In this chapter we're going to talk about stress from work and deal with the general problem of burnout caused by continual overstress and how to deal with it:
- Knowledge of the way that stress affects you
- Change towards a more realistic view of your limits
- Faith adjustment in drawing nearer to God
In the last chapter we discussed the nature of stress from worry and how worrying created unnecessary stress which was harmful to us. Dealing with worry meant that we had to:
- Correct our perspective - trusting that God would provide one day's resources to deal with one day's problems.
- Change our attitude - shift from an acquisition-based lifestyle to a righteousness-based lifestyle.
Making these changes would lower the worry level and diminish our overstress that causes so many of our problems. This time, we're going to talk about overstress that is produced by our work, jobs and careers.
Stress from Work
Here are two questions about stress in the workplace that I want you to find time to answer and discuss with family, friends and co-workers.
- Did you ever work at a job where you were overworked and underpaid? What were the circumstances and how did you feel?
- Under what circumstances would you willingly take a lower-paying job? What nontangible incentive would make you work for less money?
Here are a couple of quotes that I want to share as we begin.
I may be a lousy father and husband but when Merrill Lynch needs me, I'm there.
- A stockbroker
My father taught me to work, but not to love it. I never did like to work and I don't deny it. I'd rather read, tell stories, crack jokes, talk, laugh – anything but work.
- Abraham Lincoln
The stress caused from work is usually caused by one of two extremes:
1. Stress from Job, Employer or Fellow Employee
One type of stress is caused by a job or an employer or fellow employees that cause our stress.
- Too much work with not enough time, support, equipment or money to do the job.
- An unreasonable or unfair boss
- A job that is dangerous or monotonous
- A job that is insecure or a company that is failing
In other words, sometimes the job and the way that the job is (whatever) is the thing that causes the overstress.
A biblical example of this is in II Corinthians 11:21-33. Paul the apostle is reacting to the danger of false apostles that have crept into the church. They are preaching a different Jesus, a different gospel, and in doing so they were damaging the church and getting away with it because they boasted of impressive speech and important credentials. In warning the church against them Paul describes his own "credentials" both as a Jew and as a Christian Apostle. In this description we get a glimpse of the type of situation where the "job" was the thing that created the stress.
21bBut in whatever respect anyone else is bold—I speak in foolishness—I am just as bold myself. 22Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. 23Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. 24Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. 25Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. 26I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; 27I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. 29Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?
30If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness. 31The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. 32In Damascus the ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me, 33and I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and so escaped his hands.
- II Corinthians 11:21b-33
Paul's job definitely caused overstress. For a variety of reasons we may have a situation that is somewhat like this and if we do we have a variety of options:
- We can change our job or careers.
- We can try to deal with the people or responsibilities in such a way as to reduce their negative effects on us.
But sometimes we don't have the luxury of doing these things:
- Caring for a sick spouse or raising small children.
- We've invested many years into this career and we can't afford to leave it.
- We own the business and too many people depend on us.
- The boss doesn't care what we think; the nasty fellow employee may not change or go away.
- The mission we've undertaken is incomplete and we cannot let it go (like Paul) no matter how much stress it's causing us.
In a case like that, what do we do?
The relief from this kind of stress is given again by Paul in the following chapter. He says that in addition to all of this, the Lord gave him a "thorn" or a trial in his life that just would not go away. One more stressor to make the meter go into the overstress zone time and time again.
8Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. 9And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
- II Corinthians 12:8-10
Paul explains the way to deal with this ongoing stress of being cornered, this no way out type of stress caused either by the job or anything else that continually drives us into the overstress zone.
The power that we need to deal with this kind of stress does not and cannot be self-generated.
The power perfected in weakness is the situation where we finally arrive at the realization that "this job, people, situation, etc. is killing me. I can't do it. It's beyond me. I need help!!" And this is where we begin to experience the power of Christ.
The overstress caused by the job that's eating our lunch can temporarily be dealt with by change and adjustment but ultimately as Christians, we need to learn how to live and work under and through the power of Christ.
In verse 10 Paul resigns himself to the fact that the job he has will kill him in the end but he has finally found contentment because he operates no longer with his power but has surrendered control to Christ and is content to deal with his ministry under the power of Christ. Christ's power kicks in when yours is exhausted or relinquished.
2. Stress from a Workaholic Attitude
One type of stress is from our job, the other type of stress in the workplace is from our attitude that we have regarding our job. Some people are workaholics. They live to work. A stressful job or a demanding boss destroys our sense of self and ruins our bodies in the long run. Too much attention to work and too much work destroys our souls. What is needed in this situation is balance.
A passage that addresses not necessarily a workaholic point of view but an improper attitude about work (which is what workaholism is) is found in Matthew 20.
1"For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market place; 4and to those he said, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.' And so they went. 5Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing. 6And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, 'Why have you been standing here idle all day long?' 7They said to him, 'Because no one hired us.' He said to them, 'You go into the vineyard too.'
8"When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first.' 9When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius. 10When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. 11When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, 12saying, 'These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.' 13But he answered and said to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. 15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?' 16 So the last shall be first, and the first last."
- Matthew 20:1-16
We see here that Jesus places man's attitude regarding work next to God's attitude in order to compare the two.
Man sees work as an equation. "I work hard. I'm talented. I get paid more and I accumulate more." God's attitude is that all talent, opportunity and gain are a matter of grace and not payment. The stress in the parable was not a matter of wages - everyone was paid a fair wage (the wage was in keeping with the time). The stress was caused by jealousy since the boss decided to reward the workers equally regardless of effort. The idea is that the stress was caused by the attitude the people had about the work.
Of course, in this world there needs to be consideration for effort and skill. The parable taught how God rewards in the Kingdom, not how General Motors ought to be run. In the physical world there is an equation for effort, skill and time worked because this provides motivation. The parable teaches us, however, that those things that are imperishable (eternal life, joy, forgiveness, peace, contentment) are not earned in this way - they're given freely.
For the workaholic the danger is in thinking that his or her attitude about work can be transferred to the Kingdom - it can't, it doesn't work.
You can't earn contentment/peace from your work, good work, hard work, etc. You may get momentary satisfaction but not contentment that just stays with you.
12I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one's lifetime; 13moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor—it is the gift of God.
- Ecclesiastes 3:12-13
Contentment is a gift from God and comes through faith and thanksgiving. It doesn't come through earning or striving.
The overstress that comes from the workplace is usually a question of imbalance.
We are overstressed because the job is either too much for us for some reason or other (the job takes too much out of us). When this is so, we need to allow the Lord to provide His power to sustain us in what we do. This requires:
- recognizing that we really can't
- recognizing that He can
- asking for help and persevering with confidence, not resignation.
We are overstressed because we put too much of ourselves into the job. When this is the case we need to remember that what we are giving up of ourselves will only gain earthly treasures. Workaholics need to understand and take the time to experience the treasures of heaven given out for free (love, joy, peace, contentment, purity, fidelity, hope, patience).
If we do, we will have a balanced, productive and satisfying work life.