I will venture to say that most of us ladies, if not all, desire to live a life free of stressful situations that drag us down and hinder our spiritual growth. Stressful situations can come about for various reasons, but for now, let’s explore just a few that we experience.
Avoid Letting Bad Habits and Attitudes Grow
Our spiritual growth is easier if we are not bogged down by ingrained, negative habits. This is why it is so important that we keep our children from developing such habits as they grow up, by teaching them to get along with each other.
I am very blessed to be able to say that my siblings and I were taught to love, care for, respect, and be protective of each other. If any negative behavior began to appear, my mother would nip it in the bud, just as godly wisdom instructs: "The beginning of strife is like releasing water; therefore stop contention before a quarrel starts" (Proverbs 17:14). I am thankful to this day for the peace I grew up with at home. It was priceless—and stress-free.
Observation has shown me what can come of not having that peace. I have known siblings (outside the Church) who literally hated each other due to negative habits they never outgrew.
I once knew a family (again, outside the Church) whose members, even though they had strong family ties, had difficulty getting along with each other, especially at family dinners or other get-togethers. Most of the siblings had strong-willed personalities and strongly differing views and opinions on various subjects. So, at family gatherings, their conversations would quite often turn into heated arguments—each one being "wise in his or her own eyes." This is a source of great contention: "Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and depart from evil" (Proverbs 3:7). How much better their relationships would be if they could follow God's instruction: "Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion" (Romans 12:16).
Go the Distance to Make Amends
A few weeks ago, I came across a film that piqued my interest, called "The Straight Story." It is based on the journey of a man named Alvin Straight. In the film, Alvin, though ailing and elderly, decides to make amends with his brother, Lyle, from whom he is estranged. His brother lives several states away, and Mr. Straight cannot drive, so he has to find another way to reach him.
At the beginning of the film, Alvin is at a John Deere tractor supply store, where he buys a small tractor. After he takes the tractor home, he rigs a trailer to the back of it that will hold camping equipment and has space enough for him to sleep.
He has heard that his brother has been seriously ill and hospitalized. When people ask him what his plans are for the tractor, he tells them that he has been at odds with his brother for quite some time, and that they have not spoken in ten years. He says that if he can just humble himself enough, he is going to drive hundreds of miles across the country and make amends with his brother.
The film chronicles his journey in a heartwarming and effective way, as it shows people he meets along his route and the profound effect he has on their lives. I will relate one such incident here.
As Alvin drives along the highway, he passes a pregnant teenage girl who is hitchhiking. He perceives that she has run away from home. Later in the evening, he stops for the night, sets up camp, and builds a campfire. A few minutes later, the teenage girl comes walking up to where he is and asks if she can camp nearby for the night. Of course, he says yes, because he knows she will feel safer there. As they sit by his campfire, they talk about the importance of family, and the conversation apparently makes a positive impact on her. He knows that her family must be worried sick, wondering where she is and how she is doing. The next morning, the girl is gone. She has returned home to those who love her.
When Alvin finally arrives at his brother's home and parks the tractor, he calls out toward the cabin, which is a bit uphill. He calls three times before his brother finally appears at the door, holding onto a walker. His brother calls back, incredulously, "Is that you?" Alvin replies, "Yes, it is." So, his brother tells him to come on up. They each sit in a rocking chair on the porch, not saying anything for a few minutes—no words are needed. It appears as if each one is trying to sort out his thoughts and emotions, yet savor the moment at the same time. In this touching scene, it seems clear that these brothers were once very close.
Finally, Alvin's brother asks him about the rigged-up tractor, almost in a state of disbelief: "Did you ride that thing all the way out here to see me?" Alvin replies, "I did, Lyle." At that moment, they both know that peace has been made between them—they are true and close brothers again.
The film is dedicated to Mr. Alvin Straight, who really did drive a piece of lawn equipment hundreds of miles to make amends with his brother.
Being at odds with others can cause unnecessary stress for everyone concerned. As Christian women, we must strive to eliminate this kind of stress by overcoming any animosity we may have toward others. We can do this through the power and help of God's Holy Spirit.
Learn to Avoid Regrettable Decisions
Other sources of stress that can hinder our spiritual growth are regrettable choices. A friend of mine asked me to write about an experience that she had in this area, in the hope that it might be of help to others. I told her that I would.
She had been speaking with a single person who had been searching for a mate in the Church, but to no avail, and who was seriously thinking about looking outside of the Church for someone to marry. This deeply affected my friend, who almost blurted out, "No! Don't do that! Don't even think about it!" However, she controlled her emotions and regained her composure. My friend then counseled the discouraged single that she had done that herself in her youth, and it had turned out badly.
Here is how she explained her experience, both to me and to her friend. From early childhood, she had attended Church services with her parents and siblings. However, when she was in her late teens, she stopped attending for a while. During this time, she met a young man and chose to marry him—against all wise counsel. She said that she just would not listen to anyone.
After a while, she began attending Church services again, and was subsequently baptized. Her marriage was relatively happy and sound for quite a few years, and her husband even at times tried to understand the Church's teachings, but he was apparently not being called to true godly knowledge at that time. My friend thought that things were still going along quite well—until the day her husband came to her with an unexpected request. He asked her for a divorce, saying that he had met someone else. He also told her that she needed to marry someone of her own faith.
This marriage had certainly not turned out well for her. In retrospect, she realized that she had, indeed, made a most regrettable decision in her life, which ended up becoming almost too stressful to bear. But with God's help, she came through it.
I am pleased to say that my friend is now married to a Church member, and they are serving hand-in-hand in God's Church, together.
Don't Let Physical Changes Inhibit Spiritual Growth
Another area that I would like to address, which I have written about briefly before, is that of going through menopause and its accompanying symptoms. For some women, menopause can take only a few years to pass, but for others, symptoms can begin at the age of forty and continue for ten or twelve years (twelve for me).
At the beginning of the process, a woman begins to lose estrogen, which creates a hormonal imbalance to which her body has to adjust and adapt. This, in turn, causes symptoms that for some may be somewhat mild but for others can be very serious and problematic, such as raw and jagged nerves, irritability, heavy flow, night sweats to the point of having to rise in the middle of the night and change the bed sheets (my husband never complained—he understood), lack of energy, and more. One week or two of a month can be more problematic than others. Prayer certainly helps, and it also helps to have an understanding husband, one who can discern when his wife can use a comforting embrace and when she may just need some space. It is also helpful for a husband to kneel down with her—at her request, when her nerves are about to get the best of her—and pray for her, asking God to calm her nerves and give her peace of mind.
It is amazing what God can do. There is calm and peace only He can give.
Seek First the Kingdom
It is very important not to neglect our spiritual lives during stressful times, but instead to keep growing in God's righteous character. No matter the circumstances, we can become productive tools in His hands and overcome stress—if we seek to be a part of God's wonderful family in His Kingdom (Matthew 6:33).