Stress or Peace? Which Do You Prefer?

I can answer that question easily. I prefer peace. But lately I have been asking myself if I choose peace.

The last week has been stressful. I wish stress could adequately describe the extent of turmoil I have felt, but it does not. Stress takes both a physical and mental toll on me, and in turn it takes an emotional and spiritual toll. It begins in my head when my brain processes a stressful situation and soon it manifests itself with either a raging headache right in the center of my forehead or a stomach ache that makes even sitting down uncomfortable. It then turns emotional because it frustrates me (I tend to cry when I am frustrated and at my wits end), and then it turns spiritual because I can focus on nothing else except the stress. I cannot pray, I cannot read, I cannot journal.

My morning quiet time in the last week has been severely hampered by stress. One morning as I drank my coffee and reclined on my couch with my dog in my lap, I silently cried out to God, begging for focus, but within seconds my thoughts were on my stress once again.

Left with no other choice, I laid my thoughts out before the Lord. “God, I give You my thoughts…” But wait. Giving Him my thoughts and saying a prayer means…what? It requires an action, it means I am going to completely lay all my burdens at His feet in exchange for a few moments of peace.

And the moments of peace began when I lowered my walls and let Him in. It felt like every muscle in my body finally began to relax. Slow, yes, but still making progress. Fighting against the enemy’s discouragement telling me I have to solve all these problems, I had to keep talking to Jesus. In that moment of unfolding peace I had a realization about myself and Christ, and our relationship.

Here it is: I think many people who do not know me very well would say I tend to be a slow person—slow to speak, slow to act, slow to evaluate, slow to process, slow to respond. This is true, I can have an argument with someone that lasts days. But the people who know me well also know that I am action oriented. When there is a problem, I act. I compile my information, I draw up my plan, I execute. Well, in the early morning hours on a weekday there is not much I can do in the way of solving my own problems. And right then is when Jesus wanted my attention the most. I had to choose peace.

God has had me reading the book of Nehemiah lately. In the season I am in it has offered endless encouragement that I have clung to throughout every single day. But it has also taught me more about the power of prayer, and how most of the time it is meant to be the only tool in my arsenal for this season. It is difficult to take such a backseat to solving problems as my flesh wants to choose stress, but this morning I was brought into sweet communion with my Savior because that is what was needed most. It always is.

“So I prayed to the God of heaven.” —Nehemiah 2:4

Let prayer be your first line of defense today, and choose peace over your stress. I cannot tell you it is easy because it is not. But it is worth it. Challenge yourself in your prayers. Choose to pray for the least of these, choose to pray for your enemies, choose to keep the conversation going with your Savior. You will not be disappointed.

Reassurance

Reassurance feels like this.

God, your unfailing Father, stands before you with your heart in His huge hands. You are almost shocked. Why would anyone, least of all the most perfect person in the world, want to hold that old thing with all its bandages and bruises and scars? Yet there it is in His hands. And He cradles it as close to His chest as He can. Then He tenderly holds it out in front of Himself, between the two of you. Where you are on your knees in front of Him, it is cold, and the cold runs deep. He reaches out His hand and lifts your chin. On His face you see a bright yet soft smile, like a sunset coming through the clouds to soften the harsh light, but somehow it still retains its power and beauty. His warm smile makes you wonder if the warmth you suddenly feel is emanating from it. He draws you to your feet and He says the words you need to hear.

“You are My child. Look at this,” He says in reference to Your heart He still holds in His hand. “I made this. Look at this beautiful, soft, sometimes-hard-to-understand-by-man, beating mass of cells and ventricles and blood and systems working together to be something uniquely you.”

He wipes away the stray tears streaking a path down your cheeks then continues.

“When I look at this heart, I see everything. Look at it yourself.”

You look down, hesitant. You do not want to see the ugliness.

“Look at your pain, and look at your sadness and sorrow, look at your mistakes. But look at your joy—even if it only lasted for a moment—and look at your growth, and look at all the mountaintops you’ve been on, and all the hurdles you’ve jumped over. You may see only all of the difficulties sometimes, but here’s what I see: My child who conquered, My child who won every single one of her battles, My child who was in the trenches of her own life and is now on the other side of pain, regardless of how brief the resting periods last. You, My precious child, are strong and beautiful no matter what. Do you want to know why?”

You do not even have the power to nod your head. You are too focused on His words, spoken so gently to you, like being wrapped in a warm blanket after wandering around in the freezing cold for a day.

“It’s because that’s how I made you, and you’re beautiful just like that. I’m proud of you. And I love you. I’m going to give this back to you now, and I will always be here to pick it, and you, back up again.”

He gently takes your heart and cleans it once more before placing it back inside of your chest, His creation.

He knows you well, and He knows what you need right when you need it.

Two Months Too Long

When you have a passion for something, you want to do it as often as you can. It can make you feel safe and secure, it can make you feel like what you are going through matters, it can make you feel like someone, anyone, is listening to your words and bearing your burdens with you. And in the midst of difficult seasons, comfort brought by spending time doing something you love can be paramount.

My something? Writing.

By no means am I a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist or a New York Times bestselling author, but I know God gave me a way with written words. Throughout the past five years, writing has been such an intricate part of my identity and going without it for long periods of time—as I have done recently—feels like not being able to walk for weeks at a time. So here is a new post for you. I am committing to writing more often since I have missed out on much.

Thinking about what I wanted to write for this update has had me thinking off and on for the past week. I have pondered deep thoughts and shallow topics, and I always came away with the desire to simply be honest. So here goes: I am struggling.

No one can get to young adulthood without realizing that in life there are peaks and valleys, high mountaintops and low desert floors. And here is something I have learned about peaks and valleys in general: they look different for everyone. My struggles, what I am fighting through right now, may not be on anyone else’s list of valleys they have experienced. Nonetheless, here I am. And their mountaintops may not ever be mine. Nonetheless, they are standing high. But down at the core is the truth that everyone, no matter who they are, will experience highs and lows.

While I was on vacation in Gulf Shores in September, there was much going on not only in the United States but all around the world. Hurricane Harvey had just left a huge disaster scene in Houston and the surrounding areas, and Hurricane Irma was on its way to Florida after devastating parts of the Caribbean. There was a small chance my family and I would be in Irma’s path, but by the grace of God it did not turn west. Earthquakes devastated parts of Mexico and London was being attacked and nuclear war with North Korea loomed ever larger (and still does). Yet for one brief moment in time, my family and I were safe, unaffected.

Usually when my entire family is together I struggle to find quiet time to read or write in my journal or spend time in prayer, but I think on this trip God knew I needed some alone time with Him. Every day I woke up at the exact same time—7 a.m., 5 a.m. in California—and I would quietly walk downstairs, make my coffee and sit out on the deck. It was the perfect spot for me. The wind gently blew, the sun was still rising, the view of the street below and the ocean across the street. It was peaceful. In those moments I would reflect on everything in my heart, giving everything I could to Jesus and not holding anything back. One morning I woke up feeling discouraged, like the enemy had literally hung a dark cloud over me while I slept and I woke up feeling frustrated and angry, and even though I did not want to, I opened my Bible app. The verse of the day happened to be from Isaiah 40. Just following my thoughts, I opened the entire chapter and began to read. What a surprise that the title of the chapter in NKJV is “God’s People Are Comforted.”

In my life seasons I have learned so many things about myself, and every single season—whether it be characterized by mountaintops or valley floors—reveals more and more. The season of life I am in right now has taught me that I value honesty more than almost anything else, and I desperately need the comfort of security. I did not realize how much I desired these things until suddenly they were more rare than abundant in my life.

As I read the 40th chapter, I was truly comforted. (Just an honest moment about having a relationship with Jesus. It is not always easy like the pages out of a Christian fiction book. Living a faithful life has thrown me so many curve balls, and every time I find myself on the floor I have to remind myself that it is OKAY to be there for a little bit. God sees me, He hears me. And more important than anything He is comforting me, lovingly catching every tear that falls, and holding me as I endure pain and heartache. He never leaves me. And in my moments of torture, all I want is peace. I want to sing worship music in the hope that it will lighten my heart. I want to read my Bible because maybe it will distract me. I want to pray because then I have someone to talk to. But I would be lying if I said doing all of those things ALWAYS make me feel better. It does not. But on this day, though I had to fight my way through, I was comforted.)

The first five verses of this chapter talk about how Jerusalem is comforted by her warfare ending because Jesus will come. And Jerusalem will eventually be saved along with anyone else who desires to be. That is comfort in the truth of who God is! He is my Savior, my friend, my Father. He is the one who never leaves me, and always comforts me when I feel impossible to be comforted!

The last five verses speak of how great His understanding is. He KNOWS everything about me, and somehow He still loves me. I was on His mind when He went to the Cross and breathed His last while He endured immeasurable pain. He is everlasting, His love is everlasting. There is not one single thing I can do to outrun Him. There is not one single fault or chink in my armor He sees that would cause His love to falter.

Always in my quest to have peace, to heal, to grow, to learn, I come back to this truth: Jesus is my everything. He is everything I desire, everything I need, everything I could ever want. He loves me so unconditionally, and all of the things I desire to receive from other people (unconditional love, security, compassion, honesty) are already offered by Him.

Jesus loves me. I do not need to concern myself with anything else. It is hard to not be bothered, it is hard to outrun heartache and pain, it is hard to surrender to the emotion of the moment when I know there is a hurdle I have to jump over. But there is freedom on the other side of that hurdle, and the opportunity to rest before I get to the next one. Because guess what? God is going to be faithful for the next hurdle, too. It is not going to be painless, ever. But He understands. And He offers all His love and comfort.

Take it.