Dealing With Stress — How To Meet The Unexpected
EVERYONE, AT SOME time or another, has to meet the unexpected. Emergencies may not occur every day. (If they did, we would become accustomed to handling them and programmed to avoid the stress that is considered normal in such situations.) But when they come, we can much better cope with the stress-producing qualities of the experience if we are spiritually conditioned beforehand.
An emergency is “a sudden, generally unexpected occurrence or set of circumstances demanding immediate action” (Webster’s New World Dictionary, Concise Edition, 1958, p. 244). If we are spiritually in tune, even though we may be shocked by the happening, we will be better able to reach decisions and take action than we would be if we have let ourselves become weary and depleted.
Prayer works, even when used as an emergency measure, but it is even more effective as a prevention, designed to keep us from being carried away by those unexpected situations that come up to be handled in our lives.
The sudden passing of a loved one, the betrayal of a friend, disastrous results of a catastrophe of nature or an unexpected change forced upon us — any of these will carry with it a certain amount of tension. But one who is grounded in spiritual ideas and backed up by faith in God will weather the storm with a minimal amount of stress and come out into the sunshine of a brighter day, still feeling the love and protection of Spirit.
Of course, there may be times when, even with the best of intentions, we have allowed ourselves to become overworked, undernourished spiritually or generally discouraged and disheartened for some reason. At such a time, when a crisis comes, it may hit hard!
This was brought out at the time that President Ronald Reagan was shot in 1981.
Others close to the president at the time were severely wounded in the assassination attempt. However, in the confusion of the moment, Mr. Reagan was not aware of this. He was rushed to the hospital, where emergency surgery was performed.
The next morning his doctor, Dr. Dennis O’Leary, met with the press to report on his patient’s condition.
The reporters wanted to know whether Mr. Reagan has been told about the others who had been shot. He hadn’t.
Next, the reporters asked if the president could be consulted or even approached concerning stressful affairs of state. Dr. O’Leary replied that he could very soon be handling matters of national interest, even from his hospital bed. He was geared to the daily barrage of national and international affairs that went with the office.
On the other hand, the president would undoubtedly experience a strong emotional reaction to the news that others had been wounded by the bullets that were intended for him. He might even have a feeling of personal responsibility for their injury, which would be hard to handle in his weakened condition. Later, he would be told, but for now, he would be presented only with the type of day-to-day emergencies which he was accustomed to handling as a part of his job as president.
All of us meet certain types of emergencies from time to time in our lives. People in the medical profession are programmed to handle injuries and other emergencies that would paralyze someone who was unaccustomed to daily contact with such things. On the other hand, someone in the construction business might think nothing of coping with emergencies involving explosives or heavy machinery. It’s all in what the individual considers “routine”, and what hits as a totally unexpected, unrelated happening. Of course, emergencies involving emotional attachment to other persons are even more stress-provoking than those that simply deal with material objects.
But it doesn’t really matter what unexpected happening provides the stressful reaction. The important point is that we can learn to meet any emergency in a spiritual way with a spiritual answer and thus avoid the prolonged experience of unwanted stress.
Jesus was a master in dealing with the unexpected. He was continually bombarded with surprises of various kinds. And He always handled each one in a divinely ordered way.
How many times the Jewish authorities tried to trap Him with trick questions in order to discredit Him — or worse. Each time Jesus, listening to the Father within, answered in just the right way. And He did it apparently without any stress or special effort.
A continuing stream of those who had healing needs of all sorts and descriptions found in Him a strong and stable answer. He was never disturbed by the seeming gravity of the illness. He handled them all with loving compassion and divine insight.
Even when 5,000 people were in need of food in a desert place, He didn’t panic. He simply took the necessary steps to handle the situation, and they were fed.
The only time that we see any sign of stress in meeting emergencies and everyday challenges was at Lazarus’ tomb. In the shortest verse in the Bible we are told, “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35 RSV) Was this for the benefit of those who stood nearby, those who expected a human concern for the passing of Jesus’ good friend? Or did Jesus perhaps have a sense of personal loss (even though He knew Lazarus would be restored)? Was He perhaps picking up the grief of the others? It doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that Jesus met the emergency in a beautiful, divinely ordered way and handled it under divine direction. The stress of all concerned was soon past.
At the time that the story starts, Jesus was in Perea, on the eastern side of the Jordan River, in the area where John the Baptist had baptized many. Jesus was carrying on His ministry when he received word from Mary and Martha, Lazarus’ sisters, that their brother was ill.
With his great insight the Master told the disciples, “This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it.” (John 11:4 RSV).
Instead of rushing to the side of His friend, as many people would do when confronted by a similar emergency, Jesus spent two more days where He was, letting God guide His handling of the situation. Then He was ready to return to Judea to the village of Bethany.
The disciples tried to persuade Him not to go, believing (with good cause) that His life would be in danger in Judea. But He knew what He had to do, and He followed through every step of the way.
Martha met Him with reproach, feeling that if He had hurried, He could have saved Lazarus, who had been buried four days earlier. But she added, hopefully, “Even now, I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” (John 11:22 RSV) Jesus assured her that her brother would rise again.
In the light of all this, it seems even more surprising that Jesus should weep as He approached the tomb. Those who stood nearby remarked that Jesus was “deeply moved again” (John 11:38 RSV) as He stood before the tomb.
Then Jesus became calm and proceeded to handle the situation according to spiritual principle, one step at a time.
First, He asked that the stone be removed from the mouth of the cave where Lazarus’ body lay. After reassuring Martha that it would be all right, He lifted His eyes and spoke out loud for the benefit of those nearby, giving thanks to God for the answer to His prayer. Next, Fie called out in a voice of authority, “Lazarus, come out.” (John 11:43 RSV)
When Lazarus responded, still wearing the grave clothes, Jesus instructed the others, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:44 RSV) Stress turned to joyous celebration. Lazarus, who seemingly had been dead, was alive and well.
This story gives us clear instructions for handling those sudden, unexpected happenings that can cause stress and anxiety.
Stop all outer activity and turn to God.
Usually the first reaction to any emergency is “Do Something!” or “I have to do something”. Frequently the impetuous action that is taken on the spur of the moment is not the right thing. How many times people have been injured more severely when quickly moved by well-meaning bystanders after an accident. How many words have been spoken under the stress of a strong emotional reaction that would better have been left unsaid.
The human impulse may push us to do something suddenly. But doing the wrong thing is much worse than doing nothing at all.
Jesus was going against all human reasoning when He stayed in Perea for another two days after being told that His good friend, Lazarus, was ill. Even Martha recognized this, thinking that if He had hurried, He could have saved the man.
But, for Jesus, as for us, the first reaction to an emergency must be the seeking of spiritual guidance and direction. We won’t know what is the correct thing to do unless we become still and let God reveal it to us. This may take a moment, or it may take a day or a week. But we can be sure that God will reveal to us what we need to know when we are listening. And God is always on time.
In one of our classes on Truth teachings, we asked the question, “Why do we need to relax and become still in prayer?” One student replied, “If we continuously shout the question, we will never hear the answer.”
This is true. Even though a particular situation seems to call for immediate response, we must take time to become still and listen in order to be guided to take the right action.
Even when something inside us is shouting, “Do something!”, we still can (and must, for right results) take time to become still and listen. God has some perfect right instructions for us.
Regardless of what triggers the sudden response of stress, we can pause, take a deep breath, speak words of relaxation to our bodies and then put God in charge, listening for His instruction before we take action.
Regardless of appearances, speak positively and look for the good.
Many times well-meaning people approach accident victims with gory, negative conversations about their injuries.
My cousin, Charles, was a very fine physician. When my uncle (his father) was seriously ill and in a coma, Charles issued orders that no one was to say anything negative about his condition in the hospital room. He was well aware that, even though the individual appears to be unconscious, he may be hearing what is said. He didn’t want his father to be disturbed by negative suggestions.
Not only should we speak constructive words for the benefit of others, but also for our own well-being in the situation. We, too, hear what we are saying, and if we want to get the best results, we must continue to program ourselves with words of constructive, powerful suggestion. Especially when we are seeking to deal with an emergency, we need to tell ourselves that whatever needs to be done can be done, and, with God’s help, we can do it. We do this by holding to the positive, regardless of appearances.
Jesus never wasted words describing negative conditions. He always spoke positive, powerful words of Truth. Even in the face of the news of Lazarus’ illness, He was positive, declaring that the illness was “not unto death, but for the glory of God” (John 11:4 RSV). Certainly it would be easy for anyone to pick up from the race consciousness the belief in death, but Jesus knew that He could not afford it. Even later, when He had to speak plainly to the disciples, He declared that Lazarus was dead, but that it would provide an opportunity for them to increase their faith. It was not an end.
The disciples were not as positive in their statements, but this did not disturb Jesus. Thomas commented to the others, as they considered returning to Judea, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16 RSV)
The whole incident was geared to life, not death, and Jesus continued to hold to this picture. He told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25 RSV)
Life has many channels and many avenues, and we all go from life to life. There is no death.
But perhaps one of the most traumatic experiences in this life may be the passing of one who is close to us. Even when we know life is eternal and we are, in a sense, mentally prepared for the passing, it can be traumatic when it comes.
We may not be able to raise our loved ones from the dead, as Jesus did, at this particular stage of our unfoldment, but we can meet this emergency in our lives by speaking words of Truth and life. We do this not only for our own sake, but also for the sake of the one who has passed on to the next experience in life. Thoughts and words are very real, and the greatest blessing we can give to our loved one is a positive, powerful attitude of faith in God’s ever-unfolding plan of infinite life. As that one goes on to the next experience in living, he or she will feel our good words and be blessed by them.
After Jesus reached the tomb where Lazarus had been laid, He didn’t waste any time on idle conversation or argument, but used only those words that were necessary for the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Certainly what He did spoke much louder than any of the negative conversation that went on around Him, as He continued to speak positively and call forth the good in the situation. Our words, too, can serve a constructive purpose in meeting emergencies.
Even as we take steps to cope with the situation, we can speak words of strength and love and right answers. Inasmuch as it is possible, we should avoid all references to negative appearances or conditions that may be involved, as we seek to correct them.
Positive words not only speak to us, but also help to raise others into our positive atmosphere as we cope with those things that come to be handled by us.
Replace thoughts of loss with thoughts of love.
In order to raise His friend, Lazarus, from the dead, Jesus had to break out of all thoughts of loss, lack and limitation. If He did for a moment feel the grief of the others and weep in response to that feeling, He quickly dismissed the sense of loss as He prepared to call Lazarus forth from the tomb. He did this in love and in trust as He turned His attention to God.
Many times people feel obligated to prolong grief or to indulge in negative feelings. It becomes easy to let the negation have full rein, as they consider the fact that a negative reaction is “only human” and generally expected under certain circumstances.
Since we are still living on this earthly plane, chances are that we will still have those human reactions of grief and pain and fear and doubt from time to time, but when the negative emotion strikes, we can recognize it for what it is and reject it, transforming our thought patterns by concentrating on answers, not on problems.
Negative reactions should serve as signals. Instead of giving in to them and being carried away by them, we should understand that they come to remind us that it is time to get back to God, to concentrate not on the difficulty but the solution.
There is always a solution. There is always a right answer. But we will be blinded to it until we are willing to release the problem and put a positive picture in its place. In times of personal loss or threat, we may find it difficult, but it can be done.
It took a totally dedicated trust on Jesus’ part to instruct the others to remove the stone from the tomb. In order to be ready to proceed in this positive way, He had to first replace all thoughts of loss with loving trust in God and God’s way. And He did.
Others may not always agree with or understand our positive approach in an emergency situation, but our first obligation is to our higher Self and to God. When we transform negative thoughts and emotions into positive ones, then we are ready to do the things that need to be done by us in order to bring about right results.
Follow the spiritual guidance that comes.
Sometimes it takes great courage to follow God’s guidance in a given situation. It may seem contrary to everything we have experienced in the past. It may be totally misunderstood by others, even those close to us in some cases.
However, if we are going to follow Jesus in the spiritual expression of our powers, we must learn to trust our intuitive guidance from God and to act on it in faith and love.
After instructing that the stone should be removed, Jesus had a conversation with God (aloud, for the benefit of those who stood nearby). He was taking things step by step, following the guidance He was given. When the time was right, He cried out in a loud voice, calling Lazarus forth. And Lazarus came.
In times of catastrophe or even personal disappointment and disillusionment, we may be instructed by God to take steps that are totally out of line with the normal human reaction to such situations. It takes courage to follow through when such guidance comes, but God even gives us the courage we need, the strength and the ability — when we truly desire to handle things His way.
Lazarus was bound with the grave clothes, representing thoughts of limitation imposed by the material world. He had to be set free.
We, too, must follow God’s guidance in going beyond what we have learned in our personal experiences of the past. We, too, must learn to find release from the old thoughts of the limitations of human life.
We are just beginning to know our potentiality, and we can only find out how great we are and how unlimited we can be in handling situations by learning to trust the Spirit in us that guides us into better and higher ways.
After the emergency is past, and the situation has been handled, God gives one final instruction, just as Jesus gave one last command to those standing nearby.
“Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:44 RSV)
After the emergency has passed, and we have handled it according to our best understanding at the present time, then we are to release it, let it go and continue on to our next experience in living.
We will be enriched by every experience in which we call upon God’s help and follow through on His guidance. However, the time comes when we must go on to our next experience, richer in consciousness and blessed by a new and greater awareness of God’s everloving care.
Emergencies can be simply steps in our spiritual ongoing. They come to be handled. Then they are to be released, as we continue on the pathway of life, growing stronger with each overcoming.
© 1985, Winifred Wilkinson Hausmann
All rights reserved by the author.
Reprinted with permission.
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