Stress kills college students, or nearly does.
It’s a hurtful, disheartening, depressing and distracting thing that we have to deal with as college students. Anxiety can do a lot of things to one’s psyche, thought life and even health. WebMD.com says that 75-90% of all doctor’s visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
What the rest of that page says is quite interesting:
The human body is designed to experience stress and react to it. Stress can be positive, keeping us alert and ready to avoid danger. Stress becomes negative when a person faces continuous challenges without relief or relaxation between challenges. As a result, the person becomes overworked and stress-related tension builds.
Stress that continues without relief can lead to a condition called distress — a negative stress reaction. Distress can lead to physical symptoms including headaches, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, and problems sleeping. Research suggests that stress also can bring on or worsen certain symptoms or diseases.
Stress also becomes harmful when people use alcohol, tobacco, or drugs to try and relieve their stress. Unfortunately, instead of relieving the stress and returning the body to a relaxed state, these substances tend to keep the body in a stressed state and cause more problems.
So what is the college student, namely the Christian college student, to do with stress?
For a night, Jesus stressed to the max
One of the most beautiful things about our Savior is that He dealt with every temptation that is common to man (1 Corinthians 10:13). He was tempted by Satan to break a fast, to test God and to serve another master (Matthew 4:1-11). It gives me great encouragement that he can relate to everything we have faced.
Stress is no different. Jesus had a lot of things in His lifetime on Earth to be freaked out about. During His ministry, He had no permanent home and no guaranteed source of food. We often read of Him eating at houses of others, eating their food. He got a drink of water from the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:7).
Often, it seemed that Christ had no stress. In fact, He preached on stress, saying, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34). His bit on stress in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6 is fantastic at putting our lives in perspective and encourages us to rely on God to supply our needs.
Flip to Luke 22. Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying to His Father. Verse 44 reads, “And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” Mark 14:33 records that Jesus was “greatly distressed and troubled.”
Thanks to a little medical research, I found that the condition, a very rare one, in which a human who sweats blood is called “hematidrosis.” I couldn’t find much on it other than a Wikipedia page because, presumably, it’s that rare.
The Wikipedia page defines hematidrosis as:
…a very rare condition in which a human sweats blood. It may occur when a person is suffering extreme levels of stress, for example, facing his or her own death.
That’s exactly what Jesus was coming up against. He was seeing His death about to happen, and He was freaking out so much He sweated blood. Other than that being a beautiful argument for Christ’s humanity alongside His divinity, it’s a sign that we know Christ had stress, to the extreme blood came out of His head like sweat.
His response? Going to His Father
When Jesus felt that stress and that “trouble,” He did one thing.
Mark 14:34-35 records His reaction as He speaks to His disciples:
And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.
He prayed to God. Just like a child whose scraped knee from falling off the bicycle pushes him towards the loving arms of his daddy, Jesus, in the midst of His stress, went to God.
His prayer is revealing. Check what Matthew 26:39 reveals:
And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
Jesus asked for a change of circumstance. He was not hesitant to do so, which astounds me. You would think Jesus, God’s Son, sent to earth for the purpose of saving mankind from their sins, would be all set on His mission. But He asks God for relief.
But He knew it would not come. So He said, “Not as I will, but as you will.” He was so confident in the will of God and submitted to it, knowing it would lead to His death.
He went to prayer. He revealed His innermost thoughts and feelings and desires and emotions to God. He resolved Himself to the sovereignty of His Father and accepted it. When the change of circumstance was not possible, He relied on His daddy’s plans for Him.
As someone who has dealt with stress (college student, habitual overthinker, analytical mind could be causes), it has been a battle that has spilled over to my spiritual life.
Stress and anxiety are spiritual anyways because Jesus and other biblical figures spoke and wrote about it. We already looked at what Jesus said about it.
Check out Paul in Philippians 4:6-7:
…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Paul encourages us to “not be anxious about anything,” much like Christ said in Matthew 6. The truth is, we Christians have no need to be anxious about anything because of who God is. God is all-powerful and loves the heck out of His children. He wants us to relinquish all control of every part of our lives to Him.
The truth is, why wouldn’t we? It’s a peaceful thing.
But we don’t want to do that. We don’t want to let go of control of our lives. We get stressed when life gets out of control to us, so we fight that by trying to regain control, which in my case at least doesn’t go so well.
God calls us to give up control and rely on His care for us. 1 Peter 5:6-7 says:
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him because he cares for you.
As part of us “casting all (our) anxieties” on God, under His “mighty hand” (pretty cool, by the way), we must humble ourselves. We must remember that we are man who has not the strength to deal with all the things that come our way.
Pushing forward in stress
We are unable to relinquish control of our situations on our own. Not letting God handling things that distress us is a distrust of God’s promises to us and a questioning of His power and purpose for our lives.
That was a truth I learned and it was a difficult thing to do. When we receive Christ, we trust Him with our whole lives, with our eternity, with our salvation. If we can trust Him with that, with our whole lives in a sense, how can we not then trust Him with a test or a relationship or an internship? If we truly love Him and are called according to His purposes, He has our best (Romans 8:28) and His glory in mind.
But like Jesus in the garden, often our circumstances won’t be changed. We’ll still have that test in that 8 a.m. class the next day. We’ll still have to break it off with that guy or girl because that relationship wasn’t going like we thought it would. We’ll still have to go to that interview for perhaps the biggest stepping stone to our future.
We push forward in full and complete trust, as Philippians puts it, through prayer and supplication, through bringing our thoughts and desires and emotions and concerns to our Father, just like Jesus did. And something supernatural happens when we come to that throne humbly, honestly, expecting God to do His will in our lives.
Peace. It makes no sense, “surpasses all understanding.” But it will guard our hearts and minds.
That’s a promise I can hold to, because my God is what Psalm 62:1-2 and 8 describe:
For God alone, my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken…Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.