Stress Is Sin… Literally
by Ann Voskamp
Stress isn’t only a joy stealer. The way we respond to it can be sin. I stand in the laundry room looking out at the barn, knowing that stress stands in direct opposition to what He directly, tenderly commands: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me” (John 14:1 NIV, emphasis added). I know an untroubled heart relaxes, trusts, leans assured into His ever-dependable arms. Trust, it’s the antithesis of stress. “Oh, the joys of those who trust the LORD” (Psalm 40:4). But how to learn trust like that? Can trust be conjured up simply by sheer will, on command? I’ve got to get this thing, what it means to trust, to gut-believe in the good touch of God toward me, because it’s true: I can’t fill with joy until I learn how to trust: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow” (Romans 15:13 NIV, emphasis added). The full life, the one spilling joy and peace, happens only as I come to trust the caress of the Lover, Lover who never burdens His children with shame or self-condemnation but keeps stroking the fears with gentle grace.
How can I trust when a troubled, joy-shriveled heart has pumped fear through the stiff veins of all my years?
I exhale. I’m still all knotted.
If I believe, then I must let go and trust. Why do I stress? Belief in God has to be more than mental assent, more than a cliched exercise in cognition. Even the demons believe (James 2:19). What is saving belief if it isn’t the radical dare to wholly trust? I read it in one of the thick commentaries, that two hundred twenty times that word pisteuo is used in the New Testament, most often translated as “belief.” But it changes everything when I read that pisteuo ultimately means “to put one’s faith in; to trust.” 1 Belief is a verb, something that you do.
Then the truth is that authentic, saving belief must be also? The very real, everyday action of trusting.
Then a true saving faith is a faith that gives thanks, a faith that sees God, a faith that deeply trusts? How would eucharisteo help me trust?
I read the verse several times in the Amplified Bible on an afternoon while young hands work scales up and down the piano keys, “Jesus replied, ‘This is the work (service) that God asks of you: that you believe in the One Whom He has sent [that you cleave to, trust, rely on, and have faith in His Messenger]’ ” (John 6:29 AMP). That’s my daily work, the work God asks of me? To trust. The work I shirk. To trust in the Son, to trust in the wisdom of this moment, to trust in now. And trust is that: work. The work of trusting love. Intentional and focused. Sometimes, too often, I don’t want to muster the energy. Stress and anxiety seem easier. Easier to let a mind run wild with the worry than to exercise discipline, to reign her in, slip the blinders on and train her to walk steady in certain assurance, not spooked by the specters looming ahead. Are stress and worry evidences of a soul too lazy, too undisciplined, to keep gaze fixed on God? To stay in love? I don’t like to ask these questions, sweep out these corners where eyes glare from shadows. But this I must ask and I do, out loud, to the C-scale being played with certainty: Isn’t joy worth the effort of trust?
Because I kid no one: stress brings no joy.
In fact, stress may be far worse than that: “He who believes [who adheres to and trusts in and relies on the Gospel and Him Whom it sets forth]… will be saved…; but he who does not believe [who does not adhere to and trust in and rely on the Gospel and Him Whom it sets forth] will be condemned” (Mark 16:16 AMP).
Without trust in the good news of Jesus, without trust in the good news of God’s saving work even in this moment, without an active, moment-by-moment trust in the good news of an all-sovereign, all-good God, how can we claim to fully believe? This is the trust I lack: to know that if disaster strikes, He carries me even there. Trust in the wholeness of the gospel—including this moment, good news too—and be saved. Choose stress, worry, anxiety, reject what God has given now, which is good news too—refuse to trust—and be condemned.
I’ve just begun to feel around the outside edges of it, here in crumbling economics, the fretfulness of parenting, the dizziness of the twenty-first-century spin. Just begun to realize it, and it catches in the throat:
If authentic, saving belief is the act of trusting, then to choose stress is an act of disbelief… atheism.
Anything less than gratitude and trust is practical atheism.
I wince. Perhaps the opposite of faith is not doubt. Perhaps the opposite of faith is fear. To lack faith perhaps isn’t as much an intellectual disbelief in the existence of God as fear and distrust that there is a good God. If I donÕt emotionally believe, practically believe, in the goodness of God, am I a believer? Don’t the believers have to believe? Don’t the saved have to trust the Savior? For yes, salvation from sins, but this too: the salvation from fear.
True, certainly, there are organic, biological causes to anxiety, and there may certainly be underlying chemical issues that warrant medication. I have filled prescriptions. This has been right. All anxiety is not spiritual. And yet I know and haltingly confess: Much of the worry in my own life has been a failure to believe… a wariness to thank and trust the love hand of God.
I make soup and I bake bread and I know my supreme need is joy in God and I know I can’t experience deep joy in God until I deep trust in God. I shine sinks and polish through to the realization that trusting God is my most urgent need. If I deep trusted God in all the facets of my life, wouldn’t that deep heal my anxiety, my self-condemnation, my soul holes?
The fear is suffocating, terrorizing, and I want the remedy, and it is trust. Trust is everything.
If fear keeps our lives small, does a life that receives all of God in this moment grow large too?
I light candles and slice bread for dinner.
Ann Voskamp is a writer with DaySpring (a division of Hallmark), a contributing editor to Laity Lodge’s The High Calling, and a global advocate for the poor traveling for Compassion International. With an educational background in psychology and education from York University and the University of Waterloo, Ann and her husband are farmers in the Mennonite countryside of southwestern Ontario, raising a half dozen kids, crops of corn, and the roof in praise. She writes every day about the everyday wonder every day at www.aholyexperience.com.
Taken from One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. Copyright © 2011. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.