Truth be told, I have a stressful personality type. I am split right up the middle between an extrovert and an introvert, and if that isn’t confusing enough, I am also a perfectionist with a naturally guilty conscience. Growing up, I earned straight A’s, rarely got in trouble, and generally felt a deep-seeded sense of inadequacy. This self-depreciation mutated and grew, despite any praise or accolades, my good home life, or my unwavering faith in God. It’s something that chronic illness has exposed and challenged.
It was obviously extra difficult for my perfectionistic self when the diagnoses started rolling in, and several years of intense stress dog-piled on top of my very sensitive ego. I was forced to look for my value outside of being a good athlete, student, or employee. I won’t lie, I still haven’t quite figured this out yet. But, when periods of stress hit hard in my life, there are several things my husband, parents, and friends have reminded me over the years that have made a difference. I believe these four reminders have been important in my life, and can apply to those experiencing a stress-crazed season.
1. It Will Get Better
For me, this reminder isn’t an ill-placed hope that my illnesses will disappear. Several of my illnesses are chronic conditions that can be managed, but not cured. However, I have managed my expectations instead, as time has gone on, so I won’t be disappointed by the things I am unable to do anymore. But, on days like Mother’s Day, when grief strikes and guilt settles in that I am the reason that my husband and I don’t have children yet, I remember that tomorrow I will feel better. I will wake up, crawl out from under the covers, and the dark cloud that loomed over the night before will have cleared and I will notice the sun again. And the grief will diminish enough to laugh, joke, and regain perspective that life is a journey, and I am along for the ride.
2. Don’t be an Emotional Loiterer
One of my greatest strengths can also be an intense weakness–that I feel things very deeply. My sense of empathy is strong enough to cause me to feel uncomfortable if I see someone who is being left out of conversation, to tear up if someone starts to cry, and sometimes I start laughing just because I anticipate my husband’s story is going to be funny. However, I have learned, that in periods of great stress, it’s best not to ignore the sadness (or it will reappear in unwanted, surprising ways). But after acknowledging and grieving, not to loiter in the sadness and anxiety that comes along with stress. In the wise words of John Piper, “Occasionally weep deeply over the life you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Then wash your face. Trust God. And embrace the life you have.”
3. Let the People Who Love You Share the Burdens
I used to be really bad at this. When my husband and I were dating seriously, I was starting to have back pain. I was a social worker, who did a lot of visits throughout the community, so the driving around town was becoming bothersome. While on the phone with Brad, I mentioned my back pain and he offered to bring me a lumbar support brace to use in the car. I repeatedly would not hear of him driving across town, viewing that favor as a major inconvenience to him. He finally said sternly, “Let me help you!” I may or may not have hung up on him… nobody knows for sure. But, over years of living with someone very patient and kind, I have learned that allowing someone who cares for me to bless me, blesses that person in return.
4. God is Good and His Plan is Perfect
In early 2014, my husband was diagnosed with an aggressive jaw tumor, I found out I was pregnant and subsequently miscarried, and my nerve pain became so unbearable that I had to take a leave of absence from my job at the time. This all occurred within a period of about 5-6 months. That block of time was so disillusioning that it was hard to see that God loved me, wanted the best for me, and that He had a plan.
With time comes perspective and, in hind sight, I can see the ways God silently provided for us. Brad’s promotions at work often lined-up with when I was unable to work, we live in one of the only towns in Kentucky able to treat Brad’s form of tumor, doctors were recommended in strange ways and ended up speeding up healing, meals were dropped off by friends, seemingly out of the blue, and when we needed help the most. All these things and more make me believe now, more than ever, in a loving God who cares for His children who are in the middle of a struggle.
It’s interesting that this verse popped up on my daily feed today:
Psalm 121:7-8: The Lord will keep you from all harm—He will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.