Stress is Not Sinful

The holidays are upon us and it’s normal to experience more stress than usual. There will be ads for 101 Ways to De-stress, offers of stress-free this and stress-free that.

The flip side is the voice that whispers stress is sinful and wrong. If you trust God, you won’t experience it. You can control how much stress is in your life.

That is probably true for individuals in mutual relationships. There is a sense in which we have unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others, we may overspend, and lose sight of personal responsibility in our desire to please ourselves and others. Consequences of sin are stressful–and they’re intended to be.

But the oppressed cannot control the stress level in their lives. It’s a constant. Then, when the holidays roll around–or birthdays or any special occasion, actually–the amp is turned up. This is when women are expected to make bricks without straw, to create resources, money, gifts, meals, events, and carry on with normal tasks with the snap of a finger. Children must remain happy and not disturb Daddy who drinks more and works less. Mother must remain cheerful despite the fact that her opinions, ideas, and needs go unheeded and there is no physical way to meet demands.

Those on the outside do not, can not, know or understand the weight placed on women, wives, mothers, and children in abusive homes during the holidays. But how often we say that stress is wrong and sin against others in our self-righteousness and humility-wrapped pride: “Just don’t ______ and you’ll be fine.” “Don’t stress over it.” “It’s not a big deal.” “It’ll all work out in the end.” “What Scripture are you meditating on?”

We are talking to the wrong person. There is nothing. Nothing. She can do. She is doing everything she can (and more) except removing herself. She may be told by others that’s not an option either. For men and women who have left abusive homes and relationships, memories, feelings, and trauma responses linger. For years. Holidays, birthdays, and special occasions haunt them. Many would rather not celebrate at all.

This holiday season, before you give advice about stress or admonish someone for sinfully fretting, consider your words. Pray. Be kind. Be gentle. Ask questions. Be trustworthy. Protect a confidence. Serve and love. In the end, we’d be better off that way–loving, praying, protecting, and withholding advice, not placing added weight on the suffering.

God sees our judgment and criticism as easily and clearly as He sees the oppressed.

“Cry loudly, do not hold back;
Raise your voice like a trumpet,
And declare to My people their wrongdoing,
And to the house of Jacob their sins.

Yet they seek Me day by day and delight to know My ways,
As a nation that has done righteousness
And has not forsaken the ordinance of their God.
They ask Me for just decisions,
They delight in the nearness of God.
‘Why have we fasted and You do not see?
Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?’
Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire,
And oppress all your workers.
Behold, you fast for contention and strife, and to strike with a wicked fist.
You do not fast like you have done today to make your voice heard on high!
Is it a fast like this that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it for bowing one’s head like a reed
And for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed?

Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the Lord?
Is this not the fast that I choose:
To release the bonds of wickedness,

To undo the ropes of the yoke,
And to let the oppressed go free,
And break every yoke?
Is it not to break your bread with the hungry
And bring the homeless poor into the house;
When you see the naked, to cover him;
And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then your light will break out like the dawn,
And your recovery will spring up quickly;
And your righteousness will go before you;
The glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;

You will cry for help, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you remove the yoke from your midst,
The pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness,
And if you offer yourself to the hungry
And satisfy the need of the afflicted,
Then your light will rise in darkness,
And your gloom will become like midday.
And the Lord will continually guide you,
And satisfy your desire in scorched places,
And give strength to your bones;
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.
Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins;
You will raise up the age-old foundations;
And you will be called the repairer of the breach,
The restorer of the streets in which to dwell.” (Isaiah 58:1-12)

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