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There is something about waves and water that is soothing to my soul.
If you do a web search for stress and missionaries, you will be frightened. Thankfully, my friend Google and I weren’t acquainted, or perhaps she didn’t even exist 12 years ago when we first came to Southeast Asia. I feel stressed just looking at the results of the search about missionaries and stress. Should I be stressed about my stress level? Am I really living in the danger zone of the stress thermometer year after year?
They say that our stress on the mission field is high. I don’t know how you can measure stress. Stress is absorbed, handled, and responded to uniquely depending on the person. I am sure there are general categories we all fall into and labels we all could wear. But then again maybe I shouldn’t stress about it.
Stress is a common word these days. The hard circumstances in my life on the mission field and your life in another part of the world are universal, although they vary in degree of intensity in both realms. Sickness, suffering, death, inconveniences, things breaking, schedules that aren’t realities, world events, moral decay, figuring out what to make for dinner—these are just a few things that are on our radar, that can change our mood in a heartbeat.
Often times we don’t realize we are living in a stressful pattern. Our responsibilities in foreign cultures bear down on us with slight increase over a period of circumstances, and we don’t realize that the reason for our feeling tired, or anxious, or frustrated are all a result of unmanaged stress.
A little over a year ago, we visited a group of small islands which turned out to be the location Paradise Lost, the third episode in the Wild Brothers adventure series.
When we arrived to the island I didn’t feel stressed. When we pulled up to the dock, we were shown to our little bungalows, and the accommodations were beautifully simple. There were no indoor bathrooms in our rooms, no air conditioners, just wood, thatch, bamboo, and a beautiful bed. Already, some of you are reading this and feeling stressed. However, upon arrival little bits of stress were slipping off the deck and plunging into the water beneath me. Maybe a rest was something I needed. It was perfectly quiet from “outside” noise. Only the sounds of water lapping up against the dock, birds singing, and excitement of children ready for a swim. We took off our shoes and didn’t put them back on for seven full days!
There was a kitchen on the island, but I wasn’t expected to cook! I didn’t even have to order food. You wouldn’t think that ordering food could be a stressor, but when you have to organize ordering for five it can be. Delicious, healthy food was prepared and presented on a long buffet three times a day, and snacks were at the coffee bar round the clock.
Really, this place is unlike any other underwater spot in the world! I hadn’t even made it into the water when I heard strange noises coming from Asher as he passed me again under the dock. I made sure that he had his snorkel vest on as a safety precaution, but I called him out of the water to make sure that he was okay, maybe he was getting water in his snorkel or trying to clear his mask. So when I asked him what he was doing he said, “Mom, it is just so beautiful, I just can’t help but sing praise songs.” Having a snorkel in his mouth made those songs unrecognizable to me, but I know the Lord understood every thought!
What was interesting to me was by the evening of day three, as I was sitting in a lounge chair watching the giant orange sun start its descent, I realized I was relaxed. It took a few days to really unwind, to feel peaceful, to let my mind rest from the to-do list. I remember feeling the same last time we arrived to the States. Our first morning home, Mike and I sat in the backyard with our coffee watching the sunrise over the bayou in Florida. Hudson was just a silhouette standing at the water’s edge with his fishing pole. Our responsibilities to an entire village were not there, and I didn’t have to think twice about Hudson being outside during “malaria” time. It is that sigh moment when stress slips away.
However, stress is part of life, so how do we respond to it? An important point I have pondered and realized is that the Lord is faithful no matter the level of stress. He promises to never leave us or forsake us. He promises us that He is trustworthy to carry our load of stress. For that reason we don’t have to feel overwhelmed. He is always with us. Sometimes it isn’t until we aren’t in the circumstance that we realize we were in a stressful situation, and at the same time we know that we couldn’t have gone through it alone. We look back and we praise God, and we know that without Him we could never persevere. So although some of us may live with our stress level higher than others, we have a good and gracious God who tells us to cast our burdens and our worries and our hardships upon Him because He cares for us. So could it be that carrying our stress is a choice? Can we choose to wad our stress in a ball and add it to our pack, to let it weigh us down? Perhaps we could also choose moment by moment to let the Lord carry our burdens for us?
We left the little island a few days later and headed back to inconveniences, back to friends, back to noise, back to life. Our place is in the world. Our work is in the world. And yet how sweet it is that the Lord has provided such beauty on this earth to give us a reprieve from the day to day grind in life. If you ask any one of my boys, they would all quickly reply that this was better than any amusement park they have ever been to!
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