Heaven’s Way to Manage Stress
As soon as Elijah heard about jezebel’s intentions, he called his servant and fled with him to Beersheba – about ninety-five miles away. Then he left his servant there and went a day’s journey into the desert by himself. Altogether, Elijah must have walked for an entire week at a steady, fast pace – after all, he was fleeing from death! Then he sat down by a broom tree, asked the Lord to take his life, and fell asleep.
In the emergency, God sent an angel to help the exhausted prophet. To end his thoughts of death and dying, he needed nourishment and sleep. Food excites most people, especially those with that good appetite, and Elijah must have had a fierce appetite after several days of hiking. No doubt the “cake” of bread cooked on coals and the jug of water must have been very restorative – after all, it was food prepared by an angel!
I’m not sure what would be the modern Middle Eastern equivalent to this bread, but in the Far East it would have to be something like a bibingka. Bibingkas are cakes of rice flour, coconut milk, and sugar, which are wrapped in Banana leaves and baked on burning coals.
Sometimes, fasting is good, but not when the spirit is abased. Food can supply not only nutrition but also the good mood so necessary for the stressed soul. And sleep follows in the angelic prescription. So, Elijah took a siesta after his celestial meal.
Perhaps the Spanish custom that shocks visitors the most is that of the lunchtime siesta. That meal, eaten at about two in the afternoon, tends to be the heaviest one of the day, and it’s followed by a one – to two-hour long nap – the siesta. Most working people live close to their job sites, which makes it easy for them to go home for munch and siesta. And most jobs build their schedule around this practice: People work from 9 am to 2 pm and 4 pm to 7 pm. Sometimes, foreign tourist find it irritating because, with a few exceptions in the large cities, shops, museums, and other places of interest are closed for two hour (three in the summer) in the middle of the day. They don’t know what to do with themselves during that time. But dividing the day into two distinct blocks separated by food, fellowship, and sleep breaks the stress of a full day’s work.
The angel woke Elijah from his second nap and asked him to eat again as the journey was going to be a long one – he had to cover nearly two hundred miles to get to Mount Horeb (Mount Sinai). Ah, Physical exercise works marvels for the stressed and strained! It’s not used enough.
Robert E. Thayer, wrote a book entitled Calm Energy. The cook is a collection of results of research done by the author and others on how people regulate mood with food and exercise. I learned a number of practical mental health interventions as well as personal applications.
One of the studies assessed the subjective energy effects of 10 minutes of brisk walking as measured 30, 60, and 120 minutes after the exercise. Remarkably, ten minutes of exercise increases people’s energy levels significantly for sixty minutes. Furthermore, results showed that those who exercised still had increases energy (weak but significant levels) even after two hours! The biggest finding of this and the other studies reported in the book is that physical exercise – even just twenty minutes of it – produces two changes in moon; First, feelings of energy, refreshment and revival; and second, feelings of happiness, joy and pleasure. I’ve has the chance to verify this myself on endless occasions.
After strenuous exercise, Elijah covered all the distance to Mount Sinai in “forty days and forty nights” (I Kings 19:8). When he reached that mountain, he met with the Lord, heard His voice, and received the instructions for the tasks he would carry out before his departure to heaven. And though he continued to act as a prophet on these missions, we don’t find him distressed anymore.
We know that after Elijah’s intense life, his end was glorious. He was taken from earth to heaven in a whirlwind escorted by a chariot of fire and horses of fire (see II Kings 2:11). We don’t now what he’s doing in heaven, but we know of one assignment carried out a few centuries after he got there: God sent Elijah and Moses, both experienced in human toil, from heaven to a mountain in Palestine to encourage Jesus before His passion and crucifixion.
Jesus Anti-Stress Strategies
Jesus through His words and example, offered practical advice on how we can manage our daily stress. It was through His closeness to His Father and the support He received from others, such as His friends in Bethany, that He was able to face the heavy demands He experienced every day in healing, preaching, feeding multitudes, being tempted, and being persecuted by various groups of people. We can certainly extract lessons from what gospels tell us about Jesus.
Jesus bolstered His relationship with His Father through prayer and meditation. Mark tells us, for instance, that “very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35). At times, Jesus invited His disciples to join Him. “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” He said (Mark 6:31). Prayer in the quiet of the morning or evening may be the only time we can be impressed by the voice of God and receive the energy and wisdom to face the challenges life brings to us.
Jesus also found relief in fellowship. We find Him at times retiring to the house of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. And He made sure that his disciples got some recreation. Jesus understood the needs His disciples had upon returning from a stressful mission. “Their labor had greatly elated and encouraged them, but it had also worn upon them,” she wrote. Then Jesus led them to a desert place, which
did not mean a waste and solitary wilderness, but a place of retirement and quiet, pleasant to the eyes and invigorating to the body. They sought such a place near a favorite a favorite resort on the Sea of Galilee. . . . The Christian life is not made up of unceasing activity or of continual mediation. . . . (Jesus) knew that a season of rest and recreation, apart from the multitude and the scene of (the disciples’) labors, would invigorate them, and He sought to withdraw them from the busy cities to a quiet resort where they might have a season of precious fellowship with Him and with each other. . . . The disciples of Jesus needed to be educated as to how they should labor and how they should rest. Today there is need that God’s chosen workmen should listen to the command of Christ to go apart and rest awhile.
We can also reduce stress through work – not just any kind of work, but labor to bring relief to others. Jesus’ life was fundamentally selfless. He constantly used His energy to serve others. IN a sermon, Peter summarized the life of Jesus as going “around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil” (Acts 10:38).
People who engage in voluntary work, community projects, and so forth, report greater feelings of well-being and satisfaction than people who don’t. Allan Luks and Peggy Payne studied 3,296 volunteers in Big Brothers/Big Sisters program in New York City. Ninety-Fiver percent of the volunteers reported a general sense of well-being and a growth in self-esteem They also tended to perceive their negative experiences as minimal ones.
If you are under a great deal of stress, you may need to put down those papers, tools, thoughts, or whatever and try to reflect on how Jesus dealt with overwork. And remember His promise: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest, take my yoke upon you and learn from me. For I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matthew 11:28, 29).