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Peace in the Chaos: Managing Stress During Holy Week

Mar 27, 2018 9:00:00 AM

Peace in the Chaos: Managing Stress During Holy Week

This is not a usual Concordia Technology Solutions blog post. In fact, there will be very little discussion about technology at all. No trends, no flashing doodads, no talk about social media or websites. Nope, this is more of a devotion for church workers and those heavily involved in a congregation’s ministry during Holy Week.

Grace, peace, and mercy to you from God the Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit. Amen.

First, a Story

I was prepared. I was ready. I had gone to classes for this. I had watched videos, videos that I wish I could wipe from my memory today. I had eaten right. Gotten a semi-decent night’s sleep. And . . . I was utterly useless for the most part. Turns out that while in the throes of labor before giving birth, many wives tend to vent at their husbands, and my wife and I were not an exception. I spent most of the labor sitting in the corner while our doula did an amazing job of helping my wife through. The story was similar when our second came along.

There are few places more stressful than a labor-and-delivery room at a hospital. It does not matter how much people have prepared. It does not matter if it is a first child or a fifth. There can be complications without a moment’s notice. Women still die giving birth, even in the “civilized” world. There is a danger to even perfectly healthy women that have had a perfectly healthy pregnancy with a baby that has tracked perfectly healthy while in utero.

So, it was interesting that the classes my wife and I took did not focus as much on what was going to occur (every labor is different) as they did on ways to manage stress and calm down to help the labor process.

In a situation like the birth of a child, it is easy to “lose your head,” so to speak. To get tense, to tighten up, to get on edge, to get overwhelmed with everything going on. What is the monitor saying right now? “Honey, do you want some ice chips? Yes, yes, I know I did this to you and it is not fair that I do not have to deliver a baby out of my body . . . but do you want some ice chips?” It has been six hours, is the baby close to being delivered? Okay, the nurse just stepped out to tell the doctor that she has five minutes before she needs to get here. . . . AND !!! THAT IS THE HEAD! WHERE IS THE NURSE?! OKAY, OKAY, CALM DOWN, YOU NEED TO BE FOCUSED IF YOU ARE ABOUT TO CATCH A WET BABY. . . . Are my hands washed? I CANNOT REMEMBER THE LAST TIME I WASHED THEM! MY BABY IS ABOUT TO BE BORN AND I AM ALREADY FAILING AS A FATHER. OH GOOD, THE NURSE JUST REALIZED WHAT IS HAPPENING AND PAGED THE DOCTOR AND EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OKAY! *Whew* (Yes, the doctor made it in time, and my hands were clean.)

Much of life is nowhere near as stressful as a labor-and-delivery room. However, we tend to be more like the Peter out on the water and not like the Peter in the boat.

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:22–33)

For a church worker or heavily involved lay person, Holy Week is often the sprint at the end of a marathon. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but first you have all the special services and events. In fact, Holy Week can seem a lot more like chaos than the culmination of a special season in the Church Year.

It is not a great thought to have. After all, who wants to think of one of the holiest days of the year, the day we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and the hope it brings, as some sort of finish line to cross? However, it is the reality of our sinful nature. Now, I am not here to bash you for that. You, reader, probably do that enough already. Instead, I am hoping to help you find some moments of peace in the midst of one of the busiest times of your year.

In the midst of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6, there is a poignant moment where Jesus speaks to our anxieties. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34). Of course, Jesus is talking about not being worried about what a person will eat or drink or where they will sleep. Still, the message is the same for other things.

It is important that we take care of ourselves. Eating well, getting decent sleep, and exercising will go a long way in helping to manage stress when it comes up. But, what can we do when the schedule is packed and we feel like we are juggling twelve different things while hopping on one foot and playing a banjo?

During this Holy Week, I want to encourage you to take some time for yourself. To take time to catch your breath and relax for at least a second. I am hoping to pass on some tips and tricks to help.

Head to God’s Word

Feeling stressed, burnt out, stretched too thin? Make sure you are spending time in God’s Word. Jesus Christ is our rest and we encounter Him in the Church and in His Word. Cast your cares upon Him. Luther was once asked how to pray by his barber, Peter. He then proceeded to write an open letter, which became one of Luther’s most widely circulated writings during his lifetime. In it, Luther is quite frank in saying that the task of daily prayer is one of the hardest things to do. He offers a way to do it, and openly states that somebody else might have an even better way. His first suggestion is to head to church if possible, especially if a Daily Office or Divine Service is taking place. He then tells his barber (and everybody else) that if that is not possible or if no service is taking place, they can recite the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostle’s Creed, and if time allows, to pray or meditate on a psalm from the psalter.

Luther is not much different from many church workers and volunteers today. In fact, we are very similar to doctors and nurses. We give the advice all the time, but we are pretty horrible at following our own directions. I have lost count of how many times I have seen doctors and nurses smoking or eating poorly. I have also lost count of how many church workers or volunteers are stressed and burning out but have no devotional life. Do not hear me wrong. I am not chastising. Rather, I am encouraging the vines to be connected to the branch.

Put It on Your Calendar

The easiest way to not overschedule or overwhelm yourself is to put a block on your calendar when nothing else can be scheduled. The idea behind this is similar to a couple scheduling a weekly or monthly date night. The goal is not for this to be the only time you catch a moment of peace during the day, but it does guarantee that you will have at least one time. So, if you need to head to the gym, put in on your calendar. Want to make sure you’re staying up on your daily devotions? Schedule them on your calendar.

Practice Guided Relaxation

I started off with the delivery-room story for a reason: I wanted to bring this up. Guided relaxation was something I had never come across in my life before attending pregnancy classes with my wife. In that context, we learned and practiced relaxation techniques to use during labor to help my wife relax during early labor. We tended to practice them at night and they were so effective that by the time I finished reading the scripts, my wife would be asleep. I will say that this practice is better to do with a partner if possible. And some scripts can cause you to crack up, especially the first few times you try them. Let me make something clear about this: I am not talking about guided meditation.

Take a Walk

Busy, stressed, hitting writer’s block, wondering how you are going to coordinate the volunteers for the Easter egg hunt? Take a fifteen-minute walk. Get outside if possible. Maybe even pray as you walk. Do not worry about answering emails or sending text messages. In fact, as you walk, do not do any work. Let your mind relax and wander. The walking will help your body and mind deal better with the stress, and the fifteen-minute break will help clear the clutter. If you have multiple people in your office and you see them doing the same thing, invite them to go along with you.

A Final Thought

When ending the rehearsal with a couple about to get married, I like to pass on what was told to me before my own wedding. The only things the attendees will know are not according to plan are if somebody collapses or if something catches on fire. In other words, whatever happens is what people will think is supposed to happen. Do not get stressed or irritated. One day you will look back and laugh. So, take a deep breath. It is going to be okay. With so many moving parts, it is ninety-nine percent guaranteed that at least one thing will not go as planned. Hey, that is life. So, this Holy Week, take some time to find peace in the midst of the chaos. Dive deep into the peace of Jesus, and relax.

God’s blessings to you all! In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Help your church reflect on the most important things in Holy Week with these free social graphics.

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Scripture quotations from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Rev. Daniel Ross

Written by Rev. Daniel Ross

Rev. Daniel Ross is the pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Topeka, Kansas. A graduate of the University of Central Oklahoma and Concordia Seminary, Daniel is passionate about bringing God’s love to people. Originally technologically ignorant and averse, Daniel has embraced and come to enjoy the opportunities that technology has opened up in spreading the Gospel to all nations throughout the world. He and his wife have two young children. He enjoys fishing, reading, and spending time with his family. If you follow him on Twitter, you will come to realize that he is an avid Oklahoma Sooner fan.