Exercise is the deliberate act of putting my body under reasonable stress. This stress strengthens my body and keeps it flexible. Too much stress risks fatigue, too little stress is not productive.
Reasonable mental and emotional stress is also crucial for our wellbeing and personal growth. Too much stress and we risk experiencing mental and emotional breakdowns. Too little stress and we stagnate as a human being.
One way of moderating stress is to engage in mindfulness. Perspective on a stressor impacts the level of body and soul stress experienced. Regarding a stressor as a problem produces a different outcome from regarding that stressor as an opportunity or challenge.
Thinking about what you are thinking about and how you are thinking about it is a practice of mindfulness. The Apostle Paul encourages followers of Jesus Christ to take every thought captive.
“casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5, NKJV)
Mindfulness also involves a passionate pursuit of truth. I have addressed the pursuit of truth in previous blogs:
Another helpful practice in exercising mindfulness is to predetermine the best destination for your thoughts! A thought begins a journey. Can that thought take you where you want to go? Jesus prioritized for us the ultimate journey’s end, loving God, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment.” (Mark 12:30, NKJV)
Worship of God is an indicator that we have arrived at the proper destination!!
Another mindfulness instrument in our stress relief toolbox is Lamentation. Grief is a major stressor. Lamentation is the passionate expression of grief or sorrow. It may involve emotional responses such as weeping, wailing, crying, sobbing, or groaning. Lamentation also engages our rational brain to help with the articulation of our grief. Grief is a powerful emotion. Greif suppressed is ultimately unhealthy. Expressed grief releases stress and promotes soul and body wholeness.
Lamentations is the title ascribed to one of the books in the Old Testament. Jeremiah, aka the Weeping Prophet, had been assigned by God to prepare the people for His impending and unalterable judgment. Not a popular message. The people wanted to kill the messenger. The book of Lamentations contains the articulation of Jeremiah’s grief. Amid the reality of his misery, Jeremiah stubbornly hung on to hope. His thoughts of hope carried him to the utlimate destination of loving God and worshipping Him.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him!” The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, To the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should hope and wait quietly For the salvation of the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:24–26, NKJV)
“For the Lord will not cast off forever. Though He causes grief, Yet He will show compassion According to the multitude of His mercies. For He does not afflict willingly, Nor grieve the children of men.” (Lamentations 3:31–33, NKJV)
Scholars estimate that 70% of the Psalms are laments. In these poems, Psalmists articulate their angst and remind themselves of their good and faithful God. They petition God for relief and usually assure themselves of God’s impending help. The Sons of Korah leave their angst unresolved in a couple of their Palms. (Psalms 44 & 88)
Laments are a stress reliever for grief. Laments can assist in bringing a “God-perspective” to grievous circumstances. God instructed the prophet, Ezekiel, to eat a scroll containing lamentations and mourning. Ironically, this scroll became sweet in his mouth.
“Then He spread it before me, and there was writing on the inside and the outside, and written on it were lamentations and mourning and woe. Moreover, He said to me, “Son of man, eat what you find; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and He caused me to eat that scroll. And He said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly, and fill your stomach with this scroll that I give you.” So I ate, and it was in my mouth like honey in sweetness.” (Ezekiel 2:10–3:3, NKJV)
Over the years, I have happened upon articles written by Theologians and Musicologists who have noted the absence of lament in contemporary Christian music. When I think of songs of lament in the Church, Negro Spirituals and the worship in many African American Churches come to mind. Grief is felt and expressed, the audacity of hope invades, and celebration ensues! In the secular realm, I think of the Blues, that melancholic music of Black American folk origin.
I recently came across an excerpt from a chapter in Jemar Tisby’s book, The Color of Compromise.
“Many church traditions have allowed triumphalism to creep into the pulpit and the pews. Just as citizens can sometimes presume the ascendancy and inevitability of American economic and global power, so the church can presume its own favor and privilege by imagining itself as God’s chosen nation and people.
Soong-Chan Rah studied popular Christians songs and found that most of them focus on victory and joy. This canon of sacred songs, however, exhibits a dearth of lament and sorrow. Much of Christian history has been characterized by persecution and rejection, and black Christians intimately and experientially know the reality of ongoing suffering that comes from the bigotry of others and by no fault of their own.
In the midst of marginalization, they have learned how to dwell with sadness and transform it into strength. The musical genre of the Negro spiritual exemplifies the ability of black Christians to theologize their suffering in song. They moaned, “Hold on just a little while longer,” in order to make it through one more day.
They knew that earth was not their only stop, and they welcomed the “sweet chariot coming forth to carry me home.”
The Negro spiritual put black lamentations into songs that soared upward as prayers for God to save them and grant them the perseverance to exist and resist. Through their understanding of Scripture, black Christians sang, “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.” They looked to the book of Exodus and saw God saving the Israelites from slavery. In the white slaveowners, they saw “old Pharaoh” and knew they could pray, “Let my people go.”
They saw Daniel saved from the fiery furnace and asked, “Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel? Then why not every man?” Black people have somehow found a way to flourish because of faith. It is a faith that is vibrant and still inspires black Christians to endure and struggle against present-day forms of racism.
The entire church can learn from believers who have suffered yet still hold onto God’s unchanging hand. Black theology can teach the American church not just how to lament but how to rejoice as well. The exuberant vocal and bodily expressions common in much of black worship represent a faith that celebrates God’s goodness in equal measure with lament over humanity’s sinfulness. Those who have suffered much find much joy in God’s salvation.”
Meditating on Psalms of lament, listening to music in the genre of Negro Spirituals or the Blues, journaling, or composing laments are aids to mindfully navigate the troubled waters of grief and moderate its stress.