q. My teenager is involved in so many activities: school, babysitting, church, sports. She just can't say no to people, and I'm afraid she's a candidate for burnout. How can I help her find a healthy balance in her life?

A. Kids learn by example, and most parents are over-committed themselves. You may have passed this "trait" down without even realizing it. Remember, every time we say yes to something, we must necessarily say no to something else, whether we want to or not. I guarantee it.

Keep this principle in mind: Choose your no's carefully. Before saying yes, stop and identify exactly what you will be saying no to. It's usually life's less tangible things — down time, sleep, family, quiet time with God — that get pushed aside. Those are the items we say no to most frequently.

Before making a new commitment, consider what might be sacrificed. Then ask yourself, "What will be the cost of saying no to (X)?" "Can I afford to say no to (X)?" "Is (X) wise to say no to?" Be honest with yourself and ask God to reveal the best option. Base your decision on your ability or willingness to say no to (X) rather than your desire to say "yes" to something new. It's harder than you might think. Most choices will not be between the bad and the good; they'll be between the good and the better.

Telling someone yes is easy. That's why so many adults — and teens — are overcommitted and bordering upon burnout. Also, insecurity can drive us into "performance" mode and make us reluctant to say no to others out of fear of rejection. Your daughter needs reassurance that her value lies in who she is, not how many hoops she jumps through for the people she wants to please.

One more note for parents: If you're overcommitted, you may need to say no to some good things in order to say yes to the best thing . . . your teenager.

Emotional Distance

Q. My son seems burned out, but when I ask him, all I hear is "I dunno." How can I get past that invisible wall?

A. I understand your frustration. His response is just another clue that you may be right about his being burned out. When pushed beyond their limits, teens can lose perspective on their own busyness. That's why your sensitivity to his state is crucial to healing.

First, assist him in evaluating his life. Simply reviewing his schedule may help illustrate that a problem exists. Then ask him about — and observe personally — sleeping patterns, study habits, relational demands, etc. Once you agree a problem exists, you can begin to develop solutions together.

In his "burned out" condition, it would be natural for conflicts to bubble up. If issues surface here, deal with them before trying to pull him out of the more general rut of burnout. Then brainstorm some options for healthier overall balance. Can he cut back on work? Adjust class schedules? Delay a project? Get some help with relational issues? Be sure to reserve time for fun, relaxation and "recharging the batteries" so to speak.

This process should develop a sense of hope and direction in your teen, as well as accountability. Monitor and encourage him, but also make him responsible for following through on the changes discussed. If you don't see improvement, it may be time to consult a professional counselor (or your family physician to rule out medical problems).

As a caring parent, you can lift your teen out of the burnout ditch by

  1. gathering data together
  2. creating new lifestyle options to reduce stress
  3. following up to assess progress

Stressed Out

Q. As a youth pastor, I see many teens who are stressed out from being too busy. Is there a way I can help them?

A. Sure. First, plan a "Stress Release Weekend." No schedule. No agenda. Pick a relaxing place and simple meals. The ultimate goal is to "detox" from the pressures of daily life.

Second, plan a "Day Alone with God" at a retreat center, park, lake — any place where the teens can spread out, have privacy and avoid distraction. (You may want to get each teen a copy of How to Spend a Day In Prayer by Lorne Sanny.) The focus of this time is not to keep busy praying. Rather, use that dialogue (which includes quietly listening to God) as a way of slowing down and regaining perspective on life.

Finally, be sensitive to the amount of youth group responsibility you assign to any one teen. It's easy to overload a reliable youngster without realizing it — simply because you know you can count on them to do the job right. You can lighten the load.

Action Steps

  1. Do a "too-busy" checkup:
  2. Schedule a prayerful "Day Alone with God" in a quiet, secluded place.
  3. Consider picking up these related resources at your local Christian bookstore:
    • When I Relax I Feel Guilty, a book by Tim Hansel, David C. Cook
    • "Adrenaline and Stress," Focus on the Family audiocassette (Available by calling Focus on the Family at 1-800-232-6459.)

Got Stress?

Develop a skill that will last you a lifetime: managing stress

by Vicki L. Dihle

Stress is normal and can either be healthy or destructive. Good stress motivates us to work hard, rise to a special challenge or save our lives in an emergency. However, bad stress can be overwhelming. A constant low-level stress can leave us feeling exhausted, weaken our immune systems and cause other illnesses such as depression.

Learning to manage stress is a challenging life skill. Be mindful of what works best for you to minimize unnecessary stress, and be responsible in managing your most precious resource, time.

7 Causes of Unhealthy Stress

  1. Busyness

    • Prioritize your commitments by categorizing them into what you have to do compared with what you like to do. Don't compare yourself to others. You are unique and can do a limited number of things well.
    • Be selective when making commitments. Saying yes to one thing means saying no to another.
  2. Exhaustion
    • Teenagers need about 10 hours of sleep a night because their bodies are growing and maturing rapidly.
    • Too much stress can make falling or staying asleep difficult. If this describes you, talk to your parents, a health-care provider, a counselor or other trusted adult.
  3. Peer pressure
    • Understand that most teens you hang with are feeling the same pressures. Finding safe people to talk to and share your experiences with can be helpful. Journaling your thoughts and feelings can also be therapeutic.
  4. Unhealthy eating
    • Let's be honest: Junk food tastes good, and it's relatively cheap and convenient. But good nutrition helps alleviate stress because you feel better and have more energy. You wouldn't fill a car's gas tank with junk and expect it to run normally. Neither should you do that to your body.
  5. Lack of exercise
    • Regular exercise is a proven stress reducer, and it will physically benefit your body, relieve tension, counteract bad stress, help you relax and even help you sleep better. Go for a walk, ride your bike — just start moving!
  6. Perfectionism
    • Work hard to do your best, and be realistic about what you can and cannot accomplish. Expecting perfection creates stress for everyone, destroying you and the relationships you care about.
  7. Disorganization
    • Keep all areas of life neat and orderly. Organization takes time and energy, but it will save you from unnecessary stress.

It’s Time to Bench Supermom

It's time for mom to take a breather.

by Angela Thomas Guffey

Supermom of the highest order.

That’s what most of the woman’s friends called her. The queen of containers, laminated instructions and over-the-top family management, she could seemingly do everything that her busy family required with great organization and the ever-intimidating ease of a Martha Stewart look-alike. In addition to a full-time job directing the local preschool, chairing several prominent committees and shuffling her children to gymnastics and soccer, she was an outstanding cook, had regular date nights with her husband and still had time to send thoughtful notes to her friends.

End of story, right? One amazing mother holds her life together with skill and finesse.

Not exactly.

I met the woman in a hotel lobby one night after a conference. She wanted to speak to me privately, so we huddled together at the end of a long table in a conference room. It was there, safely behind closed doors, that this all-together woman let herself fall apart.

"I didn’t want anyone else to see me like this," she whispered. "I cry so rarely."

The tears fell, and I held her hand until she found her words.

"Tonight when you began describing your years as a supermom wannabe, I thought, Hey, I could be friends with this woman. We speak the same language. We want the same things for our families. I am a supermom, and I run my home like a CEO manages a corporation. But the truth is that I stress out my husband and my children. I have been able to keep all the plates spinning, but I’m tired. I’m not sure it’s worth it. I am realizing that my soul has been empty for a very long time."

The woman continued, "When you began to question the condition of our souls and the priorities of our hearts, I felt a lump rise in my throat. When you talked about your spirit being lulled to sleep in motherhood, I felt like you were talking to me. I’m not sure, but I think the Spirit of God is nudging my soul, and I am beginning to wake up."

She was waking up, indeed. I knew because what was happening to her had happened to me a few years earlier.

Nodding-Off Spiritually

There was no particular reason that my soul fell asleep, and yet there was every reason. I had lived most of my life as a spiritually enthusiastic woman who desired the holiness and passion of God. And then I had four children in seven years. Four amazing blessings. Four people I adore. Four inquisitive needy little squirts who wanted hot meals, clean clothes and answers to a million questions every day. Not necessarily earth-shattering questions, just ones like:

"Will you braid my hair?"

"Can I have a snack?"

"Who took my crayon box?"

"Where are my shoes?"

"Can Haley spend the night?"

"Can Tyler spend the night?"

"What’s for dinner?"

"How do you spell February?"

"Do I have to wear a coat?"

"Can I have another snack?"

Anyway, in the midst of unloading the dishwasher, matching a hundred white socks every week and giving more explanations than required by legal counsel in a deposition, somewhere my soul fell fast asleep. It happened so slowly that I didn’t even know I had been tranquilized by the joys and the monotony of motherhood.

The blur of my real life with a husband, children, school and church had come roaring in like a major league fastball. I had proudly stepped into the batter’s box wearing a brand new uniform with SUPERMOM on my back. I may have been a little unsure about which way to run, but I was determined to knock the ball out of the park. I was intent on doing whatever necessary to be a great mom. I would show those other women a thing or two about packing diaper bags and making cupcakes for 50. I thought I could be the room mom, the bleacher mom and the family-manager mom. And some days I really could.

But stress and deep anxiety filled most of my days. I was shackled to my commitments and a mom image that always seemed to elude me. I let my children become overinvolved and modeled for them the fine art of overdoing. Have you ever seen the T-shirt that reads, Stress is when your gut says no but your mouth says, "Of course, I’d be glad to."? I should have bought that one. My to-do list was in control of my days and my to-be list had gotten lost in the pile.

Fast forward several years. The Supermom uniform is ripping at the seams and stained from all those efforts to slide across the plate. I don’t swing at the ball with quite the same gusto. I strike out a lot, and I’m bruised from stepping into the curveballs. No one is in the stands cheering, "Come on, Mom, you can do it! Put a little power to it!"

I wanted to knock the ball out of the park, but someone kept moving the fence. It was always a little farther than I could hit. I began to question my life and my purpose. I don’t ever seem to measure up as a mother; maybe I wasn’t cut out for this. I am trying so hard but feeling so lonely, so inadequate, so hollow.

My body was weary, my spirit frazzled. My soul had become empty and sleepy and finally began to snore. You know how it is with snoring. Everyone else knows that you snore long before you’re convinced. When I’m in a full-blown, dead-to-the-world snore, my husband has to give me a gentle nudge, wake me up and tell me to turn the other way. God does a similar thing when He calls to our souls.

The Brutal Math

Mothering requires everything. But eventually, everything given plus little replenished equals desperately empty. I held the empty cup of my soul out to my husband and begged him to fill it. I held out my cup to a bigger house and a minivan. But only Jesus could fill my soul. I tried my children and my girlfriends, but again, they could not fill the place designed by God for Himself.

Then I came to a day like the above-mentioned supermom, a waking-up day. After I had failed at filling my own emptiness, the Lord came in His tender mercy, gently nudged my soul and called me back to Himself. As I began to wake up, He adjusted the gaze of my heart. I had been looking so intently at myself and at my family, but my Father lifted the eyes of my soul and let me see Him afresh. He invited me to rest in His great love. And there, in the gentle embrace of God, the Good Shepherd restored my soul. He made me lie down in the peaceful pastures of His provision. He made me thirst after His righteousness. He filled the cup of my soul until it overflowed.

God took one worn out woman who lived in the land of Supermom and graciously loved her back into the land of the living.

In John 15:4 Jesus says, "Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me." There they are—three little words that I had slept through. Three words with the power to fill my soul, to take me by the hand and lead me toward great mothering: "Remain in me." I had been mistaken. I thought that the goal of motherhood was to be a Supermom. But in fact, the goal of mothering is to be a woman of God to your children. A woman of God is intimately connected to her Savior. A woman of God can love and give from the overflowing cup God has filled.

Dear Mom,

My sister in the pursuit of quick meals and clean laundry,

My co-laborer in raising good kids who grow up to love Jesus,

Let us not become weary or distracted in the care of our souls.

This is the one thing that really matters. Wake up and rub the sleep from your eyes. We will not know the life God has intended apart from a passionate pursuit of Christ. We function poorly apart from His power. Let Him bring the patience that you lack. Let Him carry what you struggle to bear. Let Him fashion you into a mother of virtue.

Hear the tender mercy of Jesus calling you to come and remain in Him.


Where Is God in the Midst of All My Troubles?

Has God forgotten me? Does He hate me? Why does He seem to hide Himself?

by J. Budziszewski

Trouble suffocates me. Worry entangles me. By night I can't sleep, by day I can't rest. The burden of suffering is intolerable. Where is God? Does He know, or are my prayers heard only by the wall? Is He near, or somewhere distant, only watching?

If you hurt enough to ask such questions, you deserve an answer.

Some people think that you don't. You're sick, you're dying, you've been deserted, you've lost a child, you're innocent but accused of wrongdoing — and they try to shush you. Their intentions may be good, but they are hard to bear. "Don't question God's ways; He might hear you." In my cry of anguish, don't I want Him to hear me? "It's probably for your own good." If I'm to be tormented for my own good, don't I get a say in the matter? "I'm sure there's a good reason." No doubt there is, but did I ask for a philosophical explanation? What I asked is "Where is God?"

Some Comforters

Even worse are the people who say, "You're being unfair to God. It isn't His fault. If He could have kept your trouble from happening, He would have, but He couldn't. God is just as helpless as you are, and He weeps to see your sorrow." No. If God is really God, then He could have stopped it; if I'm suffering, then He could have stopped it but didn't. I may be baffled by Him, I may be frustrated by Him, but the God I want to hear from is the God who rules the world. I'm not interested in a God who is "not responsible."

Some Comforters, Some Religion

Has God forgotten me? Does He hate me? Why does He seem to hide Himself? I am weary of my comforters, tired of His defenders. I want God to answer me in person. If only I could state my case before Him and hear His answer!

There was once a man who did that. His name was Job. He too was plagued with so-called comforters and defenders of God, but he demanded a hearing from God Himself, and God answered him. The history of the incident is told in great detail in the Bible.

Job is blameless and upright, a man of such integrity that even God likes to show him off. If anyone deserves blessings, Job does. Yet one day God puts him to the test. Job"s life falls to pieces; calamity of every kind descends upon him. Raiders sweep his fields; his livestock are captured or destroyed; his servants are put to the sword; a house collapses on his sons and daughters and kills them all. Disease strikes him, and he is covered with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. In all this, he submits patiently to God, only to be mocked by his wife, who tells him to "curse God and die!"(Job 2:9) Friends arrive, and still he is patient. For days they sit with him in silence, seeing how greatly he suffers.

A Torrent of Grief

Finally Job can contain himself no longer. In a torrent of grief and protest, he cries, wishing that he had never lived. He doesn't curse God, but he curses the day he was born. The terrible curse demeans all the previous good in his life; it implies that his joy, his home, his peace, and the lives of his children had never meant a thing, just because now they are gone.

This is too much for Job's friends, and they rebuke him. On and on they lecture him; they cannot scold enough. Suffering, they say, is punishment for sin. The greater the sin, the greater the suffering. Since Job is in agony, he must have done something terrible to deserve it. Obviously, then, he is covering up. He only pretends to be just; he is really a hypocrite. If only he would confess and take his punishment, God would forgive him and relent — but instead, like a fool, he complains.

To hear these accusations is unbearable to Job. He rages in grief, defending himself and denouncing his friends. Against God, his complaints are even more bitter — and inconsistent. One moment he wants God to leave him alone, the next moment he wants Him to listen. One moment he declares himself guiltless, the next moment he admits that no man is. Yet through it all, he insists that his suffering is undeserved, and he demands that God give him a hearing.

Answer in a Whirlwind

In the end, Job gets his hearing. God answers from the heart of the whirlwind. He doesn't pull His punches, and the encounter is overpowering. Meeting God turns out to be nothing like just hearing about Him. But Job is satisfied.

There are two amazing things about this face-off. The first is that God never explains to Job the reason for his suffering. In other words, it isn't because God answers Job's questions that Job is finally satisfied. In fact God asks questions of His own: Where was Job when God laid the foundations of the earth? Can he bind the stars of the constellations? Job has challenged the Creator of the mind, but does he comprehend even the mind of the ostrich? Job confesses, "I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know"(Job 42:3).

The second amazing thing is that God does not side with Job's friends. He sides with Job. It seems impossible. Wasn't Job God's accuser? Weren"t his friends God's defenders? But there cannot be any mistake. Even though God humbles Job, not once does He express anger toward him. Yet toward his friends, God declares that His anger blazes out. He says that He will not forgive them until Job has prayed for them. And why? Because they have not spoken the truth about Him, "as my servant Job has"! (Job 42:7-8)

What truth could Job have spoken? Didn't he just admit that he hadn't known what he was talking about?

Not All Suffering Is Our Fault

Yes, but about one thing Job was right: He didn't deserve what was happening. Not all suffering is our fault. We do bring some suffering upon ourselves: Adulterers destroy their homes, drunks their livers, wasters their wealth. Yet the innocent suffer too. Dreadful things happen, things we don't deserve, things that seem to be senseless. This is why God sides with the sufferer, even in preference to those so-called defenders who merely "explain away" the pain.

In His justice, God understands that this will seem unjust to us. He does not even try to give us "answers" that we could not understand. Instead, He visits us, as He visited Job. Is He not God? He is a better answer than the "answers" would have been. Indeed, He is the only possible answer. Though we find ourselves buried in a deeper dark than night, from the midst of the whirlwind, He speaks.

You may object, "What good is it for God to visit me? He's not the one drowning in troubles; I am. You say God sides with the sufferer," but these words are meaningless. God can't suffer with me. He only watches."

But there is more. The story of Job is not God's last word. Nor is it His last deed.

Human Wrecks

Let's face it. In all our thoughts about suffering, we have sidestepped the main issue and focused on the secondary issue. To be frank, we human beings are wrecks. The external troubles that we blame on God are the least of our suffering. Something worse is wrong with us, and it is wrong with us inside.

One writer describes the problem as a "deep interior dislocation in the very center of human personality." What we want to do, we don't. What we don't want to do, we do. We not only do wrong, but call it right. Even the good things in us become polluted. We may long to love purely, but our desires turn into idols that control us. We may long to be "blameless" like Job, but our righteousness turns into a self-righteousness that rules us. We may long to be reconciled with God, but we can't stop wanting to be the center of the universe ourselves.

Can't Repair Ourselves

Not only are we broken, but we can't repair ourselves. Could you perform surgery on your own eyes? How could you see to do it? Suppose you tore off both hands; could you sew them back on? Without hands, how could you hold the instruments? Our sin-sickness is something like that. Many philosophies teach about right and wrong with pretty fair accuracy. What they can't do is heal the sin-sickness. However true, no mere philosophy can do that. Our cancer requires more than a philosophy. What it requires is the divine surgeon, God Himself, and the name of His surgery is Jesus Christ.

Jesus was God Himself in human flesh — fully God, but fully man. Most people have heard that He taught, performed miracles, healed the sick. Most people have heard that He was executed on a Cross and rose again. What is less well known is what this was all about.

Did someone say God doesn't suffer? In Jesus, God suffered. That was why He became one of us — to suffer for us.

Even though He had no sin of His own, Jesus identified with us so completely that He took the burden of our inward brokenness — our sin and sin-sickness — upon Himself. He understands it all, because He bore it all — the whole weight of it, all for us. By dying, He took it to death; by rising, He opened for us a way, through Him, to life.

There was no other way for God to help us. He bore real agony, bled real blood, died real death. On the Cross, even He felt alone. When He cried out, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?" it was for us (Matthew 27:46). All this He saw coming from afar, and He accepted it on our behalf. He paid the price that we cannot pay, He bore the burden that we cannot bear. "Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened," He says, "and I will give you rest"(Matthew 11:28).

This is not a fable; it actually happened, and it is really true. If we trust Him as our price-payer, as our sin-bearer, then through Him we give up our broken life and receive His own life in its place. Then no suffering can be meaningless, because it is lifted up into His own suffering and redeemed.

Did you read the catch? "If we trust Him." Can you do that? Can you do it utterly, without reserve? Can you give up the ownership of yourself, and transfer the title to Him? If something in your heart is an obstacle — some fear, some pain, some pride — can you at least ask Him to remove it?

Though He had 77 questions for Job, for you He has only one. Will you come?


Stress

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