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Reflection: Under Pressure

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Stress has a way of distorting everything.

While you can argue that pressure reveals our true character by exposing the junk inside us, the observation is hardly fair. Granted, we all have junk inside us; we all have the opportunity to process it over our lifetimes. And we should absolutely be doing that. If we are making the same mistakes at 50 that we were at 20, we have missed some phenomenal opportunities for growth.

Stress, however, has a way of distorting everything. The things that come out of us under extreme conditions, while real, are anything but normal.

Silly Putty allows you to capture an image perfectly. Once you stretch it, it no longer looks the same. You can crush something under a hydraulic press and see what was inside it. You won’t, however, learn much about its normal composition. You’ll just see what it looks like smushed.

Under stress, we are not “normally composed.” We are abnormally smushed. And while learning how someone responds to stress gives you valuable information about how close you can afford to have them, judging them by their most pressured moments may not be fair.

The problem is that our behavior, under pressure, has real world consequences for the people in our lives. While we gain nothing from self-condemnation, we need to be honest in our self-assessments. We need to examine ourselves, therefore, with grace and truth, fully willing to face our flaws, but fully accepting that God loves us anyway. As we do we need to treat ourselves, and the imperfect people around us, gently.

In her devotional titled “Coping With Stress” in “The Language of Letting Go”, Melody Beattie says “Our most important focus during times of stress is taking care of ourselves. We are better able to cope with the most irregular circumstances; we are better able to be there for others, if we’re caring for ourselves. We can ask ourselves regularly: What do we need to do to take care of ourselves? What might help us feel better or more comfortable?”

What if we saw self-care as less pampering than public safety? What if we recognized that our pursuit of balanced living could make life better for everyone around us?

If we are angry all the time, we may do more harm than good.

If we are tired all the time, we may do more harm than good.

If we refuse to look honestly at ourselves, we may do more harm than good.

Good stewardship involves caring for our resources, not just so we can maximize the benefits we obtain from them, but so we can optimize our contribution to the world.

When asked by religious teachers why his followers did not practice ritual handwashing before meals, Jesus argued that it’s not what goes into our mouths that defiles us. It’s the evil thoughts that come out of our hearts and our mouths that make us impure: murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, and slander. (Matthew 15:17-20)

We are responsible for the things that come out of us. We can argue that we didn’t put them there. We can protest that they come from crimes committed against us. When they become a part of someone else’s experience, however, none of that matters. We may have a really good reason for being toxic, but we’re still toxic.

If we trust our rituals to make us righteous, while ignoring the condition of our hearts, we are in trouble.

If we measure our maturity by our orthodoxy, we risk being intellectually sharp, and spiritually sick.

Today is a good day to take a long hard look at ourselves, and then do something about it.

(Photo Credit: Ibrahimboran)

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