How can one measure stress? Some use a numbering system called the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. Although any given event can affect individuals differently, some 43 events have been assigned stress points, to give a rough estimate for the general public. For example, death of spouse is at the top of the list with 100 stress points. For the child, it is death of a parent, with the same number of points. Divorce is 73 points for adults and 90 for children of divorced parents. A parent dismissed from work can add 47 points, while for the child of that parent, it adds 46 points. An increase of arguments between parents? Add 35 for the parents, but 47 points for the child. A senior in high school can receive 42 points, and so on. The authors of the scale propose that the higher the number, the more likely one may be at risk for illness—especially with a total of over 300 stress points within one year’s time. This is similar to the pain scale used in hospitals with a number system from one to ten—the higher the number, the more excruciating the pain.
There is another scale commonly used to measure stress—seismic stress. The Richter Scale assigns magnitude numbers to measure the energy released by an earthquake. Buildings sway, ceiling fixtures fall, shelves topple over, so the U.S. government has an educational campaign for earthquake prone areas. The slogan is, “Drop, Cover, and Hold On.” The idea is to drop to the floor, crawl under a desk or table, and hold onto the leg of the table. Certainly, the higher the magnitude the more of a challenge this is when the table does not stay put. If you have ever been in an earthquake, you know you seek just one thing—something stable to which to hold.
In our trials, when pressure and strain builds, when everything around us seems to be collapsing, we seek to hold on to something stable, too. Whether our stress adds up to 10 points or 310, God uses events like this to teach us that He alone is our unshakeable Rock. He teaches us this by the use of illustrations as well. Earthquakes are for “…the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain” (Heb. 12:27). We must examine what we are standing on in our afflictions— is it the created or the Creator, the shaken or the unshaken? When we stand on what we thought was dependable but is now crumbling right from under us, we are standing on the wrong thing. Christ is teaching us to hold on to, to trust, that which will remain.
Our Protestant Reformed children understand, especially the ones in earthquake-prone Redlands, California, that tremors get our attention so that we look to Scripture. They know that earthquakes are birth pangs very similar to the painful contractions their mother experienced when they were born. These labor pains will continue until the return of Christ at the end of the world. Then there will be an enormous earthquake, breaking the Richter scale. Christ is coming to remove the shaken in order to reveal that which cannot be shaken! All the sin, wickedness, and haters of God will be destroyed, while Christ and His unmovable kingdom will be revealed in all of its fullness, glory, and majesty. We long for the birth of this new day.
Until then, we are prone to tremble with fear and doubts when the Lord gives us trials. Our home is destroyed. Our health or the health of our loved one is failing. We have anxious thoughts, fearing the unknown. Will the surgery be successful? Will the chemotherapy work? Our child is wayward. Our husband loses his job and financial worries keep us awake. Our spiritual enemies do not want us to be firmly grounded on the Lord. They try ways to shake us to stop trusting our heavenly Father. They tempt us to doubt God’s love and inscrutable wisdom in the trials He sends for our good. These are the times, most especially, that God is turning our eyes to look on the things that remain.
God says to us, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (I Cor. 15:58). Our spiritual enemies try any temptation they can think of to get us from being steadfast and unmovable. One of the ways is the attempt to trick us into thinking our labor is in vain. This mindset can cause great upheaval. For example, if a Christian mother begins to listen to this lie, she leaves herself open to anxiety, depression, and loss of hope. She hears the world making those negative remarks about mothers at home in contrast to high praises for the career woman. Perhaps she is buffeted by a relative who tells her to hire someone else to watch the children while she finds a career to use her gifts better.
The mother at home may begin to think life is passing her by. She spends much time cooking meals—only to have them devoured within minutes. She changes diapers unending, holds crying babies while defusing sibling squabbles, scrubs and washes dishes and clothes—and wonders, is this all in vain? Everything will get dirty all over again. Is this why I went to school? Her sinful nature begins to get the upper hand and she feels discontented and trapped.
Throughout history, one of the tactics used on prisoners in forced-labor camps has been to have them do meaningless work—dig holes and fill them back up, move stones or cannonballs to one location and then back again. Turn a crank by hand all day, or walk for hours on a treadmill staircase with no useful purpose at all. This was designed by cruel taskmasters to send the prisoner into despair and madness.
A mother who loses her sense of purpose may feel like a prisoner forced to do meaningless work. How miserable she is as she listens to her spiritual foes, who are the cruelest taskmasters of all. She is forgetting how valuable her influence, teaching, love, and nurturing are for her covenant children. How precious she is to her husband. Maybe you or someone you know is struggling in this area. Think of these three simple words: “in the Lord.” No matter what our calling is, whether we have children or not, married or single, our labor is not vanity of vanities but victory of victories in Christ Jesus! This is a promise from God and we may not stagger at His promises. Even the smallest of tasks we do for others is the same as doing it to Him, when we do it for His sake. Our labor has eternal worth.
In a world filled with bad news, what glad tidings we have! The next time you begin to feel the weight of anxious cares upon you, think on God’s glad tidings and have a few tools ready. For starters, call out to your little one to please fetch you a minstrel. Yes, the child is trained to know exactly what this means. Two small feet pitter-patter across the room. Dimpled hands clasp a disk and click a few buttons. Ah, the tranquil, meditative notes of the Psalter or hymn envelop the room. Peace and comfort spring up in the soul. “Sing with grace in your heart to the Lord” (Col. 3:16). Read II Kings 3:15, and see how God’s good gift of music helped Elisha in a time of distress.
Cast off the jumbled, anxious thoughts crowding your mind and think on God’s unchangeable promises. Try writing a few of them on index cards. A stack can be a helpful resource. Though nothing can replace the constant reading and studying of all of Scripture, God’s promises are a simple, comforting way to meditate on His perfect will at any moment. For example, are you experiencing loneliness? “Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am…” (Is. 58:9). Impatient? “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart…” (Ps. 27:14). Fearful? “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them” (II Kings 6:16). Angry? “The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy” (Ps. 145:8).
There are so many precious promises. Try suggesting to your older children to write out a few as well. Or you might purchase a Bible promise book for them. Younger children may enjoy making their own book. Help them choose some Scripture promises, and let them write them out and color them. God’s promises are invigorating, for they contain our highest hopes. He confirms them by an oath and His Spirit renders them powerful in our hearts.
There is an old saying that some Christians are “so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good.” On the contrary, we are prone to be so earthly minded. We are called to “seek those things which are above…” (Col. 3:1). Clinging by faith to the immovable Rock is the key to holding on in this ever-shifting, tumultuous world. And pray—we pray and ask, not because we are so strong, but because we are so needy.
The world studies stress but will never understand how God uses these events to teach the believer patience and wisdom, to test us, and to conform us to be more like Him. We are so sinful and frail—how we tend to cleave to the created rather than our Creator! Our merciful Father uses the shaking up of the created things in our lives to drive us to Him. Whether in poverty or prosperity, health or sickness, we must learn that we cannot stand on our own. “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Heb. 12:28).