Did you know that without some stress and opposition, complex life like ours would not have developed? Pathik Wadhwa, a studier of biological law and research states that stress and opposition turn out to be exactly what initiates our development in utero. Who knew we were actually created out of some stress? (well, maybe doctors know – but I sure didn’t!)
Stress isn’t a great thing! In fact, really – we want to avoid it! It does hugely detrimental things to our physical AND mental health. Yet – it is something we each feel at some degree throughout our lives. It is what we DO with it that makes all the difference.
So what exactly IS stress?
Stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.
Often times stress originates if we find ourselves suffering.
Suffering is the state of undergoing pain, distress, and hardship.
There are times in our lives that we are not going to be able to avoid suffering, and it is in how we deal with that suffering that determines how “stressed” we are.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “In a kind of paradoxical way, it is how we face all of the things that seem to be negative in our lives that determines the kind of person we become. If we regard it all as frustrating, we are going to come out squeezed and tight and just angry and wishing to smash everything. Nothing beautiful comes without a measure of some pain, some frustration, some suffering. This is the nature of things. This is how our universe was made up.”
How do we allow the pain, frustration, and suffering to turn into something beautiful?
First – we shouldn’t feel guilty about things that cause us to be in pain. We have to acknowledge what is painful. BUT – then recognize that focusing on that pain in a continual manner only makes it worse. That is when our pain turns to suffering.
“Too much self-centered thinking is the source of suffering. A compassionate concern for others’ well-being is the source of happiness.” Both the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu agree on this point in their book, The Book of Joy.
Suffering could be for us a way of refinement. Like a refinement in the fire.
That’s a biblical image, actually. The “being refined in fire.” Several times throughout scriptures the people are told that their lives of suffering are like metals being refined through fire.
Zechariah writes to the Israelites as they are still in exile,
Zechariah 13:9 ESV
And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”
Isaiah 48:10 ESV
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
We, as United Methodists, don’t believe God throws us into the metaphorical fire, but what we do believe is that God is with us working all things together for good as we face these situations of suffering.
Perhaps sometimes we forget that our situations of suffering require some action from us.
The action we need to do is not give into the pressure of the suffering and allow it to be stress for us. Instead may we let it cause us to look at things in different ways.
Archbishop Tutu said this of Nelson Mandela, “Many think the twenty-seven years in jail were a waste for him but actually they were very necessary. They were necessary to remove the dross/rubbish. The suffering helped him become more generous and noble-spirited (magnanimous). Without those twenty-seven years I don’t think we would see a Nelson Mandela with the compassion, magnanimity, and the capacity to put himself in the shoes of the other.”
By putting our focus onto other people, which is what compassion does, we take away the power of the pain in our suffering. We have to find a way to take care of ourselves without selfishly taking care of ourselves.
Foolish selfishness means you think only of yourself, don’t care about others, bully others, and exploit others. However, wise selfishness is IN taking care of others and helping others, we find our own joy and have a happy life.
 B., & Tutu, D. (2016). The book of joy: lasting happiness in a changing world. New York: Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House.