I used to be a perfectionist control freak. Trying to meticulously organize every single little detail of my life was my way of dealing with stress. I felt if I could keep everything under control, that ball of anxiety that I kept tightly wound up in my chest wouldn’t explode. This was counterproductive, of course. The more I tried to control, the more stressed I became. Even little things had to be just right to keep me happy. Once, on a service trip, I was upset that a teammate didn’t make the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches the way I would’ve done it. Another time, I was aggravated with someone for not shredding lettuce properly. Don’t judge my crazy. I’m being honest, here!
One day, as my future husband and I sat chatting with our pre-marital counselor, I had a breakthrough. (This is the second post I’ve written where I’ve shared advice from pre-marital counseling. It really was worth the time and money.)
“There are very few have-to’s in life,” the counselor explained, “You’re stressed about a big test, wedding plans, dirty dishes, etc. What will happen if you don’t do these things? No one will die. You will live. The only real have-to’s in life are the things that, if left undone, will cause someone to die.” (Scott Latham, forgive me for the paraphrase! I know you said it much more eloquently)
As I chewed on that thought over the next weeks and months and years, things slid into a much healthier perspective. Before this paradigm shift, if a “to-do” item on my list didn’t get done the right way and right away, I became edgy and stressed until I could check it off. However, once something was checked off, something else was tagged onto the bottom of the list leaving me constantly stressed and anxious.
Even though I say I used to be a control freak, type A is still there in my DNA. If I’m not careful, I can get myself worked up into a stressed frenzy and stay there for a long while. Also, living in a culture not my own can easily amplify stress from a seemingly small thing and create a big ugly thing. To combat this, when I catch myself worrying, I stop and say “no one is going to die if…(fill in the blank)”
–No one is going to die tonight if we don’t have a perfectly balanced meal including all the major food groups and order pizza instead.
–No one is going to die if I forgot to buy a loaf of bread at the store and the kids have to eat oatmeal instead of toast for breakfast.
–No one is going to die if I don’t fold that pile of laundry and it happens to sit there on the couch for five days.
Those are the little things. It helps with big things too…
–No one is going to die because I lost the ATM card and we have to go through all kinds of trouble to get a new one.
–No one is going to die if we have to wait 5 more days to buy plane tickets that are on sale now.
–No one is going to die if the landlord doesn’t show up today to replace the busted microwave.
The control freak side of me is arguing right now that this is just a recipe for mediocre disaster, but the not-dying-of-a-stress-induced-heart-attack-at-age-thirty side of me begs to differ. I’m not saying I should never fold the laundry or do the dishes or try to stay on top of my to-do list. I’m just saying that these things, if occasionally left undone, should not undo me.
I think this was Jesus’ point when he said “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? (Luke 12:25-26).” What a breath of fresh air His word brings, breezing a new perspective on today’s problems!
What about you? What’s the best advice you’ve received about dealing with stress in everyday life?