The older I grow, the more self aware I become. The more self aware, the more broken I realize I am. The more broken, the more astonished I am by Jesus and His deep and abiding love for me. That He would love us so intensely and eternally is mind boggling.
Over the past twenty-three years our family has experienced stress of great magnitude and the fallout of that stress, thus inducing more stress. Even before that period began, we spent ten years with my husband working full-time while putting himself through college. And before that, we were teenage parents. This was the norm, the “calm” period.
The effects of stress are well documented. I googled “long term effects of stress.” In 0.39 seconds I was presented with 135,000,000 links of information. Clearly, stress is bad for us. We all know this.
Our family experienced this stress together. Some of our stress was family-wide. Every person in the family also underwent individual trauma. But we dealt with it together. We all lived in the same house. I felt as if we were in the bunker together, comrades.
But as the older ones grew up, left home, went off to college, and the family began to scatter, the stress continued, and it has become increasingly obvious that each person’s experience of this stress was and is unique from oldest to youngest. Effects have rippled through the family. These effects have been eye opening.
Stress makes us insular. In my mind, this is its most detrimental effect emotionally, physically, and spiritually. We are created for community, yet we become islands, absorbed with getting ourselves through the emotional and physical bombardment. Even when we’re with others, we pull inward and away to deal with it.
This is how humans deal with stress. As I cope with my stress, I see you nearby, across the blue waters. It feels as if we’re together, but you’re thinking one thing while I’m thinking another as we both experience the same events. Unless deliberate action is taken, we pull apart, rather than together. And, since we often aren’t aware of the divide and neither do we know what actions to take, we are pulled apart.
Stress resulted in chronic illness for me. My body began to fall apart right at the apex of our trauma. That presented its own problems as I tried to mother a family in crisis. I did the best I could, but time has shown the ever-widening cracks.
I find myself mystified as one or the other child describes their experience and its effects. I didn’t comprehend how their individual experience would affect them in the long term. I had thought we were on the same island together, but we weren’t. I grieve as I see it play out in each of their lives in different ways, because stress of that magnitude leaves its mark on everyone.
That I have these reactions shows my brokenness.
I thought I was helping each one cope. I wasn’t.
I thought I understood what each one was going through. I didn’t.
I thought we could all come out the other side unscathed. We couldn’t.
During this apex of our stress, I imagined a more utopian world with promised happy endings on this side of heaven. I was mistaken. I didn’t understand God’s promise to work all things together for each one’s good. And so, I grieved the wrong things.
God’s answer to stress is Himself.
He did what none of us can do. He got through the trauma of life without sinning, even though life on this earth broke Him, just as it breaks us. The reality of Jesus’ flawless life was astonishing to everyone who met Him. Who experiences occupation by a foreign army, massacres in the streets, false accusations of illegitimacy, poverty in a large family, jealous siblings, provincial attitudes, prejudicial judgments, torture, and a gruesome death without insulating and isolating themselves?
No one but Jesus. Even as He suffocated on the cross, He took care of the thief and His own mother, more concerned with others until His dying breath, for in His dying He saved us all. He knows we’re broken and cannot do what only He could do. That’s why He came. We only need accept His gift of faith and believe.
As we struggle to get through this life, His promises are that:
He will never leave us nor forsake us.
He will always love us no matter how poorly we handle our trauma.
He is not surprised by our brokenness and cherishes us because of it.
He will not leave us unrefined but will enlighten us all our days, for we are His workmanship.
He will orchestrate for good every circumstance that touches our lives.
He will bring us safely through to the other side, the actual other side into eternity with Him.
This is the best news in the world to me. And I hope it helps you, too.