You’ve heard it said that hungry stomachs have no ears, implying that the Gospel is neutered if it doesn’t take into account the here and now and not just the hereafter.  The same can be said about stressed-out teens don’t give a rip about Jesus if He can’t impact their lives immediately.  In a culture that moves as fast as our stress is just the name of the game.  Those of us living with high levels of stress seem to think this is an acceptable consequence of preparing for a pursuit of the American Dream (one that no longer exists by the way). We, as a culture, are flaming out in alarming numbers and it’s largely due to the perception that Jesus doesn’t really make a difference in helping me manage my increasingly burdened life.

Stress is simply the experience of environmental problems and the lack of resources (internal and/or external) to do anything about them.  The many stressors one might encounter on any given day and the stress they induce is directly related to the individual’s perception and their capabilities to cope with the stressors.  This is often referred to as the Stress Response of fight or flight.  Causes of stress or potential stressors have been commonly and straightforwardly defined as experiencing negative events.  These events have a cumulative effect so an increased number of stressful events experienced in a relatively short period of time compounds the effects of stress and makes coping with them more difficult.  Now add to it the pressure to commit to youth ministry expectations, demands, and beliefs.  Jesus = more stress!

Our reality is that while the gospel never changes, nor does God, how they intersect with someone’s life does.  For one individual it is simply an academic exercise of reading and understanding the written Word in order to bring about change in their heart.  Yet, for another, it may be the friendship of a gospel messenger that communicates the love of the God to an otherwise marginalized individual.  Still, yet, there is the one that brings immediate relief to a hopeless and helpless person in the form of much-needed resources, such as; food, water, or shelter.  It can also be the concerned youth worker that engages a young person in a mentoring relationship and in the context of that relationship equips them with very practical coping skills that allow them to manage the stressors in their life.  That’s the beauty and mystery of the gospel; it is whatever the individual needs it to be.  God meets us at our need!  That is Good News!

Come to me all of 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.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.  Matthew 11:28-30

The Yoke of Oppression vs. the Yoke of Christ

Stress is oppressive.  Stress smothers us until we cannot breathe anymore.  It holds one captive and can control them when there is a lack of coping skills available.  It forces one to rely on the “stress response” system of “fight or flight” and creates an ongoing sense of anxiety and/or anger in the individual.  The yoke of Christ is easy.  It is freeing in its call to submission.  It says to the one yoked, “I will gently guide you through whatever you are facing.”  It is protective by its very nature and contributes to an underlying sense of peace.  This is due to the idea that one does not have to carry their burden alone.

We youth workers can reduce to potential for burnout by developing coping skills endorsed in the Scriptures.  Coping can be defined as a set of responses, cognitive or behavioral, that people use to deal with problematic events and to avoid being harmed by life’s stressors.  Coping refers to a set of purposeful individual reactions to those stressors.  It is a reaction to stressors that resolves, reduces or replaces the unhelpful stressful state.  It is the process by which one manages the demands of the environment that are stressful and the accompanying emotions of stress.

Professionals have identified six major areas from which people draw from in order to cope:

1.)  Health and Energy:  These are important resources because an individual who is sick or tired has less energy than a healthy person to expend on coping.  We have a limited, but replenishable supply of energy.  This energy is fueled by glucose.  What we eat and how we treat our bodies has a lot to do with how we manage life’s difficulties.  1 Corinthians 6:19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own.

2.)  Positive Beliefs:  Viewing oneself positively and believing that life outcomes are controllable and will be positive.  Jeremiah 29:11 – For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

3.)  Problem-Solving Skills:  The ability to search for information, generate alternative courses of action, weigh alternatives with respect to outcome, and select and implement an appropriate plan of action.  Proverbs 2

4.)  Social Skills:  The ability to communicate and behave in ways that are socially appropriate and effective.  Romans 14:13Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.

5.)  Social Support:  Emotional, informational, spiritual and/or tangible support from others.  Ecclesiastes 4:12Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

6.)  Material Resources:  Money and goods and services money can buy.  James 2:15-16 – If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?

People use internal and external assets (psychological and social) and specific coping skills to manage stress.  Resources are what is available to people to develop coping repertoires.  External assets found through social networks such as youth ministry, small groups, counseling, family members, etc., that are potential sources of support.  Internal assets are the personality characteristics that people draw on from within such as conviction, courage, stress tolerance, and skills to help them withstand potential stressors.  It goes without saying that people with limited assets will struggle more and will have a higher likelihood of being overwhelmed with stress.

So…what impact should this have on us as youth workers?

Here are 5 practical suggestions aimed at helping one prevent stress or manage stressors real time:

1.)     Express yourself:  The Scriptures are full of God’s people calling out to Him who are frustrated, afraid, deeply saddened, overjoyed, excited and passionate.  Somewhere along the way we were taught that as Christians we can’t emote because feelings aren’t trustworthy.  While that may be true their expression is often essential in relieving the stress they are causing.   Ps. 31:21 – In my alarm I said, “I am cut off from your sight!”  Yet you heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help.

2.)    Fight Resentment:  The word re-sent literally means to feel (sentiment) again (re).  One who is resentful is one who relives the offense over and over again with the same intensity as it was originally experienced.  The long-term consequences of hanging on to resentment are many and according to Scripture are toxic.  Hebrews 12:15 – See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

3.)    Reach Out:  A Lone-Gunman mentality goes against the very nature of God the Father, who has always existed in community with the Son and the Spirit.  We were made in Their image and therefore are made to be connected to each other.  When one part of the body suffers the whole body suffers.  We are an interdependent organism working together for God’s glory.  We cannot do this life alone, and weren’t meant to.  We are called to carry each others burdens.  Galatians 6:2 – Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

4.)    Adjust Priorities:  It is an unfortunate reality that when we are stressed out we don’t so much turn away from God as much as we simply forget about Him.  For many God is a last resort and when it all hits the proverbial fan we go running back to Him.  God longs for us to turn back to Him and run into His open and outstretched arms.  More importantly He wants us to know that He is Immanuel.  He is with us in the storms.  Jonah 2:7 – “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.

5.)    Be Persistent:  Be persistent in your pursuit of seeking your Father.  Be persistent in seeking rest.  Be persistent in finding time to play.  Be persistent in pushing through difficult times.  But don’t do this in your own strength, do this by being persistent in your pursuit of nurturing a complete and utter dependence on the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit is your Comforter, your Advocate, and your Healer.  Learn to lean on it for strength during those times when you feel overwhelmed.  Matthew 11:28-29 – “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.”

Stress is a natural part of life and mostly cannot be avoided.  There are deadlines, a crisis that occurs, illnesses, and conflict that we will encounter along the way.  It is our profound hope though that God is everything He says He is and that we can begin living in such a way that proves it.  How we handle stress in an over-stressed world might just be one of the best ways we can demonstrate that a relationship with the God of the Bible is the only way to make it through this world and into the next.