A Different Kind of Stress
[Guest Post by Bonnie Gray – I was surprised to find the answers I was looking for in her new book Finding Spiritual Whitespace. I think all of us at some point in our life think we just have to try or pray harder. Do more. I love, love, love her story. If you’re stressed out today, I know you’ll be encouraged by Bonnie’s fresh word!]
Can we ever be free from stress? Stress seems to be so embedded in our modern lives, we’ve come to breathe it like oxygen.
Emails, Twitter, doctor appointments, and a to-do list filled with growing unchecked boxes are all part of my reality.
Is it realistic to expect a stress-free life?
I’ve lived a lot of my life hiding from my heart, reducing everything to a minimum. I did do less. But paring down to the bare essentials made me lose a sense of wonder.
Introverts or extroverts, we were never made to only do life as maintenance. God designed us to be fully alive: creative, renewed by a sense of adventure, engaged with community, and soul-fed.
Without these elements of creativity, adventure, community, and soul care, we experience a different kind of stress.
I don’t want to make a reentry into striving a stream of new endeavors either, like stepping into the California rivers for whitewater rafting. Everything looks calm on the outside, but the underlying currents threaten to pull me under.
Are we left to choose only between inactivity or overactivity? As people of faith, our focus goes beyond avoiding stress.
We pursue the opposite.
We pursue rest.
After PTSD entered my life, I couldn’t socialize with people like I used to or do life like I once did. I could hardly keep track of my car keys.
I look out from my post-PTSD life and all I see is desert. I see nothing.
What do I do with my life? What do I do with these empty spaces? You’d think the concept of whitespace came through some inspiring moment walking through a ﬁeld of wildﬂowers. But “feeding my soul” sounded too right-brain. Too touchy-feely. So God prompted my ﬁrst steps through what was initially most accessible:
my left brain.
God knew this about my personality: my desire to pursue. So he put me on the journey to rest by pointing me to a new ambition. It’s ironic. The idea of spiritual whitespace came to me while reading a blog on business strategies and innovation.
I was reading an article written by Matthew May called “Break Through by Taking Breaks.” It offered scientific evidence that down time is required for creativity and new thinking. Archimedes discovered volume displacement while taking a bath. Einstein’s theory of special relativity came while he was daydreaming, and author J. K. Rowling sat traveling on a train when the Harry Potter character “flashed in her mind.”1
Ever wonder why our best ideas come when we’re in the shower, driving, daydreaming, or sleeping?
When you look deeper into these brilliant ﬂashes of insight you can see they came at strange times and in random locations. They didn’t occur while actually working on the problem but after an intense, prolonged struggle with it followed by a break. A change of scene and time away played a part.2
It was fascinating to learn that “putting pressure on ourselves to try and work harder, more intensely, or more quickly may only slow down our ability to arrive at new insights.”3
If this is true in the worlds of art and science, what would be the implications for our relationships with God—in spirituality and faith? The biggest lightbulb moment struck me. I had been desperately trying to connect with God by doing the same things. I thought I needed to try harder.
What’s wrong with me?
Nothing. I needed something different.
I typed in rest into my computer to do a word search in the Bible. What I found stunned me to the core.
Rest. It sounds inactive, doesn’t it?
I was surprised to find that rest is one of only three ambitions that God explicitly calls out in the Bible. The other two are preaching the gospel and pleasing God.4
We urge you, brethren, to excel still more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet [restful] life. (1 Thess. 4:10–11)
Turns out hesuchazo—the Greek word used for quiet and rest— is as important as preaching the gospel and pleasing God. The more I’m able to enjoy rest, the more others will see God’s life in me. When my soul is at rest, I am free to please God right where I am.
I was intrigued. I had always centered my thinking on pleasing God and preaching the gospel through what I did. But now, suddenly God put a big spotlight on hesuchazo. God was asking me to excel—“still more”—by making it my ambition to lead a quiet and restful life.
My heart skipped a beat. This is what has been missing. Rest.
Hesuchazo became the match that ignited the ﬁre of the Holy Spirit in spiritual whitespace.
We were never made to only do life as maintenance. God designed us to be fully alive: creative, engaged with community, and renewed by a sense of adventure.
As people of faith, our focus goes beyond avoiding stress. We pursue the opposite. We pursue rest.
Our ambition is spiritual rest.
Bonnie Gray is the founder of Faith Barista, a contributor to Crosswalk.com, and a featured writer for DaySpring’s popular (in)courage blog. Her writing is nationally syndicated and has been spotlighted in Christianity Today and McClatchy-Tribune News Services. She has served as a missionary, a ministry entrepreneur, and worked in high tech as an engineering and marketing program manager. A passionate speaker who inspires audiences to find God in everyday life, Bonnie lives in Silicon Valley with her husband, Eric, and their two sons. Learn more at www.faithbarista.com.
[Excerpt taken from Finding Spiritual Whitespace by Bonnie Gray, published by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2012. Used by permission. All rights to this material are reserved. Material is not to be reproduced, scanned, copied, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without written permission from Baker Publishing Group.]