Thursday, 4 May 2017

Work Hard, Pray Hard: Exams, Stress and Grace

By Megan James

I feel like those reading this need to appreciate the irony of me writing this piece about stress. It is verging on comical. I, though a relatively happy and chill person, am the worst when it comes to dealing with stress. I am very comfortable in the zone of denial. “Stressed? Who? Me? I’m great. The lack of sleep? Oh, must have been one too many coffees yesterday. Stress? Don’t be silly.” I hold myself to superhuman standards, and asking for help, well that’s just not happening. The only word in my vocabulary is ‘yes’. So, you see, I am pretty horrendous when it comes to this whole ‘healthy coping’ thing. But, maybe that’s what makes me kind of qualified to write this. I know the stress struggles all too well.
I was recently reading the Bible, trying to calm my anxious thoughts when, through complete providence, I came upon this passage:

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him as a guest. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he said. But Martha was distracted with all the preparations she had to make, so she came up to him and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work alone? Tell her to help me.”  But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things, but one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the best part; it will not be taken away from her.”’

Luke 10:38-42

I read this and realised, I am Martha (and let’s face it, no one wants to be Martha in this scenario). Instead of sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to what He has to say to me, I am constantly rushing around, distracted by, and worrying about, the endless list of things I have told myself that I need to do. And then, like Martha, not only do I refuse to sit and rest and listen, I complain. Jesus is right there in front of her, and instead of appreciating His presence, learning from Him and building a relationship with Him as Mary does, she instead just goes and moans that she has too much on her plate. Yup, I’d say I’m pretty guilty of this. I often refuse to rest in Him, yet will then shoot up a quick prayer listing the millions of things I have to do…#ThatsSoMartha.

I’m a Third Year, so my stress levels recently have been through the roof. For the past few months, I have been juggling a dissertation, assignments, exams, being a secretary of a society, job hunting for post-grad life, and on top of all that, I have been enduring the personal struggle of grief and all the baggage that comes with it. It’s been a lot to say the least. And some point along the way, I realised my relationship with Christ, well, it took a bit of a back seat. Instead of, like Mary, sitting at his feet, resting, and listening to Him, I have been a complete Martha and tried to do it all alone.

Now, I can’t speak for Martha, but for me, this stress and this constant busyness comes down to two things: control and perfection. I am someone who needs to feel in control, so my endless To-Do Lists, my plans for the future, everything, it always comes down to my need to feel as though I am in control. But it’s also more than that. As I said, I have this constant need for perfection. I want things to go a certain way, the right way. I want to please everyone around me. I want things to be the best that they can be, so I will stress and stress, constantly seeking that approval and affirmation that everything is good.

However, as this passage shows us, this is not the kind of thinking and way of living that Jesus calls us to. Jesus calls us out of this busyness and reminds us of the importance of resting in Him. As He says, Mary has the right idea, she has chosen rest and she has chosen Him and his approval alone, and these things cannot be taken from her. It is so easy to get caught up in our stress and to not see Jesus sat there. Jesus calls Martha to realise what is important, to remember the one thing we need is Him

We are human, and sometimes we need to remember that. We are not capable of doing everything, but luckily for us, we have a God who is. Jesus tells us in Matthew 19:26 that ‘"With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." All the things we let consume and worry us, they are minute in comparison to Him. So why do we so often forget to turn to Him? How am I to know and do His will if I am too busy and too stressed to sit down at his feet and listen. Jesus here reminds me that this stress I am consumed with, it’s a choice. I chose stress over Him. I placed my own strength, my own plans, my own will above His. And by reading this passage I realised, more than anything, I wanted to be Mary. I wanted to rest. I wanted to listen. I wanted her contentment. But to do this I needed to stop. My to-do list needed to take the back seat I had pushed Jesus into.

My confirmation saint, and all round babe, St Catherine of Siena says something that spoke to me and helped me let go of all that was piling up around me. She said:

”And of what should we be afraid? 
Our captain on this battlefield is Christ Jesus. 
We have discovered what we have to do. 
Christ has bound our enemies for us 
and weakened them that they cannot overcome us 
unless we so choose to let them.” 

St. Catherine of Sienna

Stress is often a choice, and it is a choice that robs us of precious time resting and listening to Christ. Next time our to-do list feels unending, and our mind is full of worry, do not be Martha. Do not rush, and worry, and rely on yourself. Instead, be Mary. Rest. Turn to Christ, sit at his feet and listen. As St. Paul says;


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