Stress. I'm not very good at it. If you've ever met me in real life, you know that I'm a perfectionist. I've always been a pretty high-strung, type A person. By the grace of God, I learned a lot of really valuable lessons about stress and the difference in me between now and my freshman year is night and day. I still have a long way to go but I'm praising Jesus every step of the way.
For those of you about to leave high school and venture out into the great big world, you haven't seen nothing yet. I stressed in high school, especially my senior year, but it was nothing compared to the stress I experienced in college. I didn't handle it very well at all. My hope is that reading this, you'll start off on the right foot rather than doing damage control the rest of your life.
I've always said that you're not a "real" college student until after your first semester and your first finals week. Finals week in college is nothing compared to high school. Not even close. College and finals weeks brings out the worst kind of stress and my first finals week left me shell-shocked.
Plus, my first semester finals I had an upper AND lower respiratory infection. (Yes, I got a cold from the sick people around me but my stress made is so, so much worse.)
College is your first baby step into the real world. You're stepping into a new place with it's own culture and real problems. Adjusting will be stressful, moving in will be stressful, registering for classes will be stressful, moving out will be stressful, and your first test of the semester in every class every single year will be stressful.
Literally, friend, the list could go on and on and on....
FACT: Stress is a part of life, welcome to it.
FACT: Stress can be caused by something you have absolutely no control of.
FACT: More often than not for me, stress can be self-induced.
How is that? Well, there's two BIG reasons:
1. You have too much on your plate. You're spread so thin and moving in so many different directions at one time, you're not doing any of them to the best of your ability. Saying, "no," to things or clearing your schedule is a BLESSING, not a sign of weakness.
2. You have put too much weight or value on something that isn't really important, it doesn't have any eternal value or won't really matter five years from now.
FACT: How you handle or view stress is what makes all the difference in the world. There is hope.
It wasn't until the Lord gave me some proper perspective, that I finally got better about handling my stress. I remember it like it was yesterday. I came home during my first finals week to go to the doctor. I felt awful and guilty for every single minute I wasn't studying for my biology final. After my mom and I went to the doctor (I go by myself now, thank you), we went to Walmart to pick up a couple of things that would help me feel better (and a couple things off the grocery list). I had gone to get a new journal because I filled up my old one and then went to find Mom. I was having trouble finding her and ended up walking around and around and around the store looking for her. I remember telling Jesus in my mind (not out loud - pray without ceasing, y'all), "I feel like a fish in a fishbowl looking for her." Then BOOM. I got an instant reality check from Jesus.
When I got back on campus, I spent some time with Jesus and wrote down the reality check. On December 4, 2013 I wrote the blog "Fishbowl Perspective." For the sake of not having to click to another article, I'm just going to paste it below in italics.
"Well, it's that time in a college student's life… Exams.
On these exams rides all of my hopes of getting A's in all of my classes, having a fabulous GPA, and keeping my scholarship.
While I was considering all of this today, I felt trapped. Trapped in the expectations that I put on myself. Trapped in this seemingly never-ending route of doing my best and trying to get the grade. Trapped and going nowhere.
It kind of feels like being stuck in a fishbowl. A place with nowhere to go but in circles, doing the same thing over and over again.
My mom always told that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result each time. Let me tell you, this fishbowl I'm in feels like insanity.
Listen, I have put in the time studying. I have put in the time studying before for each test, each quiz and gave my 100 percent on every assignment. WHY AM I SO STRESSED?
Because in the fishbowl the same things keep coming up over and over again and instead of a different result, I fall back to the same thing over and over again. Swimming in circles.
Someone reading this might be saying, "Okay. I get it. What is your point?!"
My point is this: Everyone has their own fishbowl. Everyone has that one thing that makes them so frustrated or stressed or upset that they start swimming in circles. Everyone has one. As imperfect, stubborn humans, we all probably have more than one fishbowl.
The problem with the fishbowl is that the perspective is all wrong. In the fishbowl, swimming in circles, you can only see what is ahead of you. You're just looking at "What's next in this thing that makes me so frustrated, upset, or stressed?" You never take your eyes off of that thing. You just keep chasing it and swimming in circles.
Two of the BEST words in the Bible. A phrase so small that means so much.
Here is what God has to say about our fishbowls:
"For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and of sound mind."
2 Timothy 1:7
"But we have the mind of Christ…"
1 Corinthians 2:16
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight."
God hasn't given us a fishbowl with a fishy perspective. He has given us quite the opposite. He has given us a spirit of power, love, and sound mind. He has promised to make our paths straight if we just trust Him.
God doesn't put us in the fishbowl; our sinfulness, stubbornness, and pure humanity puts us in the fishbowl.
But God has given us the mind of Christ.
He gave us a vast ocean in all its infiniteness full of His marvelous grace, mercy, love, and glory! He wants us to swim in His ocean, in His waters. He doesn't want us to keep swimming in circles but He wants us to move forward. He wants us to have room to grow and to constantly ask, "What do you have for me next, God?" He will show you because He is the one who makes our paths straight.
The best part is, when we get stuck in our little fishbowl, He will show up. He will take us out of that fishbowl and put us in His ocean.
"They cried to the Lord in their trouble and He delivered them from their distress."
He delivers us. And because of that deliverance we are to worship Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. He is so worthy!
Thank you, Father, for your ocean of grace, mercy, love, and glory!"
Now when I find myself stressed out, whether it be because I said "yes" to too much or put too much value on that test or paper, I remind myself of those verses and take a step back to avoid putting myself in the fishbowl.
A lot of times I ask myself a variation of these questions:
Does this paper or test have an eternal value or glory? Nope.
Does it change at all the fact that I am a graduate? Nope.
Does it change the fact that I am a graduate student? Nope.
Does it change how my family sees me? No.
Does it change the way Jesus sees me? No.
Does continuing to stress about x, y, z change anything at all? No.
Okay. STOP IT.
Now don't get me wrong, some stress is good. But I think we all know what our "good stress" and "bad stress" feels like. Reciting those verses to myself, answering those questions, and taking a few deep breaths usually works for me. It may not be your thing. You'll just have to find what works for you. Here are a few things that work for my friends:
- LONG, hot showers. The more stressed she was, the longer the shower.
- 15 minute walk with some praise and worship music.
- Playing an instrument
- Watching a 20 minute Netflix show.
But for each of these friends, prayer was the main ingredient.
"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9
He's with you, dear friend. Trust Him. Rely on Him and give Him all your worry and stress. He's strong enough to handle it.
I have been sitting on some very exciting news for quite a while and I am THRILLED to finally share it with you!!
Many of you have said that you would love to go through Let's Be Brave but it's too much paper and ink to print it out and you want to be able to write and highlight all over the place. Well, I have a solution!
Let's Be Brave is officially PUBLISHED! You can get it on Kindle and in paperback form! The Kindle version is $4.99 and for the next couple of weeks, as a celebration, the paperback version will be only $5.99!
Two years ago when the Lord challenged me to start writing down all the things He was teaching me in that season and gave me the words "Let's Be Brave," I would have never imagined this. The glory goes to God alone! Thank you, Lord!
Click the link below to get your own copy!
Let's Be Brave Devotionals - Kindle and paperback