Stress Part Two: Stressing Over Nothing

​https://youtu.be/rni41c9iq54

Previously, I discussed Kelly McGonigal’s advice to tell yourself,  when you feel stress, that your body’s reaction (faster heartbeat and breathing) is preparing you to face the challenge ahead. 

So what do you do when most of the stress you feel is rumination, fear of disapproval, frustration, or existential anxiety? 

I think pat of the answer may be found in my post on love, fear,  and Frozen, or in 1 John 4:18 “there is no fear in love,  for perfect love casts out fear.”

Try to act out of love for the person you’re worried about.

If they love you, remember that love, and remember that they aren’t just waiting to judge you harshly. 

If you are actually dealing with a harsh judge,  a perfectionist, externalize that to them. For the sake of your job or whatever, you may have to deal with their criticism and ridiculous standards, but keep that voice outside your head.

We’ve all had to deal with people like that. I have in the past. Thankfully, I don’t now, but things could change for the worse. 

And those people can leave deep marks,  especially if you encounter them when you’re a child. 

It’s okay not to like or respect bosses, teachers, or even family members. You have to treat them respectfully, but they don’t get to define your real value. 

Now, keep telling yourself that until you believe it. I’ll be right there with you. 

Love versus Fear: Lessons from The Boss and Frozen


 “On his right hand Billy tattooed the word love and on the left hand the word fear, and in which hand he held his fate was never very clear.” – Bruce Springsteen, Cautious Man.

Love and hate are enemies, true, but love has another,  much more insidious enemy: fear.

We’ve all felt it. We’ve all struggled to find the words our the strength to say them… The strength to say anything at all. 

One of the best popular illustrations of this is the movie Frozen. We watched it as a family tonight (my daughter’s first Disney feature), and I was struck with the battle between love and fear. 

Elsa is dominated by fear from the first incident in the film, when she accidentally strikes Anna in the head with her ice power. 

But it’s clear from their parents’ reactions that they’d been ruled by fear much longer,  probably since Elsa’s power first appeared. 

In all their family, Anna alone is ruled by love.  Granted,  her naive approach does get her into some trouble, but ultimately,  her selfless act of love:

  •  defeats Hans’s  devious,  power-hungry plan
  • saves her from the freezing curse Elsa accidentally placed on her
  • frees Elsa from her overwhelming fear and shows get how to break the curse of eternal winter
  • Reunites their family and heals the rift their parents created when they decided to isolate Elsa. 

    It’s a perfect illustration of what John wrote to the eally church almost 2,000 years ago: 

    “There is no fear in love.  For perfect love casts out fear…” 1 John 4:18

    And that’s how I want to live my life,  more an Anna than an Elsa.

    By temperament, I’m much more off an Elsa,  much more a cautious man. But I love, and am loved, and if I’m willing to let it,  that love can cast out my fear. 

     One more song about live and fear, one of my favorite tracks from Sarah McLachlan (if you want to hear “Let it Go,” you can YouTube it yourself 🙂

    “Race” is a Four-Letter Word (Part One: Suspicious Behavior)

    This past week has been a big one for talking about race in America. I think we all know why. I’m not here to talk about that tragedy, that verdict, or whether it was right or wrong.

    I wasn’t on the jury. I haven’ t seen the evidence and heard the eyewitness testimony. I don’t know if the verdict was right or wrong. But that isn’t the point.

    The point is, a lot of young black men have died in similar ways. A lot. This slideshow shows just a few.  And a lot of times, their killers have either gone free or gotten away with a slap on the wrist.

    If the Trayvon Martin case was an aberration, it would just be sad. But it’s part of a pattern. An ugly, unjust, institutionalized pattern. And I think that people of good conscience need to speak out on this pattern.

    When I was young, I always tried to deal respectfully with police officers. But mostly they left me alone. I wasn’t doing anything criminal, and they didn’t assume or suspect me of doing anything criminal.

    For a long time I assumed that was the default.

    It is, for white guys…

    …but not so much for African-American, Middle-Eastern, and Latino men.

    I’m no celebrity. I’m no TV star. Celebrities get treated better, right? They get away with things mere mortals wouldn’t?

    Maybe not. Levar Burton is beloved celebrity, a role model to a generation of kids who grew up watching “Reading Rainbow” and “Star Trek: the Next Generation,” shows that glorified education, personal advancement, and (usually) nonviolence.  He is also, if you haven’t figured it out yet, a black man.

    I don’t have a ritual for when I get pulled over by police (other than “try not to get pulled over by police.” Traffic tickets are expensive). I’d never think to pre-plan a set of actions to make sure the officer knew I was unarmed and not resisting. Why would that even occur to me?

    Levar Burton does. 

    Lest you think that Mr. Burton is alone, or paranoid, read this story, about a young honors student whose mother drilled the same practices into his head. He’s far more accomplished than I was at that age, but he has to prove himself every time.

    I never would have believed or understood this just a few years ago, but I really think the most “suspicious behavior” a person can display being male and dark skinned.

     

    The Broken Masses

    Flinch not from the pain

    Let your heart be wounded

    Join the broken mass

     

    Drink not the numb wines:

    Despair, Internet, TV,

    Distraction, Blame, Rage

     

    Tear your finest robes

    Wrap your flesh in sackcloth and

    Your soul in ashes

     

    Lift your voice and let

    Your songs, your screams, your curses

    Join the broken mass

    Repetition – an Explanation

    I’ve posted two “Repetitions” here, and it occurs to me that some of you may be wondering just what I’m doing.

    Well, it all began back in college, when Dr. Meadors had us read Soren Kierkegaard, including Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing and Fear and Trembling/Repetition.

    I have to admit, some of Kierkegaard’s writing went right over my head.  Other parts of it challenged me (the knight of faith, the teleological suspension of the ethical as seen in the story of Abraham and Isaac).  But one part slipped, almost unnoticed, into a little empty space in my mind, and hid, almost unnoticed, for many years.

    Repetition.

    In the beginning of Repetition/Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard re-tells the story of Abraham and Isaac several times.  And each time it’s different.  One time, it focuses on Isaac’s broken trust in his father.  Anther time, it focuses more on Abraham’s pain and dread of what he has to do.

    But what struck me was this: the Bible gives us an outline, a story in a form much shorter than what we are currently used to.  It tells us what happened, but we must infer or imagine the feelings, the reasons, the details.

    And so we do.

    There’s a huge sub-genre of Christian fiction retelling Bible stories in novel form, but even those of us without literary agents rewrite the stories into modern-style narratives within our minds.  And that’s good, because it makes it more than just a brief passage, an efficient chronicle of something that happened long ago.  It helps us make the story real to ourselves.

    But it’s important to remember that we don’t know how Jacob or Ruth or Abraham felt (at least I don’t).  It’ s important to know that those details (the ones that didn’t make the canon) could go any number of ways.

    And so, when I retell stories from the Bible, as I will sometimes do here, I never just tell them once.  That would be an “answer,” and an answer I am surely not qualified to give.  But by writing the story again and again, using different possibilities, different approaches, I can keep myself engaged with the questions, with the Bible itself.

    How did Jacob feel when he wrestled the angel?  Why did he stay behind at the Jabbok ford?  Who started the fight?  If Jacob hoped to live, what did he base that hope on: his gifts and plans, God’s protection, or Esau’s mercy?  Did he ever fear the angel would kill him?  Did he even know what he was wrestling?

    I don’t know.  But it helps me, sometimes, to imagine.

    Repetition: Jacob Wrestles the Angel, Part 1

    Jacob wrestling the angel by Alexander Lelior

    Jacob Wrestling the Angel by Alexander Lelior

    Jacob stood at the edge of the water, watching Rachel and Leah and all their children recede into the gathering dark.  Rachel glanced over her shoulder, a nervous I love you, a battlefield farewell.  He’d told her not to worry, told her he’d find a way out, just like he’d found a way out of Laban’s household and even out from under his anger.  But in her beautiful eyes, he saw doubt.

    Esau was coming.

    Whatever happened, Jacob knew he deserved it.  But the cunning mind that had stolen his brother’s birthright, his father’s blessing, had little time to spare for guilt.  The word of the day is survival, if not for him, at least for his children.  He’d sent gifts ahead.  He’d split his servants and herds in two, hoping to protect at least half his wealth.  And now he’d sent his wives and sons away.

    Jacob stood alone, listening to the last sounds of his family vanishing in the distance, until all that remained was the lapping of the Jabbok river.  He shivered in the chilly desert night, as much from dread as cold.  In his mind he saw Esau as he’d left him; young, wild and strong from a life spent in the fields, the wide-eyed hunter towering above him.  He saw the rage, loss, and hurt twisting Esau’s ruddy features, heard him bellowing threats of revenge.  At the thought of his brother, Jacob spat on the ground, but his dry mouth sent only flecks of foam floating slowly to the ground in the still night.

    He felt the stranger before he saw him – an inhuman presence, a roll of thunder like a god.  Jacob turned, barely bracing himself.  Without a word, the stranger was upon him, soundlessly bearing him to the ground.

    Jacob snarled, future fears tossed aside by the here and now, his attention sharpened to the point of a spear.  He sunk his fingers into the stranger’s arms, struggling for a stronger grip.  Surprise rippled across the stranger’s body.  His satisfied smirk said it all.  So you will fight.  Good.  Jacob shot his right arm up, sliding past the stranger’s grip, under his arm, and wrapping around his shoulder.  With a sharp shove of his hips, he rolled his divine opponent over, slamming him to the ground, landing on top.  It occurred to him, mid-throw, that he’d learned to wrestle from his brother.  Even if he kills me tomorrow, he’s saved my life tonight.  Jacob almost laughed.

    But the angel wasn’t beaten.  He arched his body and slung Jacob to the side, breaking his hold and tossing him roughly to the ground.  Both men recovered, their breath coiling and rising in the cold night air.  Jacob felt his muscles tearing, but fought on out of sheer desperate will.  Esau may kill me tomorrow, but tonight I will win.  The two men struggled, strained, and rolled until the sun’s pale rays lit the eastern sky.

    The angel wrested one hand free and slammed it into Jacob’s hip, and pain shot through the man.  He cried out, but his grip only tightened.  He knew that wound would never fully heal, even if he somehow survived his reunion with Esau.  But it didn’t matter.  Pain didn’t matter.  Fatigue didn’t matter.  Despair and fear and guilt didn’t matter.  Right now, by the banks of the Jabbok, deep in the shadow of death, only victory mattered.

    “Let me go!”  The stranger cried out, “The day is coming!”

    “No,” Jacob said, his face red, his eyes leaking tears, “Not until you bless me!”

    “What is your name?”

    “Jacob.”

    The man smiled.  “No longer.  You shall be called Israel, for you have wrestled with God and with man, and have prevailed.”  The shadow of death lifted, bringing with it the new light of dawn.

    “What – what is your name?”  Jacob asked, leaning back, kneeling near his adversary.  He knew what he had wrestled was not a mere god, no Canaanite idol, but someone far greater.  He had battled a messenger of his father’s God, the God of Abraham.  Perhaps he’d wrestled that God Himself.  His throat tightened at the thought, and he dropped his eyes to the ground.

    “Why do you want to know?” The man said, rising to his feet.  He reached down to touch Jacob’s forehead, bestowing a blessing far greater than the one he’d stolen.  And then, in a moment, he was gone.

    Jacob rose slowly, peace and healing rushing over him like the warm morning sun.  “I will call this place Peniel,” he said, “for I have seen God face to face, and yet I live.”  He turned his face toward the west and, for the first time in many days, smiled.