Some Christian writers feel guilty that they can’t get on with their writing, because their minds are scrambled by pandemic stress. Many don’t want to use the word “fear” because they are afraid it sounds unspiritual or maybe even a sin.
But I am willing to tell you straight out: I have experienced fear outbursts a number of times in recent weeks, and stress has been grumbling away at a persistent background level.
It has sometimes disrupted my ability to think clearly and creatively and pour my love into my writing. My imagination is being used up by less helpful things.
The Bible and stress
We often seem to assume that, as Christians, we shouldn’t get stressed. We should be superheroes of the faith.
I don’t quite know why we think this because the Bible is full of people feeling very powerful emotions. It is abundantly clear, biblically, that we were not designed by God to be robots or ice sculptures.
Maybe the idea has infected Christian thinking over the centuries via ancient Greek philosophy that made a virtue of being “above” our emotions?
Biblical people, by comparison, were hugely invested in the beauties of human life and relationships, and did a lot of yelling and weeping when things went pear-shaped.
Even Jesus prayed so urgently the night before he died that he sweated drops of blood.
Think about that.
He experienced very powerful emotions in the Garden of Gethsemane. He longed for rescue from his Heavenly Father and support from his friends (who went to sleep because they, in their turn, were stressed).
And then he went forward and did the desperately hard-but-necessary thing anyway.
Does stress have a positive side?
Back in 2004, I worked as editor with a group of Christian psychiatrists and psychologists on a book called Wholly Coping: Overcoming Stress and Preventing Burnout in Christian Life (now available in a new edition).
It combines faith and science to explain how, when faced with a stressor, our body instantly injects adrenalin to enable the “fight or flight” response – giving us strength or speed to, say, escape a mugger. Then another hormone named cortisol is injected at a slower rate.
God designed this.
The book says: “Problems arise in our bodies when our adrenal glands continue pumping out adrenalin and cortisol during periods of prolonged stress.” (p4) (Can you think of any current situations where that might be happening?????)
People can respond to stress with many symptoms, including “panic, resentment, headaches, irritability, depression, self-pity, anxiety, abuse of others, reduced libido, tearfulness, low motivation, lethargy, aggression, sarcasm, skin problems, forgetfulness, social withdrawal, substance abuse (this can include overeating).” (p5)
Stress becomes a problem when it controls us instead of serving God’s purposes.
But when stress overwhelms us, we need healing – not rebuke or self-hatred.
Please note: I’m not a psychologist and this is not medical advice or anything else, but in last week’s post I shared some things I have found healing for my own stress.
Elijah and stress
I get so much out of the account of Elijah’s stress burnout in 1 Kings 19.
Elijah the prophet has had a spectacularly successful but exhausting showdown with the opponents of faith (1 Kings 18), and now the royal mafia are after him to kill him.
He runs away from everyone and everything into the desert, finds a tree to sit under, and tells God he wants to die.
Does God scold him and tell him to snap out of it and start living the victorious Christian life? No, he gives him food and water and sleep (v5 onwards).
He lets Elijah moan about how bad things are, more than once (vs 4,10,14).
He even gives him exercise – 40 days of walking! (v8)
And then, when he’s somewhat recovered, it’s time for a heart-to-heart.
The voice of God
Elijah encounters the tumultuous and destructive power of wind, earthquake and fire in verses 11-12.
However, God’s power is bigger than those forces and, strangely, in this instance it’s also quieter.
- A gentle whisper – NIV and NLT
- A low whisper – ESV
- A gentle blowing – NASB
- A gentle breeze – CEV
- A still small voice – KJV
The presence and power of God needs to be listened for amid the noise.
When Elijah is well enough to listen, he is given a job to do – going back into the fray and rebuilding Israel’s leadership.
He is given a running mate – Elisha.
He is presented with the encouraging truth that he has more fellow believers than he realises – 7000 who have refused to worship idols.
What can we learn from Elijah?
As Christian writers, let’s prayerfully consider making a deliberate project of these three things.
1. Find your specific purpose
What job has God given you to do?
It might be easy to figure this out or it might be hard.
Read the Bible and pray, perhaps combined with writing down your thoughts and responses to see what patterns emerge.
Prayer might be scatty and disrupted at times as our stress rises and falls, but persevere anyway.
Sometimes, just starting what you *think* might be your job can also be clarifying.
2. Find a running mate
Who has God given you as a wingman, a colleague, a running mate, someone to lock arms with, to fight alongside of?
It could be someone in your existing network or even in your home. It might be a partner who doesn’t write, or it might be another Christian writer on the other side of the globe.
Video calling platforms such as Skype and FaceTime can enable us to meet face-to-face over the internet even during lockdown.
It just needs to be someone who understands you and why you write, and can share ideas and prayers and problems and encouragement during this time.
It might take some time to find them. Keep praying; don’t give up.
3. Be encouraged by the body of believers
There are a lot of us out here.
I’m planning a Zoom meeting for Christian writers this weekend, which you are invited to join.
- Saturday morning in Australia
- Friday afternoon in North America
- Friday night in the UK.
EDITED 11 April: We’ve had two very encouraging online meetings now, and are meeting each Saturday morning (Brisbane time) for the rest of April, while things are in a state of flux. Attendance is always optional, of course. We will reconsider the frequency in May.
The goal is:
- Opportunity to ask questions or share experiences
The meetings are short – only 40 minutes.
If you’d like to join in, please subscribe to Gracewriters here. (It is very important to subscribe if you want to join the meeting, as the link will be shared by email.)
If you’ve never joined a Zoom meeting, don’t worry. There’ll be simple instructions to follow.
Please help us get the word out: share this article via email or social networks. (links below)