Entering into the holiday season is like navigating a minefield. Family issues. Financial woes. You can never be entirely sure whether your very next step will land upon a hidden mine, and even when it does, it’s up in the air as to whether the thing will go off or not.
The fact is that as wonderful as the holidays can be, this season is also full of stressful events, circumstances and people, and different combinations of these triggers can cause entirely different stressed reactions in us. One week, it might be an event that causes problems for you. Then, the following week, the event itself could no longer be a problem for you personally, but now it’s someone else’s reaction to the event that causes issues. And the following week they’ve calmed down, and you’re OK too, but the event has sudden, unexpected consequences. And those circumstances are about to create their own special form of havoc in your life.
When you suffer from stress reactions, conventional wisdom is to apply yourself to the problem itself. People will tell you to look at the trigger, ask you what’s occurred and how it can be fixed so that your stress will just magically go away, as if the problem is your environment.
That’s the human race’s answer to almost everything, when you think about it. We’re past masters at redesigning the world around us for comfort and convenience, often at the expense of others. Our environment is constantly being redefined to allow us to live stress-free lives, and when it comes to things like medicine, communications technology and great scientific developments that enhance and extend the quality of life for our children and our children’s children, it’s difficult to disagree with that kind of thinking.
But we cannot remove every stress trigger from our lives.
It can’t be done. It shouldn’t be done.
For a start, there are so many varieties of triggers in our lives today that removing all of them is a full time job in and of itself. That amount of hard, futile work sounds pretty stressful. Not only that, but some triggers are useful, or even vital. An overwhelming workload can force us to become more organized to cope with it. A difficult child may be calling our attention to medical issues that have been missed, like dyslexia or anorexia. Simply removing the stress trigger doesn’t necessarily help us in the long term. In fact, we might end up missing out on something amazing.
No, environmental factors are good to plan around, and of course some can be fixed or tweaked to remove certain issues from our lives… but it’s us that causes the problem.
Stress is an inside job.
We do it to ourselves, and that’s what really hurts. Who we are in the word is a product of our upbringing, our experiences and a set of learned behaviors that were hammered into us by a worldly, carnal system of values.
It’s conditioning. Like the rats in a maze that have learned which paths lead to shocks and which to meals.
We take on negative experiences and traumatic occasions and treat those stress triggers as hard-wired truths.
“Don’t do this, because then that will happen.”
“Follow the rules of common sense and received wisdom.”
“Everyone else is doing this, so we should follow suit. Consensus is king.”
That’s partly why people who aren’t in the Kingdom can have such a hard time understanding some of the tenets of the way we live our lives. They’re still living in the world, and what we do in discarding that outer self seems counter-intuitive.
But of course, those tenets are the only real way to deal with the stress of living. There are always going to be difficult times, and difficult people making those times more difficult. What needs to change isn’t the circumstances. We are what needs to change, and God made provision for that when He placed us in Christ.
“This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind,having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.But you have not so learned Christ,if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus:that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts,and be renewed in the spirit of your mind,and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”
– Ephesians 4:17-24
Our thinking is informed by our experience. Our old self experienced hurt and rejection and learned to avoid embracing others. Our new self experiences the bottomless, unconditional love and acceptance of God. It learns that embracing others can be a default position, regardless of whether they make it easy for us.
Our old self experienced trials and tribulations and learned to flinch at the merest hint of trouble like a scalded child or a whipped dog. Our new self experiences the same trials and tribulations as opportunities to demonstrate Christ within us and to advance and grow in the Spirit, welcoming adversity with a smile.
When we discard our outer selves and begin to dwell upon the inner self, we begin to replace those learned behaviors and conditioned responses with new experiences; experiences that flow from a positive empowerment rather than a negative reinforcement.
Our old natures are a patchwork quilt: a badly stitched, haphazard product of the outcomes of poor choices and fear. Our new natures are from Heaven. They are a uniform, consistent, logical product of the way that the Father thinks about us in Christ and acts towards us in the Spirit.
The more we replace our outer, older selves with our inner, newer selves, the more we become walking advertisements for Heaven.
Where there is negativity, you won’t find Jesus, because He has better things to do with His time, and now, so do we. If you find yourself dwelling on the negative, your thoughts circling hate, anger and fear, then your older self still clings to you in some way. Ignore it. It belongs to someone who is dead in us, and dead in Jesus. We don’t talk to our old, outer selves. We don’t counsel them, deal with their bad behavior, and apologize for their outbursts and mutterings. That’s the best way to give them credibility and allow them a foothold in our lives again.
We replace the old. We don’t remodel it or paint over it. There is only one voice to focus on: the voice of the Spirit. It’s the voice of the Father talking to His Son. It’s a voice born of abiding love and ultimate, overpowering grace. It’s a voice that promises rest, and peace, and a quiet joy. All other voices must be put in their places.
This is the joy of self-control. We get to see the difference between old and new, and make decisions in our lives accordingly. There’s something incredibly empowering about saying NO to the old and Yes to the new. Something deeply satisfying and powerfully renewing.
We are no longer at the mercy of the world, and the environmental factors that built our old selves.
We are no longer tossed from pillar to post, always done to, but never doing.
We are no longer passive participants in our own lives.
We threw out that way of thinking when we discarded our older selves. In fact, that way of thinking was finished back during the very first holiday season.
P.S. Where in your life can you start saying “no” to your old way of thinking?
P.P.S. Secret Sayings, Hidden Meanings: Practical Wisdom for a Post-Modern World is currently a free download. Be sure to get it while it’s still available: books.noisetrade.com/grahamcooke/secret-sayings-hidden-meanings