I’m sitting with friends in a coffee shop. One describes a recent situation in her life that left her feeling drained and discouraged. It relates to her work, and if she chooses, she doesn’t have to deal with this particular circumstance again. She asks, “But isn’t suffering just part of the Christian life? Don’t I just have to put up with this?”
My friend is lovely and kind, smart and devoted to helping others. Her question comes from the best of intentions, and I love her for it. I’ve heard similar questions from people in my past work as a counselor and life coach. I’ve asked this kind of question myself. But this morning I have an ah-ha moment along with my almond milk latte.
I think of a phrase about Jesus from Hebrews, “for the joy set before him he endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal discovered people are better able to deal with stress (let’s use that word rather than “suffering” because it’s more common and less loaded) when they’re pursuing a goal. We can endure the discomfort and pain of now when we think of future benefits — the joy set before us.
When we find ourselves experiencing stress, we can pause and ask ourselves these two questions:
- What is the joy set before me? When I run, it’s uncomfortable, but I know it will make me stronger. If someone chooses to overcome an addiction, it’s challenging, but there’s freedom at the finish line. If we take on a project at work because we believe in the good it can do, we’re driven to make the sacrifices needed to make it a reality. If we envision the people our children will one day become, the dirty diapers and sleepless nights can be meaningful, not just mundane. Being clear about the joy set before us is empowering.
- If I can’t think of any joy set before me and this stress is optional, do I need to eliminate it from my life? This is the somewhat scandalous question that’s actually more relevant to the conversation I had with my friend at the coffee shop, and to many of us.
Author and researcher Marcus Buckingham did a study with thousands of women to discover what made them thrive. The results weren’t what we might expect. What mattered wasn’t a woman’s income, marital status, whether or not she had children, or any other external factor. The women who thrived spent more time each day in moments that made them feel stronger, that led them toward more joy in the long-term.
Buckingham says in Find Your Strongest Life, “You must face up to the fact that some moments have negative energy for you. They are emotionally draining. Trying to put a positive charge on these weak moments is, at best, a short-term survival strategy: it may help you get through the day, but, over time, it will hollow out your life.”
Yes, we will all experience stress and face challenges. But as women we often do things out of guilt, obligation, an attempt to meet expectations, a desire to please people, fear, or a false belief we have to be perfect. We put ourselves at higher risk for burnout, depression, and anxiety.
It’s okay to pause and look at what’s draining or discouraging us. It’s necessary to let go of what continually diminishes our souls. It’s wisdom, not weakness, to be intentional with our experiences, emotion, and energy. It’s responsible to release what God never intended us to carry so we can move forward in love and freedom. Sometimes the most spiritual response to stress is persevering, and sometimes it’s walking away.
Let’s dare to start asking each other a new question, “What’s the joy set before you? What’s the joy set before me?” Then let’s take the next brave step God has for us without guilt, shame, or apology.
It’s responsible to release what God never intended us to carry so we can move forward in love and freedom. - @holleygerth Click To Tweet